Lord's on a sunny Spring afternoon, looking as resplendent as ever, and with the added incentive of a tour to Central America the tourists started to arrive one by one for kit collection in the Away Dressing Room followed by a tour photograph in the Harris Garden.
After a coffee, cake and a few introductions in the Members' Lounge we headed by coach to a Heathrow hotel for a brief three-four hours sleep before our early morning flight to Paramaribo, capital of our first destination Suriname.
The start of our mammoth travel day began with mild irritation that no coffees were initially available in Terminal 4. Checking-in the prescribed three hours before the flight at 3.30am we managed to beat the baristas and the check-in staff to the airport!
Touching down bang on time at 5pm local time we disembarked straight onto the tarmac and into 34 degree oppresive heat - a sign of things to come!
Clearing immigration took a while but once through we were met by our Surinamese tour rep Desmond. Des proceeded to give us an insightful guide to the country and its culture for the entire hours drive to the hotel.
Once we had settled in to our Suriname HQ, Hotel Torarica we ventured out for a bite to eat, held the first fines session of the tour then onwards to a highly recommended bar, The Havana Lounge. After a slow start the bar got busier and the tour party performed admirably in various dance challenges, starting with salsa, moving on to breakdancing, the conga and finally the managers favourite, the 'lightbulb' dance.
Time for some Cricket
Suriname are a fast-developing cricket nation who play in Pepsi ICC Americas Division One and World Cricket League Division Six.
An early warning shot was fired across the bows when manager Ajaz Akhtar and captain, Jon Rea-Palmer were asked to attend a morning press conference. Lots of smiles and warm introductions were followed by some light hearted questioning for national TV, radio and the press.
Light-hearted until the following morning when Selecta, our ever so attentive poolside attendant threw down the morning papers. In his loveable Carribean accent, he muttered the intriguing words, "Monster Runs!?!". On the back page of the national paper our press conference words had been misinterpreted, a simple comment about a decent looking wicket where lots of runs will be scored turned into, "MCC promises to score monster runs!!!".
With that the tone had been set, eager to shake off the jet-lag the squad boarded a bus bound for the Dr E Snellenpark national cricket ground, a pretty ground with a luscious outfield, a cracking wicket and even a fairly sizeable stand, which we were told would be packed with 10,000 partisan supporters come Sunday for the inaugural Curry Cup Twenty20 match between the club and the Suriname national side.
After a relaxed first training session the players stayed at the ground for a couple more hours to run various coaching drills with a group of local youngsters. With a first days acclimatization complete the tour party had a quiet meal and an early night in preparation for what were promising to be two hard days cricket.
Game Day 1
The weekend arrived and with it two cricket matches against the Surinamese national side. The Saturday was a competitive 50 over practice game to give everyone a chance to get some square time, while Suriname also rested several key players in readiness for the main event on the Sunday.
Losing the toss, the MCC were invited to bat first on a stifflingly hot day, the stiff breeze being the only welcome relief. As Suriname has just come out of the rainy season the outfield was lush but immaculate and the wicket true, but low and slow. The local bowlers knowing how to play the conditions restricted the MCC. Despite useful knocks (and valuable square time) from Chris Watling (27), Anand Ashok (24), Ehtesham Ahmed (23) and Luke Blackaby 20, MCC struggled to 132 all out off 42 overs.
In reply the hosts response was emphatic, a mixture of the club not bowling quite the right length and the sweet hitting of the Suriname players, one in particular Ramjohn who made a quick fire 66, lead to an MCC defeat by 6 wickets. This result delighted a sparse home crowd who fuelled on Johnnie Walker Black label weren't shy in telling any fielders nearby about the ‘monster runs’ the MCC were supposed to be getting! Valuable lessons were learnt and Pollard bowled particularly well using his wily off-spin variations to take commendable figures of 3 for 25.
Eager to learn from their mistakes and despite the searing heat of the day the players, to a man, jumped at the chance of a second quick fire 15 overs a side rematch. Batting first again the team worked on specific areas and made a creditable 92. Suriname made light work of this score again, showing what a difficult game the MCC were going to be in for on the main Sunday game.
In the evening the players were left to reflect on a hard first days cricket over a few beers and an interesting fines session, whilst the management were invited to attend an official function by the Suriname Cricket Board. At a meal with several distinguished guests, a lifetime achievement award was presented by chairman Narain to Board president Harrillal for an astounding 60 years of service to cricket in Suriname. The commerative glass plate was awarded by ICC Americas delegate Ben Kavanagh & tour manager Akhtar responded with a few well chosen words of congratulations on behalf of the MCC.
Game Day 2
Determined to put right the typical early season performance of the day before, the club turned up to Snellenpark with renewed vigour and a stealy glint in the eye. From the moment the club arrived at the ground we could see how much this meant to Suriname cricket and what a day we were in for. We arrived at 10.30am and people were busy setting things up all over the place; for the Duck Curry competition and for the main event - the T20 Curry Cup between the MCC and Suriname.
The players relaxed in the stand and mingled with the locals while a Guyana youth XI played a Suriname youth XI in an appetizer to the big game. The Suriname youngsters coming out on top in a tight contest. By the time this had finished and the players had warmed up a 1pm start was delayed to 2pm. This only added to the excitement as the grandstand continued to fill to near capacity. Whilst the numbers were probably slightly shy of the 10,000 predicted it was standing room only in the area in front of the stand and all the way round to the clubhouse where the Duck Curry competition would be running simultaneously with the cricket match.
Captain Rea-Palmer lost his third consecutive toss and was surprised that Suriname after chasing down two totals with ease the day before would have a bat. MCC took to the field in hot, sweaty conditions in front of a big crowd determined to put on a show. First ball - WICKET! David Atkin learning fast from the day before banged one in, short of a length, batsman stopped on the shot, caught and bowled cue wild celebrations on the pitch and an eerie silence from the grandstand. Manager Akhtar pointed out to the locals the scoreboard 0 for 1 - possibly a little premature for victory banter.
With a real team spirit and armed with the knowledge of the previous day's cricket the MCC stuck manfully to game plans, whilst bowling and fielding. Feeding off the buzz of the crowd the club restricted Suriname to 76 for 2 off the first 10 overs. Inevitably Suriname fought tooth and nail and with the aid of some 'monster hitting' of their own reached 177 for 8 in their 20 overs. Harry Smallwood and Pollard contained the hosts well with their differing versions of off spin and the quicks Atkin (2 for 26) and George Tidbury (2 for 35) did particularly well in tough conditions. Atkin made the crowd go wild late on in the innings when he annihilated one of the Suriname batsmans leg stump, somehow snapping it in half!
So 177 to win The Curry Cup. On a track that seemed to have more bounce in it than the day before the MCC felt this was a chase-able total. Manager Akhtar shrewdly mixed up the order and a left hand/right hand opening combination of Luke Blackaby (22) and Ehtesham Ahmed (64) worked well. Finally delivering on the skippers ‘alleged’ promise the MCC were beginning to open their shoulders with ‘monster runs’ of their own.
Lusty blows from Ahmed, Ashok, Blackaby and Donald all cleared the rope bringing rapturous applause from an appreciative home crowd. At 70 for 2 after 10 overs the MCC were in a cracking position. With the Irishman, Ahmed, playing the anchor innings full of big hitting but at the same time delicate, wristy shots the Club got ever closer to a famous victory.
Unfortunately the fairytale finish didn't quite materialise. MCC ran out of time and ended on 158 for 6, Suriname the victors by 19 runs. It was a truly amazing day’s cricket, competitive to the last and huge credit should go to all the players from both sides for making it such a spectacle for a bumper crowd.
Afterwards presentations were made to various officials, The Curry Cup was presented to the Suriname captain and despite being on the losing side the Man of the Match award for his glorious knock of 64 was our very own Ehtesham Ahmed. The manager Akhtar closed the formal section with an entertaining speech, thanked Suriname for its amazing hospitality and in a quieter moment on the outfield after the main presentation presented our tour minder, Cyril with an MCC match shirt. Cyril personified what the gracious hosts were about; nothing was too much trouble.
The squad now has a couple of well earned rest days before travelling to Panama for to compete in the fifth Central America T20 Championships. The experience in Suriname both on and off the field will stand the players in very good stead.