BOTHAM & WILLIS

REMEMBER Ian Botham and Bob Willis, the fiery England cricketers of yore?

Much mellowed with age, the two have now gone and done something that is not quite cricket: they have launched their own range of wines.

You don't exactly associate cricket with wine. It's beer that is passed on around county cricket grounds on warm summer days. And if you win at Lord's — like India did during the 1983 World Cup — you spray champagne all over.

But Botham and Willis have tied up with Australian wine-maker Geoff Merrill to launch a wine range called `BMW' that stands for `Botham, Merrill, Willis'. Botham and Willis say during more than 25 years of touring the world as cricketers and commentators they never lost the opportunity to educate their palates with local spirits.

The fruits of this painstaking research were unveiled at Lord's in the shape of a "herbaceous" cabernet savignon and a lightly-oaked "melon and citrus" chardonnay.

The BMW label is said to be the product of at least 20 years of hard drinking that began one evening on tour in Australia in 1978 when Willis was at a reception sponsored by a local beer manufacturer.

Willis said at the launch: "I was just about to go back to the hotel and get some proper English beer when an Aussie voice yelled out, `So, you don't like the beer, try our wine then.'

The voice was that of Merrill who invited Willis and Derek Underwood, among others, for an extended tasting session at McLaren Vale vineyard where he worked.

Willis and Botham now join a lengthening line of unlikely celebrities who have put their names to wine, including Cliff Richard, Gerard Depardieu and the golfer Greg Norman.