Village cricket, Hood Peninsula, 1965: Robert Grieve

It seemed like a good idea at the time. The teaching staff at Hula Primary ‘T’ School reasoned that the benefits of a village cricket competition far outweighed the problems it might create. We thought village cricket would be an enjoyable social event, provide the men with something to do in their abundant leisure time, and permit the Europeans on the staff to have greater interaction with the parents of the children they taught.

The competition began in the dry season (May to November) in 1965 and involved five teams that played each other once, with the top two teams playing a ‘Grand Final’. Hula, the largest village on the Hood Peninsula provided two teams, Makirupu further inland from Hula provided another, the School XI (made up of staff and students) another, and Kaparako, west of Hula, completed the quintet of teams. The people of all the competing villages were predominantly London Mission Society adherents and were happy to play on a Saturday. The people of Irupara, the village closest to Hula, were mainly Seventh Day Adventists, and unfortunately could not play on Saturday, otherwise they too would have joined in the fun. The villages of Kalo, Babaka, and Kamali did not field teams in the competition.

Most players, if not all, in each team were not very good batsmen from a technical point of view; straight bats were not much in evidence, but what they lacked in technique was well and truly compensated for by their ‘good eyes’ and their willingness to hit the ball hard. Not for them the defensive prod!

In my opinion the Hula 1 team was the best team in the competition and far superior to Hula 2, which raised the suspicion that all the best players were in the Hula 1 team and their less talented players relegated to the Hula 2 side. Not only did the Hula 1 team have depth in their batting, but they also had a high quality leg spin bowler. From a distance the Hula 1 ‘leggie’ looked innocuous enough; he gave the ball ‘plenty of air’ and from the security of the outer his deliveries looked very easy to hit. To face him out in the middle was much more difficult: if the batsman came down the wicket to hit a delivery on the full, he found it would dip and drop disconcertingly, leaving him swinging or groping at thin air. If the batsmen played him from the crease, the Hula 1 ‘leggie’ would bamboozle them with his superbly controlled ‘wrong un’, which spun a prodigious distance on the concrete pitches.

The School XI consisted of myself, Jim Tarr (our Head Teacher), Barry Field, Frank Bakskai, four local teachers and three Grade 6 students. I was appointed captain, on the basis that I had played some competitive cricket in Port Moresby before I took up my posting at Hula. Frank had fled the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 when only a teenager, and although he knew nothing about cricket, he cheerfully attempted to learn the rudiments of the game.

The teams were reasonably well-kitted out with bats, balls, stumps, pads and wicket-keeping gloves, all of which were provided by the generosity of Government Stores. However, we did not have the luxury of batting gloves and protectors; if a batsman suffered a blow to his delicate bits and pieces, it was expected of him to wince in pain, curse his bad luck, and then immediately get on with the game.

Each game was played on a Saturday starting at about 10.00 a.m. with each team completing one innings. The games were a major social event and all the villagers attended to watch, give advice and laugh at the antics of the uncoordinated European teaching staff. Hosts and guests provided food for lunch, which was invariably fish, rice, and copious quantities of very sweet tea. On one occasion a jovial Hula matriarch attempted to show off her western culinary skills by baking a cake for the visiting School XI. Either the matriarch’s cooking skills were not up to scratch, or more likely, she could not afford or find the necessary ingredients, as her ‘cake’ was more functional as a Frisbee than something that was edible. Bless her though—the thought behind it was charming.

At the conclusion of the four games played by each team, Hula 1 remained undefeated, Makirupu lost only one game to Hula 1 and the other three teams had one victory each: Hula 2 defeated the School XI, the School XI defeated Kaparoko, and Kaparoko defeated Hula 2. This meant that Hula 1 and Makirupu would play in the Grand Final, a match that posed certain problems. There had been long standing tension between Hula and Makirupu over land claims and each village thought it was superior to the other. It was agreed, therefore, that the match would be played on neutral territory at the School ground known as Manea Manea. Not a pretty place: situated on one of the rare stretches of coastal sand dunes on the whole south coast of Papua, and exposed to the persistent, strong and dry south east trade winds. There was very little vegetation except for grass and some miserable specimens of pandanus palms, which offered little protection from the monotonous winds. I jokingly referred to the School ground as the Manea Manea desert and its desolation was probably the reason that the Hula people allowed the School to be built there. The grounds at Hula and Makirupu were far more pleasant than Manea Manea, as they were well protected from the south east trades by many coconut trees and had a lush green look about them. Unfortunately, these grounds were not considered, as it was imperative to play the match on a ground where there was no perceived advantage to one village over another. Neutral umpires were also appointed with Jim Tarr, Barry Field, and me sharing the duties.

Hula 1 batted first and reached a good score of about 160, which would have been significantly larger on a field with a harder surface than sand. The Makirupu innings started badly with two men out for very few runs; both were clean bowled, which pleased the umpires, as these were dismissals that no one could dispute. Gradually the Makirupu innings started to build with their star batsman making most of the runs, while his partner somehow contrived to stay at the crease.

At this stage of the narrative it is important to comment on the Hood Peninsula method of running between wickets. Not for them the time honoured system of calling ‘Yes’, ‘No’, or ‘Wait’; not for them the equally time honoured system of the striker calling for anything hit in front of the wicket and the non-striker calling for anything hit behind the wicket. Rather, the players of the Hood Peninsula preferred what I call the ‘mind reading’ method of running between the wickets. This method involves the batsmen starting tentatively for a run while intently looking at each other in the hope that they could read each other’s mind and come to a decision about whether they should run or not. Needless to say this method is fraught with danger as mind reading is not an exact science.

Just as the situation was looking brighter for the Makirupu supporters, disaster occurred: the Makirupu batsmen failed to read each other’s minds and the inevitable mix-up in the middle of the pitch occurred. The Makirupu star batsman eventually ran towards the striker’s end but he was well short of his ground by about two metres. All the Hula 1 players appealed vociferously, whether they had a good view of proceedings or not, as they knew the Makirupu star batsman was a critical wicket for them. It was an easy decision for the poor unfortunate square leg umpire (Yours Truly) to make, for the Makirupu star batsman was so far out of his ground that even today’s timid test umpires would have given him out without resorting to the help of the third umpire and television replays. I raised my finger to indicate that the innings of the star Makirupu batsman was over and with it the chances of a Makirupu victory. In hindsight I shouldn’t have given him out. Perhaps, I should have lamely claimed that I wasn’t paying attention and didn’t see the incident, but unfortunately I had no way of knowing the repercussions of my decision.

There was a large crowd at the match, very befitting of a Grand Final; most of the Makirupu supporters were in the northwest corner of the ground and the Hula 1 supporters were at the southern end. When the Makirupu supporters realized I had given their star batsman out, they swarmed on to the field in an angry rage. One of them—I can still see his face, big and round like a Halloween pumpkin—seized a stump out of the ground and menaced me with it. Fortunately for me there were some London Missionary Society native pastors in the crowd, men of influence throughout the Hood Peninsula and their wise counsel prevailed. My would-be-assailant, who I found out later had just been released from gaol for murder, relinquished his makeshift weapon, calm was restored and the match abandoned. This was a reasonable result for all concerned: Hula 1 had a moral victory, Makirupu didn’t suffer the ignominy of losing, and more importantly, I lived to tell the tale!

Maurice Nixon, the LMS missionary in charge of the area, was not an enthusiastic supporter of our cricket competition in the first place and he used his considerable power to prevent it from happening again. A pity, because the Hula teaching staff maintained that it seemed like a good idea at the time.


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