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May 12, 2013

A side that should make it to heaven

Geoffrey Forday, Singapore


A team photograph of the ANZA Champs
How many teams concede 220 runs in just 17 overs to lose a game, after taking the time to triumphantly pose for scoreboard photos at the halfway mark? © Geoffrey Forday
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If rugby is the game they play in heaven, surely cricket must be the game played to decide who gets the automatic go-ahead from St Peter to enter those celestial gates.

When played in the best behaviour, cricket embodies all that is fundamental to an individual's right and proper conduct. Sportsmanship, fortitude, endeavour and respect for team-mate and foe alike - therein lay many of the key building blocks to one's character.

And then, there are the ANZA Champs.

I do not know how many of my past and present team-mates will get the call to go through the pearly gates but I have a feeling that a good number will see St Peter refer their decision to the third umpire. We can only hope that, sitting up there in his adjudication box, God's use of the video replay is premised on a significant application of the 'benefit of doubt' principle.

Having said that, I think god does possess a decent sense of humour and when it comes to Champ cricket, (s)he does seem to be always up for a bit of a lark.

How else but through the liberal touch of the spiritual funny bone can one explain just how a team as thoroughly inept and possessing such uniform dubious character as that demonstrated by the Champs, survive seven seasons of endeavour in the somewhat more serious world that is Singapore cricket?

A few weekends ago the Champs achieved a significant milestone, as we lined up for our hundredth game of league cricket on this island.

Some have asked, and quite reasonably, just what are the Champs doing in the tenacious competition that is fourth division cricket. The simple answer is that, there was no fifth division when we were formed.

The fact that we have stayed quite where we are is a testament to the complexities of distance versus displacement. In a manner very reminiscent of how we go about our fielding, we do seem to move quite a decent bit but see little advancement from where we began. As it is in marriage, so it is in cricket.

So a hundred games in, what have we learned about ourselves?

Right off the bat, the Champs knew that, through the wholesale pursuit of unmitigated incompetence, the game of cricket is just that, merely a game. However the spirit of cricket is so much more.

From our very first league game in 2006, I had an inkling that something special was being created. Captaining the team, I witnessed two bowlers banned by the umpires from returning to the wicket, three balls lost into orbit somewhere over the Malaysian town of Malacca, and an opposition team chase down 220 runs in just 17 overs. This after we took the time to triumphantly pose for scoreboard photos at the halfway mark.

The Champs are a bit like the United Nations in that the impotence of power is often reflected in the correlation between our lack of success on the paddock relative to the amount of off-field banter. If nothing else, we do talk an excellent game.

Brits, Indians, Pakistanis, Kiwis and Australians are all numbered among our Champ caps but the diversity is such that Australians of Chinese, Malaysian, Sri Lankan, Austrian, Vietnamese, Italian, Danish and of course Singaporean descent have all been welcomed into the fold. No ethnic group has the monopoly over unrequited sporting fulfillment.

As part of our positive discrimination policies, we even agreed to let in one sprightly fellow from Wagga Wagga. As our vice-captain at the time hailed from nearby Grong Grong, this seemed a natural progression.

One of the great achievements of the team is that colour, religion, social standing and ethnicity are blurred into irrelevance by the Champs policy that intra-team sledging is not only compulsory but also non-discriminatory and equal-opportunity.

Reflecting our need to apportion blame equally, we have had five captains in just over seven seasons. In order to cover our bases against a god possessed of a seemingly perverse sense of cricket humour, our team skippers have been chosen to appease all the holy books from the Old Testament through to its sequel and on to the Koran and the Hindu scriptures.

Word has it that we are among the oldest teams playing any sport in an organized competitive league in south-east Asia. With the bulk of the team well into their late 40s and 50s, inertia and gravity remain constant obstacles to progress. That, and our 22% win-loss record. Opposition teams have been known to send us 'Missing you, wish you were here' postcards during the season.

However, the true victory for us was not in winning, but in participation. Champs Cricket gives each of us a precious link to another time. Each season we play is one more year of clinging to fading youthful memories.

Close our eyes and we hear the laughter of boys unburdened of any care or responsibility. Victories, large and minor, are (much like this piece) embellished beyond all recognition of reality. In a way, it is only right and proper that we lose so often and with incredible consistency lest we not enjoy the unbridled satisfaction that comes from those rare moments of triumph.

We have also been incredibly successful in exporting our domestic form to the international stage. Despite numerous tours to Thailand and Indonesia, the Champs haven't won an away game in seven years. Locals with less than a rudimentary knowledge of the game were more adept at summoning the minimum amount of physical exertion sufficient to beat us soundly. Fortunately or otherwise, this cycle of unbroken Champ collapses was severed last year when the new skipper, the Right Reverend David Goodwin, led the team to victory on our final day in Phuket.

Without wanting to use the term too loosely, we play our cricket within the umbrella of the Australian New Zealand Association Cricket Club and that has been all for the better. For while there is truly some serious-faced cricket played by our brother teams, the Club has generously allowed us to wander aimlessly. We have grasped this liberty to the fullest.

How very appropriate it should be then that we played our 100th game against our fellow ANZA team-mates, the colourfully-named ANZA 2s. We shall be sad to see them leave the comfort of Division 4 as they will indubitably gain promotion this year. Like true clubmen, we played our part and allowed the 2s to massacre us and take full points off us. Lest there be any talk of tanking, we should also point our that two months into our season, the Champs are yet to register a win. Plus ça change and all that.

So there we are, 100 games in and on we still go. I was there at the beginning. I hope I am not at the end.

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Posted by manishwa on (May 22, 2013, 6:28 GMT)

Sorry, should have been "lack of form is temporary, lack of class is permanent." Oops, my lack of form...and maybe class too.

Posted by manishwa on (May 22, 2013, 5:56 GMT)

Keep going. And do remember, as Marcus Berkmann wrote in Zimmer Men - lack of form is temporary, lack of form is permanent.

Posted by SachinIsTheGreatest on (May 17, 2013, 12:53 GMT)

Hilarious! The Baron de Coubertin might rethink his own Olympic motto looking at you guys! Well done and hope you strive for success(?) for many more years to come!

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