Wanting to stay put for a while after traveling so much I settled in as best one could in a foreign country. I found some work teaching english, spent a lot of time editing my book and in need of some social time joined in the Vietnam Cricket Association’s (VCA) Sunday cricket league.
I joined a club called United. It was a combination of many nationalities playing for the one club, unlike most of the other teams in the Saigon Cricket League who’d adopted a country as their club.
So we would play the English team, Sri-Lankans, Indians, Pakistanis etc … not one of these teams had a Vietnamese player.
It was at a post-game function that I overheard the President of the VCA talking about Vietnamese cricket and a team they’d created. Typical of me overhearing conversations, I asked a whole bunch questions about them.
One of the most important was ‘who was teaching them to play?’ The answer came back that they had a fulltime coach/ player who used to be the baseball coach. Sometimes, over the weekend, a few of the foreigners would come down and try to teach them some things but otherwise these guys were left to their own devices.
I asked if it was ok for me to go and check them out and was told no problem, they train six days a week, 7am-12pm down at Phu Tho Stadium.
I arrive at the ground, a former horse racing track long since converted into a multi-use area for the Saigon Department of Sport. I park my bike and wander past the first building, a rather dilapidated looking grandstand that by all appearances could have been built a century ago.
The all-concrete building had been doused in pale yellow paint at some time, but the heat has worn the external paint down, faded it in parts, cracked it in others and large patches of it are non-existent, instead replaced by a growing patch of mould.
That’s the thing here in Saigon, its hot, hotter or fucking hot. During the rainy season it rains, or I should say, buckets down for maybe an hour. It bathes the city in 100mm of rain in a flash. Not ten minutes later the sun is back out in full force, belting out solid 30+ temperatures, evaporating the rain and creating the Saigon Sauna. At 100% humidity I can understand why all the buildings have mould and a stale dank smell permeates the air around them.
I move past the building/ stadium and at the place where the finishing post would have been on the former racetrack there are six outdoor synthetic soccer fields, built on concrete. They’re surrounded by fifteen-foot netting and are full of young Vietnamese men screaming at a soccer ball.
They love soccer in Vietnam.
To their right is a volleyball court, the surrounds of which are built in concrete. It looks like a swimming pool filled with sand, yet the erosion and rains have washed a fair slice of the sand away, leaving the concrete sides exposed and the sand below the edge about 30cm. I wonder how someone hasn’t killed themselves on the edge.
I move past it out onto the ground itself, a grassy expanse I quickly trip on, the surface is littered with high spots, low spots and rocks in-between. Combined with the thick ankle high grass it makes forward progress laborious.
I’ve been told there is a cricket field out here somewhere but I can’t see one. I wonder if I’ve even come to the right place. I look around me, noticing a mega city on the fringes at the end of the racecourse. The Four sky high monoliths are a stark contrast to the rest of the surrounds and provide an unusually beautiful backdrop.
I keep walking, past a rough patch of grass and spot goal posts, one at either end. I was told the cricket field was just beyond the soccer field. I trudge on and spot a group of about twenty or more, standing off to the side on a patchy, uneven surface throwing a ball back and forth.
I plod my way through to get to them, stopping just short as I finally spot the cricket field I was told was out here. It’s ringed by a white rope, has a small synthetic concrete pitch in the middle and the ground itself is about as sure-footed as the ground I’m currently on. If I were to roll a ball along the ground there would be no telling in which direction it would go.
Before moving over to the team I’m struck at how lucky I am used to having it in Australia ; manicured grass, perfectly level ground with million dollar drainage systems ; turf wickets, treated via heavy rollers and dedicated experts ; Toilets, bathrooms, water, facilities.
If this field was in Australia nobody would play on it. The safety factor alone of playing in an earthen minefield would be enough to rule it out.
It’s a good few hundred metres from anything else, in the middle of the racetrack ; literally a field in the middle of nowhere. There are no bathrooms or running water. There are no stands or changerooms, not even a chair under a tarpaulin … its barren save for the rope and an ugly looking black cage.
This is the newest field in Vietnam for cricket, its former home on the grounds at RMIT lost. 'Newly constructed' and the home for cricket in Vietnam.
Welcome to Phu Tho.