by Ian Gason
We had gone through the week undefeated, but as happens every year, we were losing players at the business end of the week. Our young rock-star Max Coombes had left for a Bangkok soccer camp, having played a pivotal role in six lead-up matches. Steve Burke had been allowed to have a runner in the semi, and had retired (30+) for the third time in as many innings. Phil Walker had done a hammie keeping in that game, and was struggling to walk. He’d done a great job behind the sticks and made some valuable late innings runs.
We weren’t allowed runners for the final. Tariq called up one of his employees, Asif Khan, and Phil was subbed out. Burkey, as you may know, can bat pretty well, and one leg was deemed enough. So we had our six men, and a final to win.
Our tenth tour had begun pretty much the same way the previous nine had: late cancellations (“I’m definite” must mean something else in cricket speak….) leaving us one short; a drunken night or two in Bangkok; trying to avoid Gavin Shaw in Soi Cowboy; empty wallets, sketchy memories, arriving in Chiang Mai feeling like day 10 of tour not day 2.
We may have lost a couple in the lead-up but we did have Phil back for his 2nd tour, Max up in Chiang Mai for his 3rd, sad old gits Marty and me for our 10th on the trot, and an enthusiastic debutant in Steve Burke. A fair squad, and some guys I was looking forward to having some laughs with over the week. Still, it’s Sixes, not Fives, and I needed a player.
Stumping up to the captain’s meeting, I bumped into a sometime Dingbat, Tariq Wani, in town for Sixes (and like most Kashmiris, business) and without a team. Any past tourist will tell you- you snooze, you lose, and I wasn’t going to miss out here. The opening party got into full swing, catching up with mates from years past, fireworks on the river, making the most of the free food and drink, and our old Bangladeshi friend, Shafil says he has one or two spare players. After tomorrow, we can maybe have the guy who has played Test cricket, or Shaboj here who has played First Class and BPL. As any past tourist will tell you, I’m not fussy. Ariful Hassan Shaboj, welcome to the Dingbats.
Being our Tenth tour, we wanted to make it special. Mick Lay had already helped us along with shirt sponsorship, and the schedulers had given us a leg-up too. Not only did we start with three shoe-ins (Floggers, Beavers, Malakas) but we had Monday off. Tempting as a net or gym session may have been, we threw a party instead. We stocked up on booze, ordered in some food, hired two scantily clad bartenders and invited a dozen or so of our favourite teams to join us for an afternoon beverage in the tent. Great turn-out, with probably over 80 people coming through, lots of good cheer, lots of laughs, and just a great feeling of camaraderie. Congratulations offered on our ten years were truly from the heart.
Cricket continued the next day, having lodged a comfy win v Floggers and Robbers on day one. Tight bowling, 43 to get, Max Coombes hits his now famous 3 sixes in 3 balls in the 3rd over, we win no wickets down. Not bad for a lad who was reluctant to open! Vodka count? Maybe 3 bottles, probably more. 0/83 batting first v Stuffed Beavers (a team proud of their 26-game losing streak) was quite enough. Even with Shaboj rested, we kept them to 39 in reply. Vodka count? Two bottles. Some of the nicest blokes on the circuit, by the way. Afternoon game, 1/85 v Malakas (I was the 1, I didn’t get another bat all week!) again more than enough, towelled them up 4/45. Vodka count? Just the one, downed at alarming pace, and followed by some shot guns as well. Another great bunch of guys, whose love of cricket doesn’t quite match their ability.
So, at the half way mark, we had topped the Gentleman’s section and were in the Bowl. But first we had Wednesday night to deal with. Yukatas on, we hit the Gymkhana for the BBQ. The bands – made up of players- were as good as they have been, and we stayed a lot longer then we thought we would. When they fired up Highway To Hell, we decided to hit the Loi Kroir Rd to Hell, taking 14 year old team-mate Max out to the kind of bars he shouldn’t be at at that age. Actually, at 14, he probably shouldn’t be in any kind of bars, but, what the hell, it’s Thailand. As any past tourist will tell you, yukatas and chrome pole palaces are a recipe for fun.
When that bar ended the sensible headed for bed, via Bubbles of course, while a couple of us embarked on a course of questionable decisions that involved Spiceys, a Blue Hawaii (no anonymity, Burkey!) and a 4am pick up with medical consequences- again, Burkey, really? Eating a pizza from Spiceys?
We had an 8am breakfast and I got to bed just as the mosque was making its call to prayer. 3 hours sleep? Par for the course. By comparison to what lay ahead, the 9:50 game was classified as a late start! We’d won the toss the night before while drinking with the Zoom Bar Drifters and batted, making 0/77. Burkey and Shaboj retired (30+) I believe. Probably our closest game, they could only manage 2/60. I’d asked Max to pitch it up more, and he’d been hit for 10 in two balls. But kept his cool and bowled one on his 3rd ball, and then another with his 5th. No vodka- we’d hit the wall by now!
Game 5, Kimberley Crusaders (formerly Bangkok Postels) had lost with a bonus point, so would have taken the semi berth if they’d beaten us. More big hitting from Burkey and Shaboj took us to 88/1 and gave us enough to defend. It came at a cost- Burkey’s hammie. Again, tight bowling saw us through. Shaboj got one hit-wicket, after sconning ol’ Ned Kelly on the noggin. Rippa ball, but I had to tell him to back off when the Thai lad came out to bat next. (He castled him in 2 anyway.)
Saturday, and rising earlier every day, we won our 8:45am semi v Wombats relatively easily, the usual suspects (Shaboj, Burkey, extras) helping us to 97, the 2nd highest score for the week. Marty had a minor case of the yips, but 4 tight overs kept them to 80. Our keeper down with hammie #2. Max was off at soccer camp, so I had 4 fit players. We could deal with the batting but having so few fielders able to run was a problem. In the end we were denied runners, and with an hour to go, Tariq called in Asif, who came in for Phil. Burkey on one leg was good enough for me.
A year ago, we’d lost Marty on the last ball of the semi, and the wheels came off in the final. On our 10th tour, we all wanted to win, and we’d won every game so far. To lose here would have been pretty tough. And I’d lost the toss, and we were fielding, Nuttsy’s Buffed Taverners batting.
Burkey reckons I won the game first ball. Yes, I did bowl their gun bat who’d retired twice on Friday, but truth is I got away with a rank half tracker! Still, 1 for 4 after the first over, I’ll take that! Asif was up next, and I’d wanted him to keep, but Tariq said no, let him bowl. Wide to start…..here we go, I thought, but no, just the one. His over, as well as Shaboj and Burkey’s were all on the money, and after 4 they had just 27. Our Dr Death, Marty, got the choir-boy treatment- touched up and left feeling sore, but bottom line is we kept them to 50, a very, very gettable total.
Their innings started with a golden duck, ours with a flat 6 to behind square. That’s the way it continued. Shaboj scored some quick runs before falling to an incredible running catch. Burkey limped out and kept things ticking along nicely. Tariq had done well until he was well stumped by Nuttsy- a keeper who belongs on a far bigger stage. By then we were almost home. With 2 overs to spare, scores level, field up to save the one, Asif played the shot of the week- a forward defensive, as if to say “bowl two maidens if you can.” One ball later, a push to the on side, and Burkey managed to hobble the 22 yards required to seal a proud victory. 7 wins from 7 games, can’t ask for more, really.
Full marks to all the squad. Burkey, great batting, handy, tidy bowling, a lot of fun off the field. Phil, great 6s keeper and bat, not one to shy away from a slammer session. Max, lots of runs and economical bowling, awesome lad. Myself, well, I bowled as well as I have in CM- worst over was 11, best was 3. Pain in the arse at night and should be locked up. Shaboj, class act on the field, a bit shy off it, but like all the Bangla boys, genuinely good fella. Tariq, bats, bowls, keeps and reckons we can take on the Bangladeshis next year! Paul, manager extraordinaire, helped stitch the party together seamlessly, amongst his other managerial duties. And Marty. Well, if Marty needs an introduction, that’s your fault. Greatest death bowler around. Can bat, but maybe not the quickest outfielder. Fine-master and chief party starter. He’s the man responsible for the Tokyo Dingbats being one of the most loved teams in Chiang Mai.
If you haven’t been, you’d be well advised to find out for yourself. As Burkey said mid-week, “Now I understand.”
Apologies for talking so much about cricket, because the week is about so much more than cricket. It’s about the laughs, the friends, the memories, the late nights, the silly shit you do at 3am. Struggling through breakfast after an all-nighter. Downing a bottle of tequila in the pool at 4am. Struggling through a slammer session. Running around town in a yukata and getting a very favourable reaction in the streets and bars. Struggling through a chunder in a fine session. Laughing through a fine session as on and off field misdemeanors come back to haunt you.
Bringing home some silverware (it’s in the Irish Pub actually) in our tenth year capped a great week, and losing would have been too disappointing for words. But for me, the highlight of the week was seeing all our Sixes friends in our tent joining us to celebrate ten years and ten tours of friendship and memories. Join us in 2015: APRIL 5th to 11th.