CALYPSO / YANKEE…Tour Report….April/May 2016……….EXOTIC Cricket Tours
There are Cricket Tours…and then… there are Cricket Tours
I say this in the knowledge that over the years, many of you have travelled to unique locations to play Cricket, but this tour was a tad different.
Several years ago I decided that I wanted to finish my own cricket career playing our beloved game in EXOTIC locations, so from that time on, Countries have been chosen …not…for their Cricket History, but to fit that description of an EXOTIC cricket location.
This tour was given the name…” Calypso / Yankee” which helps describe our journey, but only partly, as the following list will show:
*Mexico City MEXICO
*New York USA
There were 29 Victorians in the group, plus 5 Tasmanians.
As always, each player was allocated an important tour responsibility and they all performed brilliantly, especially the Captains and Selectors group.
# Greg Johnson…Ian Hammett ... and Ian Fraser
I owe them much!
One year ago, it was a casual conversation with Bruce Hotton (Yarra Valley) that led me to include Mexico in the tour. His daughter Verity lives in Mexico City and offered her services as a guide and translator and she proved to be invaluable. With her help, 2 matches were arranged with the Mexico City CC and were subsequently played at their ground “ The Reforma Club, in the heart of a city of 23 Million people.
Our Hotel “ La Casona” was an absolute treasure, both quirky and furnished entirely with Mexican antiques, strangely the owner was a “Swiss”, with a Swiss chef, which only added to the flavour.
Have you ever visited a “ Mariachi Band Restaurant “ where you pay by the song and have three, 6 men bands all dressed-in full traditional Mexican attire, all playing within earshot of one another and another one, tuning up for their turn to play ?
At one point, at the end of our table I saw our new Pres. Greg Johnson trying to protect his eardrums from 2 trumpets, only inches away.
This was truly Mexican and truly unique on a cricket tour.
Some of us dropped into the ancient AZTEC Pyramids by Balloon (at dawn), and it proved to be a major highlight. These mighty structures, located in a small village on the fringe of this huge city, and whose original village population of 200,000 people mysteriously disappeared centuries ago, are truly a sight to behold. Mexico was a great choice and a huge success.
Nothing prepared us for our visit to Havana CUBA, not withstanding the personal investigation and research
“Time worn but magnificent, dilapidated but dignified fun, yet maddeningly frustrating. Cuba is a country of indefinable magic”, said Ian Fraser.
Within an hour of arrival, we were all blown away and predicting that it would prove to be the tour highlight, we were not wrong!
Our Hotel “ The PLAZA” was old, original and unique, and it was hard won, because several months before, I discovered that you must deal only with TRUSTED people in Cuba. Fortunately Verity came to our rescue.
It was not the first choice but as our bookings at hotel after hotel were mysteriously cancelled, I was left with the few choices that our “Trusted “ person could obtain for us.
But again, I think “ Ian Fraser “ best summed up The PLAZA with this thought.
“I’m glad we stayed here and not at a so called better hotel, because we have lived the flavour of Old Havana not obtainable in other places, which will now quickly disappear as the country opens up. We have been lucky to have come at this time”.
The Cafes’, the bars and the hundreds of small family restaurants in “ Old Havana”, each providing some variation of high quality Cuban music, either at street level or small roof top terraces offered us a musical extravaganza unlike any where else we have ever been.
Every single night was exciting. Wherever you walked, there was music and extraordinary happiness and of course, we sought out and found the most famous place of them all.
“The Buena Vista Social Club “.
A recreated nightclub from the 50s & 60s with original artists, still belting it out. Believe me, you just gotta visit!
An internationally recognised highlight of any visit to Havana is of course riding in one of the 1950s /60s Classic American Cars, just cruising the streets.
Most of us imagined only a few would be available, but as you walk around you see literally hundreds of these old unique automobiles, many decrepit, but still running and held together with odd parts and bits of wire, a literal automobile time-warp, created by a desperate political situation.
But there is a large fleet, owned by enthusiasts, of restored Classics (some still held together with wire), brightly coloured - Pink, Purple and Iridescent Blues & Greens, Caddys, Chevies, Dodges & Fords. Hard- tops and Convertibles, and for about $30 a car, four of you can cruise the streets for an hour. “Happy days and the Fonz”…here we come!
And the best of all, imagine 12 of us in a 3-car convoy dragging up the middle of the main road, 3 abreast, throttles wide open and the simultaneous mighty growls of 3 V8s thundering past City Hall. Wow!! a drag race to remember.
YEP…Cuba was amazing and if the Government had allowed our much-planned Cricket Match to proceed, it would have been awesome, but it just has to remain amazing.
Note; I am now assured that a future request for a match is likely to be approved on our next tour to CUBA, on Cultural grounds!
I think every Australian Cricketer at some time in his life, has an ambition to play cricket in England and many over 60s players I also believe, their next wish would be to go to the Caribbean and play Calypso cricket - a lucky few have now achieved that goal. This is our story!
We were met at the Airport by a VIP delegation compromising The Minister of Sport, members of the local Tourism Commission, leading Businessmen, Journalists and TV reporters. The reception was held in the VIP lounge andwe were suitably impressed.
As we enjoyed our drinks, my mind went back to a wild thought which I had last year, “Wondering if we could get to play at the Test ground “SABINA PARK”, a ground where all of our cricket heroes have played. Contacts were made, conversations took place and we got our wish.
Located in Kingston, the Capital of Jamaica, the ground with a capacity of 40,000 has seen some of the greatest matches ever played. It just had to be on our itinerary.
It was the only match where 100% of our WAGs wanted to attend and they did us proud. And with the Australian flag blowing in the wind, they entrenched themselves on the Members balcony and waited.
SABINA PARK is also home to the “Kingston Cricket Club” and they were our host for the day. They put together a formidable looking team, whom I thought were pretty cocky at the introductions, and not taking the match as seriously as we were. Of course our average age of 68.9,was showing a little bit, in contrast to their 38.2 yrs.
The first ball of the first over, bowled by Kelvyn Anderson cleaned bowled their opening star batsman. The stands erupted, the WAGS screamed and the opposition was silent. Kelvyn’s 2nd wicket came in his second over and there were ominous rumblings from their captain Paul Campbell. We dropped a catch in the 4th over and they would have been 3 for 12. After that they creamed us!
During the game we had a surprise visit from ” The President of The West Indies Cricket Board of Control”… Mr Dave Cameron, and as our players were fielding on his arrival, I asked him if he would like to meet the ladies on the balcony.
I duly called our WAGs to attention to meet our honoured guest, only to be greeted with one of them saying loudly, “Hang on a minute, we are in the middle of an over”. Dave laughed his head off and stated he would recreate that moment and include it in future speeches that required, “pricking the balloon of self importance”. He stayed quite a while and mingled with and met all of our players. In some cases he freely entered into conversation on the current importance and contentious issues facing West Indies cricket.
A delightful man whose presence added to the importance of our visit to this wonderful ground.
Every one of our players felt this day was a personal highlight in their long cricket lives, and the team played its heart out. Unfortunately we did not win.
We ended the game in high spirits and thought just how lucky we were to be alive and playing on this hallowed turf. The match was followed by a formal dinner on the Balcony and those who have earned Australian Blazers, wore them with pride.
HOW DO YOU TOP A DAY LIKE THAT ONE
Well, what you do is you go to the “Melbourne Club” and play a game against COURTNEY WALSH, at this, his home club, where he and Michael Holding started their cricket careers…you just compete against his team…allow him to Captain and bowl to several lucky Australian players. The luckiest of all being Kel Grant (Geelong) who got to face the full force of the Hurricane, with 8 slips and 1 fielder front of the wicket, and we have photos to prove it.
Another dream day of cricket on a really interesting ground, accompanied by our own boundary Disco man, playing loud Calypso music, which made it hard for Donny Everett to hear his Captain’s fielding instructions, mainly because he was disco dancing along the boundary most of the time.
We left Jamaica knowing that “we were living the dream”!
Once again, I have been constantly amazed at how each day and City presented new adventures. In the planning phase you just get “a feeling “ and when it happens, you ought not be surprised, but our second visit to New York produced its own magic for us.
A couple of years ago, when Exotic Tours first visited the USA, we were at the Grand Canyon on ANZAC DAY and we took the opportunity to hold a spontaneous and memorable commemorative ceremony, right on the edge of this mighty chasm.
This tour also presented us with an opportunity to celebrate ANZAC DAY, as we were going to be in New York City on the 25th April.
But this time we planned it………
The Flight deck of the USS INTREPID - a mighty WW2 Air Craft Carrier, moored in the Hudson River, was chosen as the place to hold this important ceremony.
Surprisingly, the Management team on site were very receptive to our request and gave us the prime position, right in the middle of the Flight Deck.
A small group, headed by Greg Johnson was assembled to pull the day together and it was quite a task.
We had invited the “Australian Consul General “ Mr Nick Minchin and several of his staff to attend and take part in the ceremony, and even though they had attended the New York Dawn service that morning, they honoured us by coming along to ours as well.
Also In attendance were high-ranking Officers from our Military Delegation to the United Nations
We also sought out from the “Allied Forces Foundation “ the appropriate musicians needed for such an occasion
*A Pipe Major, complete with bagpipes and an Army Bugler
Several members of our group were chosen to speak of their own Family experiences during War, and they spent weeks preparing.
We chose well:
They held the audience and the many curious onlookers enthralled as they related their stories. The atmosphere created was reverential and many admitted later to having a tear in the eye.
We involved our VIP guests throughout the ceremony.
Wreaths were laid, Flags of three Nations were flown and our Piper and Bugler led the way.
I truly believe none of us will ever forget those 45 minutes and when many of our honoured guests said it was the most unique ANZAC DAY ceremony they had ever attended - we could only smile!
At this stage you are probably saying “I thought this was a Cricket Tour?“
Well it was, because e then headed out to “Staten Island cricket Club”. Their renowned President, ”Clarence Modeste”, once again greeted us and ensured that we had a memorable game on this most famous of all cricket grounds in the USA.
But once again, there was a major surprise ahead. We got a most unexpected Invitation from our Military guests to accompany them on a Diplomatic Pass for a guided VIP tour of the UNITED NATION which included rare access to the General Assembly itself and lunch in the Delegates dining room overlooking the Hudson River. We all felt quite important and very privileged.
This was our second invitation to participate at the 26th Annual “Philadelphia International Cricket Carnival”.
Teams from all over the US and several international teams compete in five 20/20 matches over 4 days against mainly 35/40 year olds.
We nearly won 3 matches and I was proud of our efforts, particularly when we were told by each team of their admiration for Australian cricketers and to their amazement that we are all still playing and offering stiff competition.
There is no doubt about it, that wherever we travel we leave good impressions. Perhaps the greatest honour…belongs to two of our travelling umpires
*Colin O’Neill (Mornington club)
*Martin Betts (Tasmania)
They were selected from a large Umpiring panel to adjudicate the Grand Final.
Along with Melbourne it is often judged “The Worlds Most Liveable City “ and you can see why, the moment you get there, a magnificent deep-water harbour surrounded by snow capped mountains rolling right down into the city fringes. We instantly felt at home and settled in to a daily routine of exploring this beautiful place and playing cricket.
After competitive matches against the ”Menaloma club” and the “West Vancouver Cricket Club”, who both invited us to return, the group moved into “extra time”.
Several couples headed off to Alaska on a scenic cruise, others caught the “ Rocky Mountaineer Railway “ and headed off on their own adventure, and others decided to tour the American National Parks, and the balance came home.
Once again we achieved that all important, group harmony, and I want to congratulate each member of the group on the way they conducted themselves. We travelled as proud lucky Australians living “The Dream”.
It’s hard to be brief in a report of this nature, but like I said at the beginning,
“ There are Cricket Tours and then there are Cricket Tours “
This was surely the latter!
Cheers, and I hope you enjoyed reading about our trip. Perhaps we might see you on the next one?
Tours Director – VOSCA (Exotic Tours)