I cannot believe we have been around so long!
For the many of the ex-pats who are thrust upon the New York metropolitan area the experience can be overwhelming. A new culture, new work ethics, new social standards, a bastardized language and of course different sports. Now it’s a seemingly endless stream of baseball, basketball, American football and ice hockey that replaces football (sorry, soccer), cricket and rugby (union or league, take your pick). For a lone refugee from any of the last outposts of the British Empire, New York can be as intimidating as it is exciting and as infinitely lonely as it is overcrowded. So..what’s a boy to do??
Back in 1990, a couple of these afore-mentioned loners- actually they were married with kids, but that’s beside the point- were introduced at a special one-off cricket game that summer between India and Pakistan which took place at that most salubrious of venues, Downing Stadium on Randall’s Island; if I told you that Randall was a close relative of Riker, I think you might get the picture! Anyway, cutting a long story short, the two - Jonathan Wentworth-Ping and Justin Wilson – forged a friendship that was to lead to the formation of a new and irreverent member of the Northeastern cricketing community, The Mad Dogs.
Wilson was the player of the two, Ping was more the sales and marketing brain of the operations; Justin had a Millfield pedigree (captain 1st XI cricket, rugby, field hockey, head of school,, Jonathan was a Teddy’s man (St.Edward’s Oxford, 3rd XI cricket, 4th XV rugby, 1st team Darts) but their combined contacts and inspiration (sic) led them to the creation of a team that has more than stood the test of time, and has indeed become a fixture on the cricketing scene in the North East.
Ping recalls some of the early days –“it wasn’t until I started looking around that I realized how cricket was a thriving sport in the New York area; I was stunned to find that there were about 110 teams and 8 full-time league programs running all summer in all 5 New York City boroughs, Jersey, Connecticut and Westchester. The problem was that they were all fairly cliquey (is that a word) and for a useful white-boy like myself, I would just have been somebody’s whipping boy fielding silly gully and batting #11. So Justin and I decided that we would try and recruit all these helpless ex-pats who fancied a game. “ The initial recruiting efforts were driven through the British-American Chamber of Commerce in New York who offered to sponsor – “I don’t think they ever gave us a penny” – and promote a game against the arch rival Australian Society. The Aussies offered to bring a few cases of XXXX and VB, Ping offered to bring all the kit and find a ground on which to play. By that time Justin had made an ally of Les Lowe, the then-President of the Commonwealth League, who offered the loan of the Van Cortlandt park pitch in the Bronx as the venue for the ‘Ashes-to-Ashes’ Trophy match (as it came to be known). Concurrently, another of the organizing committee, Neil Kimberly, put us in touch with his uncle, John Carson, who happened to be the CEO of Cadbury-Schweppes in Stamford. Neil recounts, “I’m not sure what Ping told Carson but the next thing I know he’s got a cheque for $1500 and we all had these Mad Dog shirts with Schweppervescence plastered all over the back! Then I found out he’s convinced Pimm’s to send us 10 cases of #1 !! But the best con job was the fact he convinced Brooks Brothers to give us a dozen cricket sweaters for the team so we all turned up in the Bronx in our whites and full regalia and the Aussies turned up looking like a bunch of wallies! It was brilliant!”
The start of the match was delayed somewhat for a couple of reasons- first, no-one could find the ground in the spaghetti junction of roads connecting the Henry Hudson Parkway and the Deegan Expressway, Secondly the pitch was littered with crack vials, discarded hypodermic syringes, broken beer bottles and assorted other trash, none of which I can mention here! Once we finally figured out how to attach the hessian mat to the rock hard sand bed, we were finally able to get the match started. Needless to say, the Dogs, so full of themselves and with chests puffed out in their new Brooks Brothers sweaters, and like many other English teams of the last two decades lost rather easily! But Michael Herring, the Aussie skipper, was gracious in victory and even bought a round back at Drake’s Drum , the New York city hostelrie where we jointly caroused until the wee hours. Given that many of the Dogs had consumed a healthy dose of Pimms and Schweppes before, during and after the game, it was no surprise that they soon became known as the Bad Dogs! And so began one of the other traditions of the Mad Dogs, that of copious alcohol consumption. The Ashes match was a huge success and thus the nucleus of the team was born. What to do now???
Find some more opponents came back the answer. Ping then found an article in a magazine about a club on the outskirts of Philadelphia, purporting to be one of the oldest cricket clubs in the country, Merion. After some preliminary phone calls, he was put in touch with Merrill Roth, Secretary General and honorary fixture secretary of the club. Another former Mad Dog, Jonathan Bell, takes up the story - “don’t ask me how but Jonathan got us a game at Merion that October and we all piled in to a big 16 passenger van outside of Port Authority and drove down to Pennsylvania. When we got to the gates of the club and drove in, everybody’s jaw dropped because they all thought we were going to the Philly equivalent of the Bronx!! And we drive in to this place that looks like Lord’s! It was an incredible feeling and we couldn’t believe that we had got ourselves a game here!”
It should come as no surprise to those that know (and love) the Dogs that they lost the match, as usual, that day. Nor should it come as a surprise that Merion were forced to summon a second keg of beer to the front of the clubhouse! Or that the Mad Dogs made many new friends that day with their unbridled and unleashed (sorry about the canine punnery) enthusiasm for the game and the experience. I won’t go into any details about the rest of the evening but suffice to say that the van got impounded and Al E.Gator’s in Haverford had a slightly more boisterous crowd than normal that night!
New Dogs surfaced out of the woodwork and it would be remiss of me not to highlight a few because they were and are to a large extent, what the Mad Dogs were all about: personalities who loved the game and who loved having a laugh no matter what- Brian “Basher” Sloman lived a double life with the BOCC and the Dogs but always insisted on playing with the Dogs whenever they were in the Phillly region, if only because they tolerated his Absolut induced wicketkeeping antics (“I saved at least 10 byes today” he claimed) and his uncanny ability to fail to score more than 5 runs in 40 minutes at the crease, Lawrence “Masher” McCallum was one serious South African cricketer who shouldered the Dogs hopes for a couple of seasons and who scored one of the all time great tons at Merion highlighted by a six that made it all the way to the tennis courts. Jonathan “Pterry” Bell whose pterodactyl impersonations at a nightclub in Charlotte will forever live in the memory of those that were there. Brett “Scarface” Collins, an Aussie whose pigeon toed bowling came to the rescue on many an occasion and who suffered mightily at the hands of Kip O’Brien. Gavin “Mule” Murphy whose penchant for horses surpassed his love of willow and leather. Bruce “XXX” Ennis whose wicketkeeping exploits saved the Dogs from many a humiliation. David “Junior” Johnson who never looked a day over twelve and bowled like he was still at Haileybury, but took wickets nonetheless. They were an irascible and irreverent bunch who endeared themselves to all and sundry, perhaps none more than the sober organizing committee of the Charlotte Cricket Festival who had the foresight (or lack of) to invite the Dogs to their annual get together in September.
Charlotte had invited the likes of Tim Rice, Barry Wood and Faroukh Engineer to that year’s event; by the end of the tournament, they all were playing for the Dogs. Not because they were winning but because it was just more fun. We all wanted to win and we always seemed to find a way to lose in the last over by one run or one wicket but that never clouded each player’s perspective on the fact that the game, any game is meant to be fun. The Mad Dogs have been invited back every year since and Richard Davies and Michael Teden have become honorary Dogs in the process.
The story goes on…..but I haven’t enough time or ink to tell all the grueling stories of life with the Dogs. Suffice to say, that they are alive and well, playing league cricket in Connecticut most of the time now. A slightly more professional bunch than those heady days of 1991 and 1992 but a good bunch nevertheless. “Wanker” Wilson now has chronic angioplasty in his knees and Ping has become a serene picture of domestic bliss in rural New Jersey. “Sacrifice” Collins leads the team now aided and abetted by West Indian bowlers (Tony Boy) and Australian batsmen (Tony Scare) and they win as many games as they lose. They are a cohesive crowd who play with as much vigor and intensity as any team out there and come Charlotte ’99 you can be sure that the “old farts” like Ping, Wander, Basher, Mule, Sacrifice etc will all be out in force regaling the crowd with their on and off field antics and winning more friends amongst both the cricket cognoscenti and the ignorati. See you there!