Merv Hughes' top 10 tips for throwing a backyard cricket barbecue

"If there's any sausages left over you can cut 'em into smaller pieces to use as hors d'oeuvres."
"If there's any sausages left over you can cut 'em into smaller pieces to use as hors d'oeuvres." Photo: Supplied

Backyard cricket is a summer institution from Kalgoorlie to Cooktown. All you need is a tennis ball, a bat and a barbecue.

There's a few things you can do to turn a great backyard cricket barbecue into an excellent one. Merv Hughes is a bloke who knows these things. The former test cricketer has released a cookbook for summer titled BBQ, Beer and BS. I caught up with him to grab his tips on throwing the ultimate innings on the buffalo grass.

Merv Hughes bowling against the West Indies at Adelaide in January, 1993.
Merv Hughes bowling against the West Indies at Adelaide in January, 1993.  Photo: Jason Childs

Be very clear on the house rules from the start of play. If the ball hits the jacaranda, is it out? If the ball dents Bob's new Colorbond fence, is it out? Is there an automatic wickie if a late cut clips the shed? Being clear from the beginning will save arguments later. "If I come to your backyard, I play by your rules," says Hughes. "If you come to my backyard, you play by my rules."

A taped-up tennis ball is the bowler's only weapon of choice. Wrapping half a tennis ball in electrical tape increases its swing, weight and speed. Anyone who claims ball tampering isn't backyard cricket is a bit of a wombat. "We've got to take the advantage away from the batsman," says the pacer.

Backyard cricket and cans go hand-in-hand. Hughes reckons tinnies are the best choice for backyard cricket boozing - with stubbies there's a possibility of breakage when diving for a belter. "That's the absolute last thing you want." he says. The cricketing legend is a big fan of the pale ale cans from Dainton Family Brewery in Carrum Downs, Victoria. "They also have a sour beer that tastes like fizzy orange juice. You can drink it and kid yourself you're being healthy."

"If someone tries to take stuff of my barbie without permission they get whacked with the tongs."
"If someone tries to take stuff of my barbie without permission they get whacked with the tongs." Photo: Supplied

A wheelie bin is a better wicket than an empty beer carton. "It's larger in mass and, again, takes the advantage away from the batsman."

Sausages are for kids. "When working out how much food to buy, I find that two to three sausages and per kid is usually pretty good," says Hughes. "If there's any sausages left over you can cut 'em into smaller pieces to use as hors d'oeuvres. When cooking for adults at a backyard barbie, I like to serve steak, lamb chops, fish and chilli prawns."

Only pull up stumps when the game is properly finished. "If you're on top, you want to keep going - if you're getting belted around, you want to stop. You've have to go until the end of the game regardless. It's a two-innings game and you play it out."

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Protein to hydration ratio is very important. "I like to work to the ratio of one carton of beer to every steak," says the Fruit Fly. "You have to get the balance right." (Batsman on a plane to the 1989 Ashes series may adjust this ratio as needed.)

Slow cook your steaks. Hughes likes to give his steaks a fair amount of time on the grill. "A lot of people will say that dries it out, but they probably have the plate too hot," he says. "You need to take the time to cook it gently. This is where the ratio of protein to hydration comes in. You can get a few in while you're cooking."

Tomato sauce is the best sauce for a moustache. "The one food I normally steer clear of - for obvious reasons - is soup." writes Hughes in BBQ, Beer and BS. "You can't cook soup on a barbecue so I'm pretty safe, however sauces and marinades are probably my biggest enemy when it comes to the moustache. I tend to reach for the barbecue sauce and I've got to be careful with that. Tomato sauce, for some reason, blends in better. White sauce is a no go."

Offer a chef's selection. "I dedicate a portion of my cooking plate to the odd bits off the end of whatever I'm barbecuing" says Hughes. "You cut a little off and offer it to your nearest and dearest. You've got to be invited though. If someone tries to take stuff of my barbie without permission they get whacked with the tongs."

BBQ, Beer and BS, New Holland Publishers, RRP $40.