Bill Pavilion End, Bill Ricquier's Cricket Views

On the Road

In Some Cricket Matches.. by Bill Ricquier

I had an email from an old friend this week, asking if we would be able to catch up in our customary meeting place in the Pavilion at Lord’s during the forthcoming Test against New Zealand. I replied that as this would involve 10 days of self isolation on arrival in the UK, with two negative COVID Tests and, on returning to Singapore, three weeks’ quarantine in a hotel selected by the authorities at a cost to me of several thousand dollars – all this after having received two doses of vaccine – I would give it a miss this time.

Of course we are all, or most of us, in the same boat, a boat that is going nowhere.

One mustn’t complain. We are extremely fortunate to be living in Singapore. But it would be rather nice to go somewhere else occasionally. (If you don’t know Singapore, its principal land mass is an island whose shape is remarkably similar to that of the Isle of Wignt; it is about 1.85 times the size, has in fairness, rather more available in the way of entertainment, and a population of 5.8 million (as opposed to around 140,000 on the Isle of Wight.)

There are all sorts of things one wants to do when one eventually – I hesitate to say “escapes” but you know what I mean. For me one of them is watching cricket, international or domestic (county) cricket. This is something I have not done in the flesh since June 2019, which now seems a long time ago. That, it has to be said, was a fantastic experience, watching three World Cup matches from the media centre at three venues in the course of a week (The Oval, Edgbaston and Headingley). The most interesting game was the third when the hosts lost to Sri Lanka – and I can assure you that, at the innings break, nobody in the media centre thought that was going to happen. I travelled up and down the country by train, catching up with old friends en route. Who cared if nobody read my reports? I was having an excellent time.

Since then, nothing. Of course there is plenty of cricket on TV and screening services but there’s nothing like being there, even if it’s raining.

Surely, I hear you saying to yourself Singapore is not the ideal residence for the devoted cricket watcher? Well, of course, it’s not perfect. Even the Isle of Wight stages the occasional county match. But there are distinct advantages.

We are three hours away from Colombo and I have watched a lot of cricket in Sri Lanka, occasionally at various grounds in the capital but mostly at the wonderful Galle International Stadium. I have watched three Ashes Tests at the Adelaide Oval, another magnificent venue, not quite ruined by the most recent renovations; I have also seen Test cricket in Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. I have visited the Basin Reserve in Wellington but not actually watched a match there. All these things would have been perfectly possible from England but less convenient.

I realise that there are people – I know some – who have been much more dedicated cricket travellers than I. Certainly when I first came to Singapore – and I arrived in February 1980 – I demonstrated no apparent interest in watching – or at least going to watch – international cricket. I was more interested in visiting places in south-east Asia, such as Thailand and Burma, which were like nowhere I had seen before.

In fact I don’t think I had seen Test cricket since 1978. I was living and teaching law in Liverpool. I remember in the sumner of 1979 going to two county grounds that were new to me: Aigburth, in Liverpool itself, and Southport. The latter day was a slightly odd one. I had agreed to take a friend’s nephew to the cricket but part of the deal was that we had to go to Blackpool too. So after watching Glenn Turner make a hundred for Worcestershire we went off to the Big Dipper.

My last day of Test cricket had been at Edgbaston, England against Pakistan. It is a day many people claim to remember but I really was there. It was David Gower’s first Test, and he hit his first ball, from Liaqat Ali, for four.

I was back in England for a holiday in 1983 and watched a bit of Hampshire. I saw the Smith brothers, Chris and Robin, make hundreds at lovely, lamented Dean Park in Bournemouth.

Still no Test cricket though. And then suddenly, for reasons which now elude me, I decided to go and watch a Test match in India.

It was the sixth and final Test of the 1983-84 series between India and the West Indies at Madras (Chennai). The series was particularly intriguing because the West Indies were unquestionably the best side in the world – many judges would say the best ever, and in 1983 they were arguably at their peak – but in 1983 they had been at the receiving end of one of the game’s greatest upsets when they lost the (60-over) World Cup final – to India.

By the time the teams reached Madras West Indies had sown the series up 3-0, and honour had been restored. It must have been well before then that I started making plans to watch this match. I had never been to India and had no idea how one went about obtaining tickets. I knew enough, though, to realise it was probably imprudent just to turn up at Chepauk (the ground in Madras) and try to buy a ticket. So I wrote to the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association explaining the situation. I wanted two tickets for the first day and one for the next three. An American friend and colleague, who was travelling in south Asia at the same time was coming for the first day. (I was hoping that his experience would be different from that of his distinguished compatriot, President Eisenhower, who watched the fourth day’s play between Pakistan and Australia at Karachi in 1960-61, when the home side scored 104 runs for the loss of five wickets, the second slowest day’s play in Test history.)     

I can’t recall whether I ever had a response from the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association. But I will never forget my arrival at the airport in Madras. You can imagine the hubbub and turmoil in the arrivals section. Suddenly, while I was just standing trying to work out where I should be going, a voice came over the public address system: would Mr William Ricquier please present himself at the Air India desk. I followed my instructions; and, there at the Air India desk, I was met by an official of the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association who formally presented me with my tickets.

That was the good news. The bad news was that Madras was in the grip of a downpour of biblical proportions.

My friend Bob and I had not travelled together; I think he was already in India. But we must have had an arrangement to meet (how did one manage these things in the days before mobile phones?) and my recollection is that we met in the Connemara Hotel in the centre of town. I remember literally wading through the streets of downtown Madras: not pleasant.

Once we had met, we had an urgent mission to accomplish. This was the acquisition, for each of us, of a liquor permit, because Tamil Nadu, ironically in light of the cataclysmic weather conditions, was “dry”. We needed to obtain official confirmation that the consumption of alcohol was something like a medical necessity. This turned out to be a refreshingly straightforward exercise; in fact my dealings with Indian officialdom were all very satisfactory – I had to change my travel arrangements several times and there was never any difficulty.

You might think that getting accommodation would be more urgent than a liquor permit – well, it all depends on one’s point of view, but this was not an issue because Bob had already found somewhere. I mentioned that Bob was a colleague as well as a friend but that is slightly misleading; we were both teaching law in Singapore but he was himself still a student and quite anxious to keep costs down. So rather than staying at The Connemara, which looked rather nice, we found ourselves at the Malaysia Lodge, at the junction of Parry’s Corner and Popham’s Broadway (wonderfully evocative names). I think if it is your aim to cut costs then Madras 1983 is a pretty good place. I suspect we could have done a bit better than the Malaysia Lodge without breaking the bank. To have called it a hovel would have breached the Trade Descriptions Act: it was much worse than that. (Bob subsequently became the global boss of one of the best and most successful of New York law firms, but I am sure he is no happier than I am.)

Anyway, we had more important things to worry about than our creature comforts. There was a Test match to look forward to – or was there? The next day was the scheduled opening day, which also happened to be Christmas Eve. Christmas Day was a rest day. It was clear that there was going to be no play on the first day. So we had two days “off”.

We saw a bit of the city that evening: my abiding memory is of a startlingly emaciated Santa Claus in the big old department store, Spencers. Then we went off, first to Kanchipuram, one of the seven Hindu holy cities.There was a lot to see and wonder at, and, at the end of the day, the perfect Christmas dinner: masala dosai, and a bottle of whisky.

The next day we went to Mahabalipuram, an astonishing place with fabulous shrine stone carvings in the caves and rocky outcrops on the beach. By now the weather was perfect too. That night we were back in Madras (the lure of the Malaysia Lodge was irresistible).

Unfortunately Bob had to move on so I went off to Chepauk on my own.

It’s funny what one can remember and what one can’t. I seem to recall getting to the ground via some sort of suburban train, but can that really be right? They had given me a nice seat and people were incredibly friendly. At some point on that first afternoon I found myself sitting next to a delightful lady, the wife of an army officer, who seemed very much taken by the West Indian batsman Larry Gomes. The ground was full but not uncomfortably so and the atmosphere was terrific. On each day after play I walked down to the beach at Chepauk, from which the ground takes its name, a vast expanse of sand and sea stretching out forever in the beautiful light of dusk. My only regret is that I took no photographs. I have plenty of the side trip, and of Delhi and Agra, where I went later. But I really was at the game, despite the absence of photographic evidence. I remember going to the Valley of the Kings with a small random group of tourists; we were about to descend into a tomb when the guide said that no photography was allowed; a cantankerous Englishman in the group declined to enter.)

And then there was the cricket. The first day was a little disappointing in that I would have loved to have seen one of the great West Indians make a big score. The top nine all made between 23 and 62. (Jeff Dujon was the top scorer.) West Indies made 313.

I will never forget the drama of the beginning of the Indian innings. The West Indies’ attack included Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding and Andy Roberts. There was a special air of excitement because India’s master batsman, Sunil Gavaskar, who had had a strangely mixed series, had announced that he would not be opening the innings. Well, Marshall took two wickets in successive balls (including Dilip Vengsarkar, who averaged 53 in the series) in his second over, both brilliantly caught by Roger Harper at third slip. Gavaskar walked out to bat with the score 0 for 2.

He made a century, in fact he scored 236, but I left after the third day, flying to Delhi. The game was clearly heading for a draw.

It was not a great Test match, although it had some memorable moments (most of them in that one over of Marshall’s). Gavaskar’s innings, beginning at a time of crisis, and compiled against a formidable attack, and breaking various records, is nonetheless unlikely to feature in many people’s lists of the 100 Greatest Test Innings.

But I am so glad I made that trip to Madras. I savoured the experience of watching a Test match in a packed stadium in cricket’s most intriguing land. And not just that; there was a significant contribution from one of her greatest ever players.

The rest of the trip was memorable too: Delhi, Agra, Fatepur Sikri. I have never been back to Chennai but I have been to Delhi a few times. I know visitors’ views differ – and in recent years the pollution has apparently been dreadful – but I have always loved it. It is so tragic, what is happening now.  

On that first trip I had enough time to be able to explore Old Delhi, a real challenge in all sorts of ways. On more recent trips, for conferences, I have been limited to New Delhi, but I like it for probably all the wrong reasons. I love the colonial centre, designed by great British architects, Sir Edwin Lutyens, and Sir Herbert Baker. (Baker designed two buildings that I have always loved, the War Memorial Cloisters at Winchester, and the old Grandstand at Lord’s, now demolished of course.)

These days – well, if and when we can go back, I like to stay at The Imperial, a classic hotel designed in the 1930s by the wife of the then Viceroy. Comfortable rooms, a superlative bar, excellent restaurants. The icing on the cake is an unmatched collection of aquatints by the Daniells, Thomas and William (uncle and nephew) who went out to India in the 1790s. (They were in Malaya around 1820 and I am lucky enough to own an aquatint of theirs, View of The Chinese Mills in Penang.) In the lobby of The Imperial, on an easel, stands an aquatint of a scene that was on the site of the hotel itself. It all helps to make for a truly memorable experience.

But maybe not as memorable as the Malaysia Lodge.

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