Cobras and lizards fail to stop play on Bali

As cricketers from across the globe do battle in the IPL, a home-grown revolution is happening 3,000 miles away. Easter sees the 15th staging of the Bali International Sixes. Its motto is ‘Developing Cricket for Indonesians’ and for the first time in its history, Indonesian teams outnumber their ex-pat and visiting counterparts.

The tournament began in 1997. Bali International Cricket Club had been formed two years earlier (as recently as 1993, not a single Indonesian was playing cricket regularly in Indonesia) and the club’s then president, Terry Firmstone, sought to promote cricket on the island.

Only four teams competed in the inaugural event which was won by the Rebels from Jakarta, Java. Fourteen years later, 12 teams featuring players aged from 16 to 70 will gather at the Bukit Oval, Udayana Cricket Club’s ground on Bali’s Jimbaran Heights, where cobras and monitor lizards await fielders retrieving balls whacked beyond the boundary.

The rise of Indonesian players is a source of great pride to Dr Alan Wilson, an ICC lifetime service award winner and Udayana CC honorary secretary who, in 1997, brought six enthusiastic youngsters from West Timor to learn cricket and help with his veterinary work.

He admits the best current Indonesian cricketers rank well below English county standard but is keen to highlight the benefits brought by the sport; one of his West Timorese intake has gone from knife crime to work for Cricket Indonesia in Jakarta as an ICC Level 2 coach.

Perhaps his most successful charge has been Soni Hawoe (pictured), a former street child for whom cricket has provided an escape from the poverty, malaria and malnutrition of his native Sumba. It has also brought him his wife, a local girl he met after arriving in Bali. Sent to Australia for training, he was introduced to John Howard (then Australian PM) at the SCG during a Test against the West Indies.

Hawoe realised the ambition of all Indonesian players of playing for the national side, even if his last game, in 2005, brought defeat against the Cook Islands in the East Asia-Pacific Cup. He may have to wait some time before his dream of Indonesia competing in the Cricket World Cup becomes reality.

Today he works for Cricket Indonesia in regional development, is captain of the Udayana Veterans and organiser of the sixes slogathon. Sides from Darwin have triumphed in the competition on five occasions, but although the Darwin University Bulls are among 12 entrants in 2011, Wilson ranks two of the eight Indonesian teams – Udayana and Kingfisher Veterans – as joint favourites to lift the trophy today.

The night before, the players’ dinner will be staged at the Udayana CC clubhouse at the Udayana Kingfisher Eco Lodge, one kilometre from the oval, where a plaque commemorates the MCC’s visit in 2009.

Previous years have seen teams from Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and Holland, while two UK teams are taking part in this tournament.

Former Aussie Test stars Ross Edwards and Terry Alderman have graced proceedings, with Wilson having good and bad memories of the quick who excelled for the visitors during Botham’s Ashes thirty years ago. “I remember flicking Alderman for four and as he went back he mentioned to the umpire "I'll get this bastard"; next ball, middle stump out of the ground!”

Despite this encounter, he values the progress made by domestic talent most highly. “It’s a tournament where we have seen Indonesians slowly improve over the years, the highlight being in 2006 when Udayana was the first Indonesian team to win.”

Although Indonesian involvement in the World Cup and the IPL may still be decades away, cricket on Bali continues its ascension.