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A Brief History of the Stragglers of Asia

THE STRAGGLERS OF ASIA CRICKET CLUB

Colonel PB Sanger, late of the Royal Artillery, a founder member, described the formation of the club thus:

“In the early 1920s, when stationed in Ambala in the Gunners, I was invited by the late Maharajah of Patiala, to take a cricket team to Chail every summer. Chail was in the Simla hills, 7000ft up. The Maharajah had cut off the top of one of the peaks and made a cricket ground. It was the most tremendous fun and we played them at everything: cricket, hockey, tennis, billiards and we even did our best in the whisky stakes. The Patiala Peg was two fingers, measured with the first and little fingers. After we had done this for a few years, we discussed the possibility of forming a club.”

The first match was played at Eastbourne College, where the club maintains a fixture to this day. The scoresheet refers to “H.A.V. Maynard’s XI” but coins the name Stragglers of Asia as ‘given to the team of Officers and Civil Servants home on leave, and (it) was the most enjoyable match of the season.’ One of the players was a certain AJ Trollope, who is referred to in the Secretary’s pen pictures of each member as ‘one-armed – bowls a little.’ Sadly, the bowling analysis does not survive but the luckless Trollope took no wickets and was bowled out for a duck!

The young men who joined the Army, Civil Service or the big trading companies in those days tended to come out to India quite early in life, before they had time to join cricket clubs in England. In those more spacious days, six months leave was allowed every three years and was generally taken in the summer. The idea was to give young cricketers at home on leave a team to play for.

Alleyne Coldwell and Vernon Maynard were the great instigators of the venture and it was in 1925 that they, together with Col Sanger and Mason MacFarlayne (later Governor of Gibraltar) drove to London to fix the final details of the Stragglers of Asia, as they had decided their club would be called. The next morning, they went round to the tailors, Fosters, to choose a club tie and then headed off to the Savoy, for lunch with HH the Maharajah of Patiala, whom they promptly made a member for life.

Captain A. Coldwell of the Northamptonshire Regiment became “Hon Home Secretary” based at the Regimental depot in Northampton. A great many of his brother officers joined. At the same time a “Hon Foreign Secretary” was appointed in Calcutta. Under the benign leadership of Vernon Maynard, who became known as the founder, the club was immediately successful. Representatives were appointed all over the Far East as far as China. Membership was by introduction only and Representatives introduced potential candidates to the Foreign Secretary who forwarded all details to the UK, where the Home Secretary helped candidates to play their qualifiers when on leave. The qualification for membership was ‘To have been in residence for at least two years east of Suez.’ The Fixture List rapidly developed and consisted, in the main, of a tour of Oxford Colleges, a tour of Cambridge Colleges and a West Country tour.

In 1939 eighteen fixtures were played, but then came the war and the club ceased to function. In 1945, a small advertisement appeared in The Times asking any interested Stragglers to meet. Six Stragglers appeared and it was decided to start again; six matches were arranged for 1946, printed on a fixture card the size of a cigarette packet.

Revival was swift, thanks not least to the fact that so many cricketers were able to qualify under the “Eastern residence” rule, through their wartime service. By 1948, the membership was over 400, including one Lieutenant-General, one Major-General, 12 Brigadiers, 23 Colonels and 84 Lt Colonels.

In 1954 Colonel Sanger arranged the first fixtures in Germany. This was fruitful ground for the Stragglers and up to ten games per year were played against military establishments, touring sides and the occasional Dutch club. However, as the British civilian and military presence East of Suez diminished, so did the main source of membership. Eventually, notwithstanding the best efforts of the committee and much agonising, the club was left with no option but to open membership to all like-minded cricketers, if it was to survive. The decision was taken at a meeting in the Star Tavern, Belgravia, in 1982, and marked the birth of the Stragglers of Asia of the modern era.

The Hong Kong Stragglers continue to play one or two matches each year, but Stragglers in Germany played their last fixture in 1984. With the reduction in the Armed Forces, new players are now mainly civilian and the military flavour of the club has become much less pronounced. Many military fixtures have faded away due to the understandable difficulty of producing a cricket team in the UK whilst simultaneously preparing for- and conducting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Stragglers are fortunate to have been served by some outstanding Chairmen and Presidents through the years. Paul van der Gucht was an active member in the pre- and post-War eras, later serving as President from 1973 to 1981. He has been described as, ‘Probably the best wicketkeeper Radley has ever had,’ and ‘One of the very best timers of the ball.’ He played numerous First-Class matches for Gloucestershire alongside Wally Hammond, and then for Bengal and the Europeans in India. He still holds the record for the Stragglers’ highest individual score with 204.

Among others who stand out is Brigadier Johnny King-Martin CBE DSO MC, who shepherded the club through the difficult 1970s and was Chairman from 1982 to 1984. He was a formidable character, who didn’t mince his words. If the club had had a disappointing season, or the organisation was in a muddle, he said so, in his annual newsletter. More lightheartedly, he commented on the 1973 Cocktail Party that, ‘Wives and attractive girlfriends provided a backcloth for hopes of better things to come and members are asked to keep this in mind and are encouraged to bring wives and girlfriends in the future.’

Another distinguished soldier to serve Stragglers well has been General Sir Geoffrey Howlett KBE MC, a no-nonsense paratrooper with a penchant for lending staff cars and credit cards to Stragglers on tour – in Denmark in this case. He served as President of the Club from 1989 to 1993 and remains an Honorary Member. In the nineties, thanks mainly to the General, the Stragglers were fortunate to be able to appoint as President Lt Col John Stephenson CBE, the well-known and visionary Secretary of MCC. As a result, Straggler Committee meetings are held at the home of cricket to this day.

From the very earliest expeditions to Oxford, Cambridge and the West Country, the club has prided itself on the quality of its tours. Many are the Stragglers described as “good tourists” in the club records! In the heyday of BAOR (British Army on the Rhine) there were several tours to Holland and Denmark, and, fondly remembered by many, Berlin – when Berlin was a NATO enclave surrounded by Communist East Germany. Barbed wire and minefields seemed to give the nightlife a certain edge.

In 1986, the Committee resolved that ‘Tours need to be planned well ahead, and not be too ambitious’, but immediately disregarded the latter point. In 1993 a hugely successful venture to Hong Kong went ahead (one tourist stayed on in Hong Kong for the next five years or so!) and this was followed by the Western Cape, South Africa, in 1997, the 75th Anniversary tour to India in 2000, and Sri Lanka in 2004.

The 2000 Tour to India enjoyed the active cooperation and assistance of HH Captain Amarinder Singh, Maharajah of Patiala – grandson of the “original” Maharajah. A symbolic match was played on the Chail ground – and the tour culminated with a great match against HH’s XI containing six members of the Patiala family, as well as Bishen Bedi and Mushtaq Mohammed. The touring party enjoyed extravagant hospitality and a warm welcome wherever it went.

In 2007, a touring party flew once again to India, this time to play 8 matches, including a day and night match in Mumbai. A diary of the tour or ‘Tales of the Raj’ was published each day and posted on our website. Between major tours, our short tours have been most successful and have included long weekends in Portugal, Cyprus Malta and a memorable 6-a-side tournament in the Algarve in 2007. IN the UK, the club continues to tour both the West Country and the North from time to time.

The Stragglers of Asia has not been immune to changes in the world around it and has been hit hard by the global downturn and associated financial crises, which have made it difficult for many members to find the time and the money to go on overseas tours. But the club maintains strong links with cricketers the world over and it determined not to lose its touring ethos.

In the meantime, at home, successive committees have concentrated on improving the fixture list and maintaining membership. Today, the club has some 200 or so members and a fixture card of more than 20 matches. The Stragglers of Asia may have moved some way from its East of Suez roots, but this is a club which has adjusted well to the modern age, and looks to the future with confidence.

 

The Hugh Lindsay Trophy

Major Hugh Lindsay joined the club in 1985, aged 32, having been at Millfield and then commissioned into the 9th/12th Lancers. He served as an Equerry to The Queen and was a close friend of the Prince of Wales. An “aggressive early order bat”, according to the club records, he was an all-round good character, with many Straggler friends. Very sadly he lost his life in a well-publicised skiing accident in an avalanche involving HRH at Klosters in 1988.

The Committee decided to institute a memorial trophy in his honour, as an annual award to the ‘young cricketer of the year.’ The first recipient was Rupert Baraimian, who received the trophy from Hugh Lindsay’s widow at the Cross arrows game at Lord’s in September 1988. Since then the trophy has been awarded yearly at the Annual Dinner.

 

The Club Silver and Trophies

Vernon Maynard was an old boy of Eastbourne College against whom the Stragglers have played an annual fixture since the first club fixture in 1925. In 1955, the committee of the Stragglers presented to him and Mrs Maynard two silver-plated sauce-boats in recognition of the “feeding and watering” which they have provided to the committee at their home for many years. In 1988, at the annual Dinner, Maynard’s son Matthew presented the sauce-boats back to the club “for safe-keeping”. These sauce-boats, plus other silverware and trophies collected over the years, are now displayed in the Eastbourne pavilion.

In 2001, another trophy was added to the collection aftef the 75th Jubilee match at Eastbourne when Devraj Jadeja – who is related to the Ranjitsinghji family – presented the Patiala Bowl, which is played for annually. The inscription on the trophy reads,

 

The Patiala Bowl

To be played for between Eastbourne College and Stragglers of Asia Cricket Club.

Presented by the family of HH Ranjisinghji, Jamsahib of Nawanagar

 

The Patiala Club

 

Largely on the initiative of our then Chairman Jack Hyde-Blake, the Club began a “100 Club” to help defray the costs of cricket in 1985. Members are invited to make quarterly payments into a fund, which pays out 60% (net of costs) to lucky winners in the quarterly draw, while 40% goes into Club funds.

On the occasion of the Stragglers tour to India in 2000, permission was obtained from our Honorary Life Member, HH the Maharajah of Patiala, to change the name to the Patiala Club.

The Patiala Club is now supported by most members and a few non-playing friends and provides an important source of club funds.

J Hyde-Blake, WR Boulter and TBJ Coombe

Last revised Jan 2013

Afternote:

 

This colourful account and pictures of the Club’s history may be found in “Gentlemen, Gypsies and Jesters”, a book about the wonderful world of wandering cricket, edited by Anthony Gibson and Stephen Chalke. It may be ordered though www.chancetoshine.org , a charity that aims to keep cricket alive in state schools.