Our South Coast Quokka and tour virgin writes some (in reality quite a lot of) words:
It had been almost 20 years since my last cricket tour. That was five days in north Wales, frequenting drinking holes waiting for the rain to stop, drunken telephone pole climbing and a drinking game that ended with ten hours in casualty, followed by four hours with my head out of car window with nothing but the taste of Bailys and tomato juice to remind me of what went before. With that wonderful experience still in my mind the call from Skip to tour again was obviously difficult to turn down.
Any doubts were replaced by intrigue when Skip informed me that representatives from the Serbian national cricket association were coming to the UK for a series of meetings. The first was with the Kent County Cricket Club at Canterbury. The second was to meet the ICC at Lords. A third meeting, well that was with the Quokkas in the local public house, obviously. A week before the tour and I am told that there’s a possibility of playing the Serbian National side, the Quokkas are invited to meet local dignitaries and Skip will be interviewed in advance of the game on Serbian TV. An email arrives requesting I bring smart shirt and jacket and be prepared for the first ever England/Australia- Serbian ashes game. The taste of tomato juice is starting to disappear.
On the first day of the tour its a leisurely trip to Heathrow for a lunchtime flight to Belgrade. No one likes those ridiculously early starts do they? A swift Guinness or two and it’s all aboard. Several games of top trumps later (how on earth do I get a 6 on Drinking Ability?) and we land and are met at the airport by the resplendent Haris, the man who brought cricket to Serbia and the immaculately dressed poster boy of Serbian cricket. The coach journey to our hotel gave Haris the opportunity to show us the sights of the city, provide us with a history of Serbian cricket, and an in depth education into the Serbian prostitution industry. In other words Hrris is the perfect tour guide.
Skippy making "friends"
With hotel found and best jeans on, it was time for a drink and straight away the 90p beers and £1.50 packs of fags had us all smiling. We hit the bright lights of Belgrade where we meet Vladimir and Slobba – the first Serbian Quokka – and whilst introducing myself I was instantly caught out in the first game of thumbs. Note to self – learn the rules of all drinking games before start of tour. Fortunately I have an untouched tequilla cocktail ready and waiting, so its down the hatch and the tour is well and truely off and running. Beers, shots, beers, shots, a dinner of bar-b-q pork and a few England vs Australia bets later…and before you know it we’re in a cab to Sound, one of the floating night clubs moored on the river Danube. It’s around this time that things start to get hazy. I remember Evil Dave killing off Skippy, but not before half of Belgrade had their photos taken with him and the local mafia started to get jealous of all the attention he was getting. For some the night rolled into day, for all it was sore heads and yawns in the morning.
I’d like to take this opportunity to describe the less than complimentary hotel breakfast. This consisted of boiled eggs, possibly muesli, warm milk and the hardest, flavourless cake ever `tasted’ by man. The burnt rolls were the highlight for those wanting to survive the two games of cricket ahead.
Ah, the cricket, I almost forgot why we were here. Our first game against McKenzie Cacak had a 12pm start. This seemed a little early to me, but with hindsight it could be categorised as a lie in. Having survived the rush hour traffic in the world’s oldest Lada `steered’ by a driver with two mobile phones on the go, I felt blessed to have made it to the venue in one piece. With blood eventually returning to knuckles it was time to check out the pitch. I think Boycs might have suggested the light roller, and there was a hint of green so I was ever so slightly glad when Shandy revealed he had brought a helmet. You wonderful man you. With the Quokkas put in, the umpires immediately explained the need for a dead ball call should the ball pitch and roll along the ground, that was unless you are bowled by an ankle biter in which case the rule seemed to go out the window. To be honest I was more concerned with the balls on a good length that threatened to take my head off.
In traditional Quokkas style we got off to a poor start, the middle went badly and the less said about the end the better. I managed to hang around and miss a lot, whilst tactically taking the strike away from our only performer – Evil Dave, whose lusty blows gave us some sort of respectability. Sadly 89-7 from our 20 overs turned out to be a below par score, as the Serbians demonstrated some real quality with the bat, backing up their threats from the night before to destroy us. Our new friend Slobba hung around all day and the locals romped home with a couple of overs to spare, losing just two wickets as the Quokkas wilted in the 39 degree midday heat. Time for lunch. Anyone not like pork?
No sooner had we consumed our own body weight in pig than it was time for the second game against Stari Grad. Despite some fine bowling from The Teapot, things didn’t really improve greatly, although we did manage to take a few wickets as the home side scored an impressive 114-7. Any real improvement could perhaps be put down to the performance of two Aussies we met in a bar the night before. Mind you it was somewhat of a disappointment to discover the 6’10 aussie bowled gentle off spin. Inevitably the game was lost as we were all out for a paltry 70, but the side bet from the night before saw England romp home by 3 innings to 1, leaving the Aussies facing the threat of pink uniforms next season. As darkness quickly fell there was no sign of the ladyboy prostitutes promised by Haris, but our Lada driver appeared still chatting on his phones.
Back at the Hotel, Verger quickly discovered that only one hotel iron existed and that was only available the following morning. With best creased shirt on it was time for a quick beer and having worked in Zinedine Zidane, Zico and Zubizereta to the name game it was off to a restaurant for more pork. There I received my first introduction to the 21 game and the term mano-a-mano. I think we all lost at 21s, leaving The Verger and the Binman to fight it out mano-a-mano. And what a contest it was, but as the Highlander said, there can be only one. With all the pork we could handle eaten and almost everyone fined for some sort of clothing misdemeanour, it was time to spread our wings.
As night approached day, one or two sherbets and a live band consumed, the Quokkas returned to the hotel to get a handy 45 minutes sleep before the coach set off at 6am for the Hungarian border. I beg your pardon? Was that 6am you said Skip, followed by a three hour coach journey to northern Serbia. You kept that bloody quiet. Funny how the taste of tomato juice can return.
Skip addresses the nation in his best Serbian
I’ve lost track of what day it is now, chasing too many balls to the boundary does that to a man, but on arrival at Kanjiza we were met by girls with match programmes, a public address system, an actual stadium with real supporters, well a gaggle of locals discovering cricket for the very first time. Although once again there was no sign of a square, never mind a pitch, thankfully someone had found a mower. I think Boycs would have recommended we just bloody get on with it, but if I’m honest I didn’t care what the pitch was like, I was still drunk when I finally went into bat. By then the Faggy and Mantis, supported by Shandy and Snoop, had saved face a bit by putting on a fine opening stand. That was followed by Skip reaching a 1000 runs for the Quokkas – acknowledged by both teams and then fans as the news was delivered via the public address system. Thanks to some good batting the Quokkas at last had something to defend scoring 129-9.
As the Kanjiža Kings CC came into bat Evil Dave steamed in evily, The teapot backed him up brilliantly, and then Faggie made his last attempt to win `Best and Fairest’ with some of the longest overs in living memory thanks to umpire Haris’ inability to count to six. But it was the spinners that really got hold of the game, with Egg, offering some excellent changes of pace and loft, grabbing three wickets and a couple falling to my snowballs. Only the organiser-in-chief – Peter Cheeseman – managed to get on top of the bowling, but a dubious runout saved the day and the Quokkas were victorious for the first time on this tour, winning by 7 runs.
Binman approves of the half time entertainment
Our game proceeded the full international between Serbia and Hungary, so as we took lunch – a real lack of pork for some reason – Skip met the Mayor and took part in a televised press conference. We celebrated our victory with beers and spicy hotdogs and set about creating a brilliant atmosphere from the stand. Local dancing troops, Mexican waves and cheers at anything half interesting added real colour to the occasion, which will be remembered by all for a very long time. This joviality soon evolved into uncontrollable laughter as stand-in-umpire The Binman was serenaded by the match programme girls. If laughter can add time to your life I’ll live to 103 now.
This long, but wonderful day ended with trophies handed out by the President. I’m not sure what he is President of, but I’d like to think it was of Serbia. With much beer bought we embarked on our journey back to Belgrade. Four hours and many fag and toilet stops later we rolled into town, just in time to get another nights drinking under our belts.
A lack of pork intake led us to the local carvery, where we each partook in the world’s largest pork burger. It was here that Faggie fell in love with a stray dog and only the promise of more beer prevented them from spending the night together. But you can’t let true love get in the way of a cricket tour so we ventured out into the night for one last taste of Belgrade and an education into docking…
So, having survived without the need for splints or an open car window all the way home, what did I learn from my first Quakka tour? Well, for starters I’ll never go mano-a-mano with The Verger, or moan about the quality of a pitch in the UK again (well, maybe just a litte bit). But much more importantly I discovered there is a genuine passion for the game in Serbia and a desire to play the game no matter what facilities are available.
I’d like to thank all those involved in organising the tour, you all did a fantastic job. Cricket certainly was the winner.