International cricket is at its finest when the beer is flowing
OPINION: As I joined the back of the beer queue the conversation had just begun.
A Red Badge security man was addressing a bearded chap wearing a nautical cap.
The former was polite but officious, employing a paternalistic, slightly condescending tone out of kilter with his tender years.
"We've had some information about people wearing your hat", he began. "We are keeping an eye on you. I would like you to buy some water every time you get some beers."
Maybe these were not the exact words used, but this was the general gist of it. With all the natural justice of a southern cop dispatching a water pistol-wielding African-American child or a Trump-directed immigration Nazi denying an Oscar-winning Iranian entry to the United States, an innocent fell victim to collective profiling.
His crime? Wearing a specific type of headwear. Not a terrorist turban or the burqa of the oppressed Muslim woman. A dapper, slope peaked cap, the causal attire of any well dressed yachtsman.
The bearded gentleman wore a quizzical expression as he received this unsolicited advice. Having entered Hamilton's Seddon Park moments before, he was sober as the proverbial judge.
It was a coincidence of fashion that he happened to be wearing the same cap as a group of twenty-somethings that had begun their imbibing somewhat earlier. Their crime – so far as I could tell – was standing up en masse once or twice and delivering some pre-rehearsed chants.
It was good, old fashioned barracking, the type of banter an opponent from across the ditch should expect.
Historically, Australian sins are many. They have it coming.
It used to be a lot more fun going to the cricket. Around the time the Red Badge official was born there was a beer tent at Seddon Park.
The thirsty gathered and paid a lot less for their refreshment than they do today. The beers were stronger, the controls lax.
Waikato University students attended in significant numbers, warming up for or sustaining the Dionysian pleasures of Orientation Week.
Games had an atmosphere almost independent of what might be going on the pitch. Whatever the weak, overpriced swill on sale at the ground last Sunday, whatever the wowser instructions given to security, it was pleasing to see a little of that old spirit resurface.
One of the mainstays of student culture three decades back was the drinking race: the competitive consumption of beer. Long ago struck off the formal O-Week programme and banned from licensed premises by the fun police, the type of "sculling" I am talking about has little to do with the exploits of Mahe Drysdale.
By its very nature a one day international ebbs and flows. The middle section of any innings is more sedate than the batting that book ends it. Those whose interest in the game is less than that of the purist can wander in their attention. So it was on Sunday.
As New Zealand's middle order capitulated and survival took precedence over risk taking, a wag noticed a punter returning from the bar fully ladened. Four is the maximum alcoholic purchase and that was the number this guy was carrying.
His audience, a little bored by the cricket, issued a public challenge.
A cry of "scull, scull, scull", initiated by an individual, was swiftly taken up by his surrounding friends and peers. It soon became a collective chorus. The beer carrier stopped in his tracks and did as instructed. One of the plastic vessels was dislodged from its cardboard moorings and summarily consumed.
A pattern had been set.
Thereafter any who approached the crowd on the bank with beer in hand were required to prove their worth.
"Scull, scull, scull" was intoned almost ceaselessly and those who made the mistake of downing their first drink with too nonchalant an attitude or uncommon speed were invited to down another.
The crowd's appetite for this entertainment showed favouritism in neither age nor gender. Womenfolk indulged, demonstrating the ritual was not an exclusively male preserve.
A bald, granite-faced gent well past 60, looking like a leading player in Eastenders, twice did his bit for the older generation.
If truth be told the game soon got old, reaching its natural climax, if not conclusion, with a parched show-off who managed to scull all four of his drinks and remain standing.
Still, as boorish as it was, some kind of response was required to counter those who pre-judge folk on the grounds of headwear.