When a cricketer visits India, you may for forgiven for thinking he has come for something connected with our vast cricket machinery. He would be here perhaps to commentate, coach or mentor one of the IPL teams, at a guess. But one visiting ex-cricketer was in India last week, and his visit had nothing to do with cricket.
Get this, it had to do with wine.
Of course, there are many wine-loving cricketers. Jonty Rhodes, for example. I met him when he came down as brand ambassador for a South African wine brand some years ago, and it was delightful chatting with him on matters that had nothing to do with the terms googly, silly mid-ons, leading edges and what-have-you.
So when Nick Pringle visited Bangalore as part of his India whistle stop tour, I was a little surprised to hear it was not for cricket, but wine. An Australian wine brand to be precise, the big-selling Hardy’s, which he handles as director of sales for UK’s Accolade Wines. Pringle was an English county cricketer who played for Somerset from 1986-91, and has shared a dressing room with the likes of Sir Ian Botham, Sir Viv Richards, Joel Garner, Steve Waugh and Martin Crowe, and remembers watching Sunil Gavaskar playing at Somerset in 1980.
I caught up with Nick over a glass of wine and some delicious barbecue at the Bengaluru Marriott Whitefield. He had lost his voice, and had plans to visit his specialist in London the next day, a stop in the midst of his jet-setting travels. So what draws a cricketer to wine, I asked? Isn’t cricket more a beer kind of thing? At least in India it is. True, he agrees. But cricket is also about travelling, socialising, drinking, eating hospitality, and wine fits right in with that, he says. Hard to disagree with that.
Nick’s love for wine developed with his cricketing career. Specially, at the age of 22, when he travelled with the team to Australia’s Margaret River. “Now I’m travelling the world, meeting interesting people, visiting great countries. I can’t complain about that,” he adds. Never a truer word, I agree. He must be a dab hand at wine trend spotting too, what with all his travels. “Well, in countries like India, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, for instance, the consumers are getting wealthier, and with that, there is a move away from beer and spirits towards wine. There’s plenty of potential for wine.”
Hardy’s is the official wine of the Australian cricket board, and the English Cricket Board too. Hmm, did he have hand in that, I wonder aloud, just by the way. He smiles. “The thing about Hardy’s wines is that the wines are easy-drinking, very accessible, and that makes it an easy match with Indian food. The wines can be had before, with or after meals. There’s a lot of flexibility here.”
On to a spot of cricket chat; after all, we are in India. So who does he think are the players to watch, if he’s been watching the ongoing IPL at all? “Virat Kohli. He is a class batsman. Kevin Pietersen is a game changer, and Dale Steyn a bowler who can win games. Of course, if Viv Richards was around today, the grounds would have to be expanded. The ball would disappear into the stands all the time if he were batting. Yes, Twenty20 cricket is fantastic.” And what does he think of the English cricket team today? “That’s not something you can put in print,” he says. That’s a little harsh, surely. “Well, let’s say they are not as good or as bad as they thought they were,” he smiles.
Has the excitement of the shorter format all but killed the longer version, I wonder. “No. Wait for the Ashes,” he predicts, ” Every seat in the stands will be filled. On the whole, you have to give the crowds something to enjoy, even in domestic cricket. That’s possible with today’s levels of fitness. The technology and improvements in the game made over the years is amazing. I’m not saying cricketers today are playing better than those in the past were, or are more skilled. The pace is so quick, and players today are bigger, stronger, fitter. Look at football – the Premier League. Here, too.”
Back to wine. As someone whose wines come to India, how does he view the current high tax structure on imported wines? “That’s life,” he shrugs, “Yes it is frustrating. Protectionism is born out of insecurity, and it’s not a good strategic move. There’s a whole Indian community in the Middle East and Africa which can benefit if the system opened up and they got access to Indian wines. The Indian consumer would benefit a lot.”
Hardy’s Stamp of Australia wines are sold in India through Sula Selections. Hardy’s sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir( Rs1024/ $17) was the hit of the party with its crisp, fresh mouthfeel and persistent bubbles. Hardy’s Cabernet Merlot (Rs 800/ $13) had a nice balance, ripe red fruits and some vanilla. Hardy’s Riesling Gewurztraminer (Rs 800/ $13) is light, fruity and easy to drink.