Centaurs on Tour
By Jim Hughes
It was in the late 1970's during my time as captain that, sitting on the Sookunpo boundary watching the team bat on a sunny Saturday afternoon, one of the team's senior professionals mooted the possibility of an overseas tour. I was a little nonplussed, to say the least, as I had difficulty in reconciling the unimpeachable character of the gentleman concerned with an overseas cricket tour, my own experience being largely confined to the annual HKCC Chinese New Year tour to Manila. However, Louis Hall was in earnest and eventually, at the 1981 A.G.M, it was agreed that I should make arrangements for a tour later that year. Bangkok was the chosen destination because former Optimist and good friend, Myles de Vries, was now at the helm of cricket at the Royal Bangkok Sports Club and undertook to put things in place at that end.
On 11th December 1981, lead by Roger Nissim,"....a party of hopefuls set off from Kai Tak to add a new dimension to the history of the Centaurs Cricket Club...."Ten regular Centaurs were augmented by Arthur Barnett, Mike Duggan and Tim Mills. The Saturday "friendly", which we won comprehensively, was a memorable experience played as it was right in the middle of the Bangkok races - unquestionably the largest and most vocal crowd the Centaurs had ever drawn. On Sunday we failed to live up to our billing as the " Hong Kong Select X1", losing the "Test Match" by 30-odd runs.
The friendly competitiveness of the cricket combined with the hospitality of the R.B.S.C and the creature comforts of the Rose Hotel (where they even thought to board up the windows so that we could sleep in) ensured universal demand for a return the following year. Centaurs tours to Thailand were on the map and were to continue unbroken for the next 13 years - generally coinciding with King Bumipol's birthday holiday which falls in December.
Meanwhile up in the north in Chiang Mai, some Rhodesian stalwarts who were largely working in the tobacco industry had busied themselves in reactivating cricket after a lapse of some 60 years and, by excising a section of the Gymkhana Club 9-hole golf course on match days, had successfully created what must rank as one of the most attractive cricket grounds in Asia. It was agreed Chiang Mai should be included in our 1982 itinerary and we became the inaugural overseas visitors, establishing a relationship that was to continue for many years.
At that time we were fortunate to be able to fly directly into Chiang Mai from Hong Kong, although this entailed leaving H.K before breakfast. We were met that year at 10 am. by an affable welcoming committee lead by Tony Buckley and conducted straight to "The Pub", thence many beers later to the Chiang Mai Gymkhana Club and thereafter to an infamous dancehall/nightclub, little realising the original welcomers had been slowly replaced by equally convivial substitutes, none of whom were due to play cricket the following morning. Feeling no pain, we eventually made it to our billets in the early hours of the morning.
A few hours later, Chiang Mai won the toss and posted what they clearly believed to be an unassailable 179 on a very slow, low wicket. However, their dire plot was about to come unstuck as, due to an administrative glitch, one Michael Walsh had been put to bed mid-evening by his hosts, newly wed, with a mug of Horlicks and proceeded to hit an outstanding 87, ably supported by Bryan Hemshall's 73, enabling Centaurs to win by 8 wickets, inflicting upon Chiang Mai their first defeat since the reestablishment of their ground.
We jubilantly flew down to Bangkok that night, diplomatically losing the "friendly" the next day before achieving a solid victory against the R.B.S.C. in a low-scoring Test Match, Bill Tootill starring with the bat, thus winning the newly created Bailey-Morris trophy (named after our respective presidents, Alan Bailey and Eric Morris). The 1983 tour adopted the same format only to see us lose the Ashes (the incinerated bails from the previous year's match) in Chiang Mai but retain the Bailey-Morris trophy. In 1984 these results were repeated but the "friendly" in Bangkok finished in the first international "Thai tie".
1985 proved to be the last year we competed for the Bailey-Morris trophy. We lost; however it was not for this reason that in 1986 we visited only Chiang Mai playing a triangular tournament involving Chiang Mai (the hosts), the British Club from Bangkok and the Centaurs. This tournament was to continue successfully for some years thereafter with the Centaurs meeting with mixed success.
Sadly, 1993 was to be the last of our traditional forays into Thailand, it proving impossible to muster sufficient support from our by then transient membership. However, the Centaurs banner still fluttered in Chiang Mai at the 6's in which a Centaurs team had participated since the inaugural tournament in Bangkok in 1985 but inevitably with many non-Centaurs players.
The pinnacle of Centaurs overseas touring was undoubtedly achieved in 1992 with our visit to Zimbabwe. The " Out in Africa" tour ( a.k.a "With Jim in Zim") reciprocated a most successful visit to H.K.( and elsewhere in Asia) in 1989 by the Zimbabwe Tobacco Industries team organised by John Steel and Tony Buckley who were to be amongst our many munificent hosts in Zimbabwe. With changes in personnel right up to the final minute, we landed in Africa with a bare eleven players consisting of five Centaurs ( Roger Nissim, Peter Olsen (a.k.a."Toy Boy"), Bryan Hemshall, Mick Hislop and J.H.) and six ring-ins ( Doug Jones, Duncan Kilgour, Woolly Nitschke, Nick Murrell, Mike Tingley, & Keith Hemshall) together with three ladies ( Alice, Pru and Elly). Agressively generous hospitality interspersed with some memorable touring (including three days on Lake Kariba courtesy of our hosts, white-water rafting on the Zambezi, Hwange Game Park, Victoria Falls ) and a mere four games of cricket ( all lost) made for an unforgettable two weeks . My only regret was the absence of some of the Centaurs regulars.