Sydney Classics Tour of UK & Ireland 2018
This was the most prepared tour that I had been involved in. I had the amazing help of Paul Adams on administrative matters and George Hodgson and Mike Collins on playing issues.
We decided to take a larger squad with 16 full tourists and 2 part tourists. For the first time we had to select a squad with some good players missing out and, for the first time in 4 tours, we had a specialist wicket keeper, in fact 2 of them! There were a mixture of previous tourists and new ones.
This enhanced squad allowed us to keep the fixtures closer together with player rotation, enabling players to rest between games (or so we thought!).
We were pleased to have 11 Partners along, 9 of them for the full tour.
So we headed off with great enthusiasm knowing nothing would go wrong, or would it…
It is appropriate that we start with Michael. Michael was part of our last tour to Canada and USA. A larger than life figure he soon became loved by us all. When discussing our next tour he suggested that we go to Devon and Cornwall where he had toured on a number of occasions. He then sourced a number of fixtures for us. As we all were arriving in London he suggested a couple of fixtures there also.
It was a great shock to us all when he passed away unexpectantly on 31 Dec 2017. We were honoured to have his sister, Sue, and husband join us for the first dinner in Teddington and they presented us with a Snowman Mascot which became part of our tour.
The South Wales fixtures owe much to Peter O’Reilly, again who was on our last tour. Peter was a professional at Gowerton and was greatly respected by that club. Through his contacts there we got all 3 games, including the Wales Over 60s at the Gowerton ground.
The Irish fixtures came from my visit to Belfast last year where I made contact with the Northern Ireland and Ireland Cricket Associations.
As we all were arriving in London we decided to start here. The tour was originally known as the Gaelic & Cornish Tour but, with London added, this became a stretch. Teddington is in South West London and sits on the Thames with some beautiful walks along the river.
The first 2 days allowed everyone to settle in (some arrived even earlier). There were plenty of sightseeing trips into London. Then we had an enjoyable pre tour dinner at The Wharf beside the River Thames. We were joined by Snowy’s sister, Sue and her husband. In the background we had England’s semi-final World Cup Soccer match projected on the wall.
The playing started in earnest. The Bushy Park ground was excellent and was a 15 minute walk away (a struggle going up the hill on the way back!). The second game was to be against the Middlesex Over 50s but they withdrew at the last minute. With some local contacts of our organiser Mike Shufflebotham, relatives of players and use of our spare players we pulled a game together.
Two close run matches resulted in 2 wins.
Worth mentioning was the ladies (and 2 gents) day out to Ascot Races. The dress ups were a wonder to behold. Tosser Cook could not help but win but, when he bet Barry’s monies on, he had a lost! A Royal Commission Inquiry has been called.
We then boarded our first coach trip and off to South Wales.
On our way to Mumbles we stopped 3 hours at Bath. What a beautiful place.
Mumbles is a 15 minute drive past Swansea. The hotel was small but well situated on the seafront. A pretty but quiet place (it doesn’t even have a laundrette!).
The Welsh really appreciated our visit. They organised 3 wonderful playing days. We won our match against Bronwydd but lost the next 2 against stronger opposition.
Their hospitality provided us with some wonderful memories. At Bronwydd a Welsh Choir arrived and sang in Welsh. They finished with the national anthems of both countries. At Gowerton against the Wales O60 we were greatly entertained by a ukulele band with many of us revealing their hidden musical talents. The Welsh love their singing!
On our day off we had a coach trip into the Brecon Beacons and included a mountain train trip. Seeing and hearing about the old coal towns was eye-opening.
Back on the coach and on to Sidmouth, a popular seaside resort. We had 9 days here. What a beautiful town. Our hotel was on the seafront with great views. I think we all fell in love with the place.
The Sidmouth Cricket Club ground was on the front. What a suburb ground. It appeared to be a focal point for the locals and visitors alike with many stopping for a drink to watch the cricket. There were about 5 games a week with many touring sides looking for a game. We were honoured to play on this ground against the Devon Aged side.
Some of our rostered-off players played for Sidmouth to help them out and performed very well. So some got more than one game at this great venue
Our other games required a lot of coach travel through the narrow roads which are a feature of both Devon and Cornwall. Our coach driver, Barry, was allocated for the whole trip. What a driver. He could drive this bus between anything. I never felt safer.
We lost one fixture due to opposition mixing up the date. The other 5 games were played at great grounds, 3 beside the water, one at a private school and one in the grounds of a stately home. In 2 games we encountered youngsters, one with all 11, and another with half the team. The latter included Devon’s opening bat and he was in cruise mood the whole match.
We lost against the 2 sides with youngsters and against a highly disciplined Cornwall over 50s, but beat the Devon Over 50s and the Devon Dumplings (with the latter borrowing some spare players from us).
Against the Cornwall Over 50s we were introduced to the game of Smite, a variation on skittles and played outdoors. We presented with a game kit which I have in my possession.
On our 2 days off we first had a trip to St Michael’s Mount and St Ives. A long trip but definitely worth it. The second trip was to Exeter and Dartmoor. The tour guide could have done a lot better but we still saw plenty of interesting places.
Up to this point we had most un-British weather. It had not rained for weeks and the weather was mostly in the balmy 20’s. Belfast was having similar weather but our arrival was to see a complete change. On our day of flying in from Exeter they had 74mm of rain. Despite valiant efforts from the home team the ground could not be dried so we had an unexpected day off.
Belfast was where I was born. I had not played a game of cricket there for over 40 years. To captain against the Northern Union Over 50s was special. My relatives and friends turned up for the day (is this the most watched Classics game in history?). We all tried hard but we were up against a team with 4 ex Irish internationals who were just too good. This was our biggest defeat.
The Ramada Encore Hotel was excellent and it was nice to have a room that we didn’t have to trip over our bags to get to bed.
On our day off we had a coach trip up the Antrim Coast. Our tour guides were John Burns (Rob’s brother) and me. We visited the Bushmills Distillery, had a great meal at Bushmills Inn and got see the Giants Causeway. The only disappointment was that we got soaked walking across the Carrick-a-Rede Bridge. A great day never-the-less.
Dundrum were keen to make up for the earlier lost match so we stopped for a T20 match on our way down to Dublin. They were only able to find 3 players so with our 17 we had a 10-a-side game. Shortly after the start of the second innings the weather again had its say as we ran for it to enjoy a great tea.
So we arrived in Dublin to stay at the Beresford Hotel. Nice hotel within walking distance to the centre. Our first night saw most of our players head for Temple Bar. The night life was in contrast to the other places that we had been. Good food and plenty of musical entertainment.
Our first match was memorable for many reasons. Our coach taking us to The Hills Cricket Club had seen better days and eventually expired at a road works 7km from our destination. The local team sent out a convoy of cars and got us there. The match was played in a great spirit with the local team including a young Australian lady wicket keeper. They even brought in external caterers to provide a wonderful dinner. Our trip back was again memorable with our coach driver (with a thick Dublin accent) trying to act as a tour guide. He pointed out the Tesco Distribution Centre, McDonalds and many similar food places. We could see where he got his figure from.
Merrion the next day was played at a beautiful ground and with typical Irish hospitality. A comfortable win with the most notable event being Barry being on the field by accident on his day off. He was soon sent packing but reappeared playing for the opposition
Our last match against Leinster O50s was originally set for Sunday. The opposition believed it was on Saturday. Some quick calls and we were ready to play them in Phoenix Park in the middle of Dublin. A comfortable victory to finish, with all 11 getting a bowl.
Next day was our last and many did tours. We finished with a Celtic Night where we had a meal and Irish singing and dancing.
- Having a larger squad proved successful but any larger would have meant not enough games. As is normal some players wanted to play additional games and this was satisfied with making up opposition teams who we short on numbers and playing for Sidmouth
- Despite best efforts 2 teams still turned out under-aged sides.Not sure if we can ever overcome this problem
- All sides were delighted and wanted to play us.The hospitality was amazing and the food provided was first class.Most people put on weight
- Need to have more spinners to balance the bowling attack
- Need to ensure that we have quality tour guides
- Ask hotels about lifts
- Staying beside the water has a great feel about it
- Demand quality coaches!
Snowy knew his cricket. He suggested some great fixtures and I felt that he was with us throughout the tour.
I believe that the UK is the best place in the world to have a cricket tour. They have wonderful pitches and know how to look after touring sides. There are also plenty of aged cricketers to play against. However the further south one plays the better the weather.
The cricket was always enjoyable even if played against younger opposition. Many friends were made. Now Northern Ireland are considering aged cricket as they enjoyed the day so much.
The team gelled very quickly and the Partners immediately felt part of the group. They watched some of our matches and other days went off and did their own thing. There was a great feeling of togetherness.
We had a wonderful group of people and they were a joy to manage. A special thank you to:
Paul Adams, who did so much to prepare for the tour, especially helping with accommodation, socials and acting as Treasurer on tour
George Hodgson and Michael Collins for captaining so well and in the right spirit and helping me with all those difficult batting orders
Yvonne Adams for finding Klanga who was so easily awarded after every match
Sandra Collins, for her dedication in taking so many wonderful photos to add to our tour memories and the risks she took going on the field to get the close ups
George Hodgson, Barry Everingham and Peter Caldwell, for writing the match reports in amusing and interesting fashion and giving us lasting memories
Chas Viner for collating those statistics so quickly and accurately (the truth can hurt!)
Colin Hoving for obtaining the picture books of Australia which were awarded to opposition players
…and to all other players who contributed so much in their own way
Finally thanks to all the WAGS who contribute more than they realise and ensure (reasonably) good behaviour.
There were many other memorable moments but they will have to fall under the category of ‘what happens on tour stays on tour’.
I have been asked when is the next tour and where to. My current thoughts are back to the UK to the South East Counties (Surry, Kent, Sussex) and maybe a bit of the Cotswolds. When? Well probably in 2020 if I am still standing.
Thanks again to all who toured who made it so special for me and my wife, Mei Lai.