Game 1 - Vietnam vs Singapore.
Game day morning we're all eagerly waiting on the bus to depart the hotel for the stadium, but ten minutes after boarding we still haven’t moved. I go to investigate, asking our official representative what we are waiting for. He tells me we are waiting for our escort.
There are three policemen on motorbikes waiting already besides the bus. I wander to myself why three isn’t enough but am placated back onto the bus with a thousand apologies, they are waiting for more. Five minutes later the police motorcade swells as they arrive slowly, when their numbers top a dozen we are told we can leave.
The next twenty or thirty minutes is one of the best bus rides I have ever been on. K. L’s traffic is amongst some of the heaviest in the world, so to have a dozen police motorbikes and two 4x4’s escort us as we carve our way through the traffic is a truly special event.
As we enter the stadium we move over to the cricket nets, where we have been allotted an hour’s training pre-game. Angelo moves into the managers lounge and begins his work, meeting all manner of national figures, networking his way towards our future.
I’ve been concerned the entire time the team aren’t prepared to face international fast bowlers at 130km+ so have requested two bowling machines for our net session. Me in all my wisdom tells the guy at the other end to crank the dial up to ten before we test. This is the highest setting you can get on a machine, the man operating asks me if I am sure and I wave him away dismissively.
My thanks for my ignorance is a 140km thunderbolt that thumps into my left toe before I even know what’s happening. My overconfidence in being able to cope with the speed affords the ball to knock my feet out from underneath me and I take an unexpected trip to the ground, not only in front of the team but in front of four other nations squads. That was fast. Looks like my ego has been told to settle down.
We train, we eat lunch and rest, then we are moved into the changerooms to prepare for game one, Vietnam vs Singapore.
The teams and officials line up shoulder to shoulder as announcements are made and national anthems are sung. The two captains head out to the middle, toss a coin and shake hands. In the stands there are only about a hundred spectators, two of which are Vietnamese. In a last minute decision we decided to fly over the boys who missed the cut for the team so they could be a part of history and watch the game. They are our only supporters and wave the Vietnamese flag from within the crowd with pride. It feels good to have the whole family together for this.
Our Captain Dang returns from the pitch and tells me Singapore won the toss and is going to have a bat.
I know Singapore is very beatable. If there were twelve of me there would be a game of it, I know I can compete at this level. But I can’t play, I can’t do anything but watch from the sidelines. I am not a player, I am the coach and it kills me that I can’t do anything to help. I have prepared them over the last six months and now all I can do is take a seat and watch. The boys are on their own now.
And they get hammered.
We have an early morning meeting, the day after getting trounced by Singapore. Mr. Dung starts off preceding's by saying – he has been in the army, trained many men, he understands that a soldier may train himself for many years before he goes to battle, and that may only be for five minutes. He tells them the same is for them. They have put thousands of hours into preparation, to play a game lasting just two. He tells them to trust what they’ve been trained to do and do it.
We get yesterdays game footage and review the game. We do this so that we may emphasize to the team the importance of moments in a game and how they can change the result. With little match awareness under their belt I know they got a little lost the day before, its understandable, it was their first game and the moment overwhelmed them. But they are better than this and can’t afford to let the moment impact their abilities.
Game 2 - Vietnam vs Indonesia.
I decide I'm not watching this game from the stands, I am going to be curbside to support my boys. Someone comes over, tells me I cant sit there. I tell them to piss off, I'm watching my team. Instead of being moved Dung comes over, bearing the reserves tee and a few water bottles, the official leaves us be.
I shout every run, every wide and will my way to 64 runs. Indonesia make short enough work of us but we have done something we couldn't the day before and played with a lot more pride. We set a goal to bat for the whole 20 overs and did. We set a goal to get early wickets and did, we just didn't have enough runs on the board and the eventual 3rd placed Indonesia breezed past our total.
After the game we share the bus back to the hotel with the Indonesian team and we all sing songs together, providing a wonderful boost to our morale after two straight losses. Some songs are sung in Indonesian, others are in Vietnamese and it provides the perfect ending for the team and we rejoice in this game we love. We have been knocked out of the competition and we have no more games to play.
The love continues on to the bar where we celebrate with their team. I think I make it to midnight before I'm too drunk to care and go home to a snoring Angelo.
Our last day was reserved in case we somehow made it into the semi-final. After our loss to Indonesia we were out of the tournament and had a free day spare. At the last minute we booked a bus for a day tour to take us around. The team get to enjoy Malaysia and all its sights thanks to a tour guide, who speaks Vietnamese!
The boys are chuffed.
The work is done, I have no more words for the team, no instructions on how to do this or that. I feel saddened this has come to an end. So many months together as a team, fighting each and every step just to even make it to Malaysia. I know we walk away not achieving as much as we wanted but also know that everything was given in the attempt to build something out of nothing.
I can’t imagine anyone attempting this feat, it’s completely ridiculous. It would be something akin to me flying over to Brazil to teach them rugby in six months, to then go and play at the international level. It’s just not realistic.
But that’s what we did. Took some of the greatest spirited young men of Vietnam, taught them a hundred years of cricket in a matter of months and took them to the international stage. I don’t care what anyone says about what we did, or the result that we got. Those boys made me proud. And we as a family gave it everything we had. I remember at the time bearing feelings of disappointment and of inadequacy in myself, for not doing better and not getting a victory, but now I know just how impossible of a task it was to begin with and I am glad I took it on anyway.
No amount of words can convey the commitment that was given, at all levels, to see the dream though. Nor can any words accurately describe the kind of young men that Vietnam has. All I can say is that I was proud to be there and proud to share my love of cricket with the world.
Angelo calls me
Its eight o'clock in the morning, the day after returning from Malaysia. I get a phone call waking me from my post-trip slumber. It's Angelo. I wonder to hell what he’s calling me for this early and answer.
He starts off every phone call, the same way, "So mick …" there's a pause. "I've been thinking about things." This is followed by another long pause, I don’t know if he does it deliberately or for dramatic effect but it gives me time to come to my senses after waking.
I respond with a vague ‘yeah, what's up mate?’
Angelo continues, “Umm… I've been thinking ... You know, we did such a good job with this team and ... and I think we should create a Vietnamese cricket team.”
"Huh?" I reply, wondering if I've gone back in time or if he's forgotten what we just did.
"A Vietnamese team to play in the Vietnam Cricket League."
I get out of bed ...