Dawn Watchers’ cricketing freelancers - 1969/70

Willie' Lawson
The posting of organising stalwarts such as Mick Conway and the enthusiastic Aussie, Tony McGinty, meant that the 1968 season was the final one for the Corps team in Singapore and it left the few remaining enthusiasts looking for another team in which to ply their wares.    Algy Thomas took cricket as seriously as his totals on his Annual Confidential Reports and eventually found homes for himself, Roy Pace (pronounced in the Latin style 'Patchay' to his fellow team members) and Willie Lawson from Johore Bahru, for the period 1969/70 with the strong Gillman Barracks Sapper team, which already featured several Army players such as Colin Persaud and Graham Treasure.

Roy was a higher order batsman in the classical style and his patient, carefully grafted innings often sent his team members into the bar for solace.  By comparison, Algy and Lawson were aggressive all-rounders who appreciated the swift wicket surfaces and when bowling, counted bouncer hits on batsmen equally with any wickets taken.

Unlike UK wickets, in the Far East thick coconut matting was laid over a concrete base which allowed consistent bounce and a little spin.  Apart from cutting the outfield, there was no requirement for specialist groundsmen. (See tall story at end of article.)

Before proceeding, a story about Tony McGinty.   Like most Aussies he was mad keen on sport and in 1968 the Aussies were putting up a spirited fight for the Americas Cup sailing final against the Yanks in New England and Tony checked the results every day.   A few 8 Coy lads were lounging in the bar one evening, one reading the sports page of the Straits Times when Tony burst in.   "What's today's result from Rhode Island mate?" asked Tony.   The reader cast his eyes over the pages and replied "Sorry Tony, there's nothing about chicken racing here".   On another occasion Tony famously likened Willie Lawson's bowling to that of the great Aussie Graham 'Garth' McKenzie; "but on an off day".

Back to Gillman, generally the 3 Int Corps players proved worthy of their places in the team and often played match winning or match saving performances, but there were exceptions.   Patchay wasn't allowed out to play by 8 Coy one Wednesday and the skipper elevated Lawson to Roy's batting position, much to Algy's chagrin!   This was a mistake as Algy was only too pleased to point out later.   Lawson scratched around uncomfortably for just 4 runs before being mercifully caught in the gully.   Algy regaled the watching crowd with the comment "He's definitely not suited to batting ahead of me, he's better in the lower order where there's less responsibility".   Damned with faint praise!

On another occasion, Lawson dived for a sharp slip catch off Algy's bowling and seemed to have held on to the ball initially, but it squirmed out of his grasp covered in blood from a pulsing wound to his index finger.   While Lawson raced off to the pavilion leaving a trail of blood spots on the pitch and balcony, Algy furiously kicked the turf and bemoaned the dropped catch.    In the pavilion, while the Chinese barman was searching for plasters to stem the flow,  two inebriated Sappers told Lawson a tale of how their mate had lost the top of his little finger building a bailey bridge at Kota Tinggi during last season's monsoon.   A small bandage and a large plaster eventually staunched the flow of blood, but not the Sappers' story and Lawson nipped over to reassure his watching wife that all was well, only to be greeted with the question, "Did that ball carry?   If you've dropped a catch off Algy there'll be trouble".

The world of cricket is full of reported cynical comments.   Once when the Reverend David Sheppard dropped a catch off Freddie Trueman, Freddie walked up to the unfortunate priest and commented "Of all the players in the team I expected thee to be able to put your hands together properly, Reverend".   Young Lawson (who invariably shook off the cynics) considered that he had bowled well against the RNZIR in one match and had worked up a lively pace with good outswing resulting in a 'four-fer'.  At teatime, the New Zealander's captain came over and complimented him saying "Our lads couldn't get to grips with your spell of medium pace in-dippers"!!!   Ah well..........

All in all the freelancers had enjoyed a good season as reported briefly in the Rose and Laurel for that year.   Algy and Willie Lawson regularly crossed swords again in BAOR in the 70s although they lost touch with Patchay after he transferred to the RAOC - all because 8 Coy wouldn't let him off to play that one time!

Now the promised tale: in the days of the Raj grass pitches were prepared and properly maintained as there were plenty of staff.  One general had a 6 year old son who was cricket mad and who invariably went out with the locals to prepare the pitch.  Very sadly the young lad fell under the heavy roller and was crushed on the prepared wicket.   The Head Groundsman went cap in hand to the General and reported,  "I'm afraid we have bad news and good news, General Sahib".   "Bad news first" said the General.   "I'm afraid your son has been crushed by the heavy roller on the wicket and he's dead".   After a while the now distraught General asked quietly "What's the good news?"  "Well General Sahib, we think he'll take spin . . . . “