We had the people, the uniforms and equipment but we had no reason to use them anymore. Our mission to Malaysia had come and gone as swiftly as any passing memory, over but not forgotten, leaving us wanting for more.
Although being pre-occupied with the SEA Games dream, many conversations during this time between Angelo and I often drifted to what would come next for cricket in Vietnam. After SEA Games it became our absolute focus.
In need of continuing the work we created, Angelo and I set about on a mission to grow cricket in Vietnam beyond SEA Games and into the future. With purpose we set about moving Vietnam Cricket in the direction of Federation status and ICC membership.
As an officially recognised Federation we would have the administrative base with which to operate as an entity within Vietnam and the world. Think of it like registering a business or company - you need this to get going, we just needed to the right person to make this happen. Thankfully for this we had Mr Hung - who joined us on our trip to Malaysia and was keen to support us.
In Malaysia, Angelo had done a lot of work in the background, meeting with several ICC officials involved in the process of becoming a member. With his contacts we knew, with proper planning and preparation, that in the space of a year or two, we could take this game nationally. We could get proper funding and grow cricket to new heights, a permanent program for cricket in Vietnam.
To me it felt like a calling and we called it The Dream.
I imagined myself going to work. I would turn up to the cricket stadium, the home of cricket in Vietnam. marveling at our beautiful cricket field. I’d have a nice desk above the ground in the offices. I’d primarily be involved with the development of the sport in the country. Still coach of the national squad, but also rallying to grow women’s cricket and to promote the game to the youth of the country.
Sometime, thirty years later, Angelo and I would be sitting in the stadiums, watching as Vietnam hosted an international tournament, gee, or even an Australian tour one day. Kids would be running around, dreaming of playing in the VCA league and supporters would flock to the ground to support their favorite team.
It was the dream and we set about making it happen.
Foremost on our minds was the continuance of the senior men’s team. The baby we had created needed a home and was morphed into Saigon Cricket Club, the 8th team to join the VCA league. This was to become a predominantly Vietnamese team, supported by a few expats.
It wasn’t as easy as it sounds.
With the Ministry for Sport now removing the team salaries we were completely reliant on players to volunteer themselves and their time to continue playing cricket.
The squad had lost their salaries as full-time athletes and in the months after SEA Games they were forced to get new jobs. As a general rule, in Vietnam, people work Mon-Sat – we were asking the boys to come back and play cricket on their only day off. We spoke to each and everyone of the team, asking them to return, to help continue the dream.
For the most part, the team were willing to continue the journey we'd taken them on, but we did lose a few. Sajith joined and I added the two of us to the Team playing roster, Angelo became the Club President. Next problem …
We needed funding. With all the sponsorship money gone after SEA Games we were again looking for anyway possible to secure resources. Angelo and I gave where we could. I was fortunate enough to receive some equipment donations from my old club back home and the rest the VCA decided to help with.
Funding solved. Lets work on Federation status ... oh wait this is Vietnam, please wait.
We wait. The new season arrives. We still wait ... "this is Vietnam, don't you know?"
Let's just start our first season in the league.
We wanted to make a statement in our first season. That we were a quality team, capable of being strong competitors in the league. We also wanted to use this success to give us further impetus in developing the game. Our overall goal of establishing the Federation was going very, very, slow and any success (we believed) would help bolster the outcome of our application.
We win our first two matches of the season and narrowly lose the third and fourth in the games before Christmas break. After the break we return, lose again and due to scheduling find ourselves with three weeks and no games.
Me, in my infinite wisdom, decide to organise a little something to fill the void.
Using the relationships we’d fostered in Malaysia we organised a weekend trip to Bangkok to play two T20 games against Thailand’s national team.
We gather the squad of eager lads, vying to get the chance to visit Thailand for the first time. They have a small stadium, wonderful ground, turf wicket and nets and a guy who delivers lunch to us.
I break my right hand on the tour and effectively disable my left hand trying to stop a drive that hit me before I could even see the ball.
We play our two games and are soundly beaten both times. Again our batting has failed us but the bowling a fielding are of excellent quality. Moreover, we solidify relationships with Thai cricket and promise to host them in Vietnam soon, if not, for us to return.
The season ending.
I spend the next 8 weeks in the cast and as a result cannot play for the team. We also start to lose a few more Vietnamese players as they take on careers outside of cricket. Interest in our dream is beginning to fade and our hopes of making the finals along with it.
To help bolster our ranks Angelo manages to secure some quality replacements but we still struggle and endure five straight losses in a row. The finals look further and further away.
Discussions with the Ministry for Sport continue and yield similar results over the months, we aren't getting anywhere with them. In addition, Mr Hung, the Vice President of Sport in Ho Chi Minh and our cricket champion, unfortunately gets diagnosed with cancer.
With four games left in the season, we have to win all games to have a chance at finals. I make the decision to make an early return, cutting the cast off and deciding to play. At the very least I can bowl and give directions on the field, but I cannot bat properly due to pain in the hand.
We proceed to peel off three straight victories and find ourselves in the final game of the season against my former club UCC. Both teams are equally placed, both teams are needing the win and whoever the victor is, makes it to the finals.
It’s a tough battle and low scoring affair. We reduce them to a low total and have to score the runs to win. The team battle it, taking it to the very last ball. But we fall short and the jeers of the opposition team reverberate in our ears as we fail to accomplish our goal.
My former teammates are not humble, nor placid in their victory. The whole game they have taunted and gone to the extremes of almost crossing the line. It certainly raised my competitiveness and perhaps fractured long-term relationships. I’m less than impressed that the guys who were such avid supporters of the dream are now sledging Vietnamese players openly on the field, so engrossed in winning they are.
They bend the rules, going over their minutes per over allotment, but the umpires fail to notice this, should they have they would have been penalised runs and we would have won the game. I try to remain magnanimous in the moments after but am bitter at the treatment we have been given and the manner in which I over-empathized victory.
All the frustrations of the season were coming together, erupting in our final moments of the season. So desperate to achieve the dream, exasperated by the lack of it. Nothing had gone our way.
This is how our season ends.
The dream comes to an end.
All during the season more of our time was spent trying to administer growth for the sport. In the background we created a cricket pathway document, outlining the five-year plan; we’re constantly trying to get cricket officially recognised by the ministry of sport; trying desperately to secure funding and build the base required to get us membership into the ICC.
The end of the season slowly brought on the realisation that this wasn’t going to be achievable, not even within the next five years and now Mr. Hung was resigning due to poor health, seriously hindering our chances at Federation.
The miracle in my mind, of having a lush green cricket stadium become home, was slipping away from my grasp, no matter how tightly I held on. The obstacles were becoming too great and the only thing able to surmount them would be a massive injection of cash.
We petitioned the Australian Government, various other institutions, the ICC, asked for help from the other SEA nations ... no amount of hustling worked.
I was reminded of the day we first arrived at the airport, departing for Malaysia. How onlookers asked who were and what we were doing. Nobody cared then and unfortunately, I felt like nobody cared now. The insurmountable impasse had arrived.
I didn't want to give up. If given the choice I would have stayed for life building this dream but with limited funds to keep me going I was out of options. We had no Federation, no outside assistance and the next League season was six months away.
For me, the dream was over. A few short months later I left Vietnam for good.