Bats in Bogor

Melody Kemp
Aug 5th, 2014


High above Jakarta, Melody Kemp watches a cricket match between Australian visitors and a team of passionate young Indonesians



The overloaded blue minibus struggled up the long driveway, leaving a trail of dust that merged with the smog-laden air rising from Bogor city, barely visible below. Body parts emerged though the open door, the passengers eager to break free of the heat and humid stink of the interior. An arm, then two; then a few legs.

Before the bus had even stopped, many of the eleven young men jammed inside had hit the ground running, their sports shoes gripping the warm pebbles underfoot. Trotting to a stop, they bent, stretched and swayed in the cool air.

We were spending one of Indonesia’s many religious holidays on our friend Tako’s estate, set well above the strangled city. His house, over 600 meters above the murky, chemical-stained Java Sea and dense pollution of Jakarta, offers nights cool enough for sleep without the ever-present air con to which one clings for survival in the capital.

Born and raised in Indonesia, Tako’s sepia-faded Dutch ancestors look out from a clutter of framed photos. That of his square-jawed, full-lipped father, a sea going man in captain’s regalia, dominates the collection. Next to him sit Tako’s great aunts; stiffly corseted and apparently equally stiffly resolved.

Now in his early 60s, with a background in agricultural economy, the urbane Tako could be a self-styled modern rajah. His 2.8 hectares of land is a mixture of rice fields and varied tree crops over which chickens and goats range. But at the front of the house, facing the road and fringed by blowsy bougainvillea, is his raison d’être.  A full-sized cricket ground with carefully tended pitch. Tako brought cricket to West Java, and the young men who have just arrived are one of the teams he has coached. They are to play a visiting Australian team that afternoon.

Sitting on the deep wooden veranda, I watch West Javanese farmers stagger by, their torsos hidden beneath untidy loads of cattle fodder. It is the weekend of Idul Adha, the Muslim Day of Sacrifice. A well-fed goat or buffalo to be slaughtered at the mosque to commemorate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, can fetch a good price.  Arabic chanting had threaded through the valleys all night as a prelude to the early morning’s blood rituals. While economists have lauded Indonesia’s spectacular growth, they have been queasy about the distribution of its fruits. The frenzy to get free meat from the mosques at Idul Adha has intensified. ‘It’s because of rural villa-fication,’ Tako said, winking and indicating rural lands being carpeted by tasteless tributes to urban wealth.

Near our room, women in conical hats harvest rice using sickles and traditional knives known as ani ani. Others stand and bend, threshing and winnowing, hurling the grain into the morning breezes, as has been the custom for centuries. Inside, my husband downloads news from Germany.

A tarp had protected the pitch from overnight monsoon rains. The grass had been cut the day before, the gardeners smoking as they pushed rusty hand mowers. The day smells of grass and challenge.

I am relishing the fragrant air when a huge black bag is heaved out of the minibus onto a pile of enormous yellowed teak leaves. The loud whump and slight tremble in the earth indicate its’ weight. The guys disappear around the back and soon the tang of Indonesian coffee strides through the house, spiced by the omnipresent aroma of kretek cigarettes and the smell of goat shit.

The Sundanese team, now refreshed by coffee and sparked by nicotine, assemble around the bag, tossing out bats, helmets, balls, leg pads and those small objects known quaintly as boxes, designed to protect the balls from balls.

Tako in baggy T-shirt, floppy hat and shorts calls them onto the field for practice. This is to be their first outing against a foreign team.

They look at me, smiling shyly. I speak good Indonesian, so am soon laughing and swapping names. Agus, 14, is in love with cricket. ‘I have only been playing for a year. I want to be a pace bowler. This will be my first serious game.’  Grabbing the scorebook and a pen, he flops down in a plastic chair.

In English tinged with a slight Aussie accent, a round-faced Indonesian asks if I like cricket. He tells me his name is Eddi.

How does an Eddi from Bogor get involved in cricket?

‘I spent eight years in Randwick while my parents, both doctors, did PhDs and Master’s degrees at the University of New South Wales. I took up cricket, and it was love at first toss. I played rugby in winter, but was really just passing the time waiting for the cricket season to start. When I came back to Indonesia I was worried I wouldn’t be able to play. Then I met Tako.’

I pointed at a tall, lithe young man casually sending cover drives off the field, and asked his name. ‘That’s André; he’s a great all rounder.’ André, with his maroon cricket cap, looked the part. At 17, and one of the few dressed in whites, he already had the grace and stance of a confident player.

Itik – meaning duck, an unfortunate name for a cricketer – an angular 18-year-old with a bad overbite and pretence of a beard, wound up to bowl. The ball rocketed down the pitch to André, who measured its arrival, swung, and sent it into the goat pens. Itik was impressive, but André was not to be intimidated.

Donning his pads and helmet, Eddi turned and said, ‘This will be a really good game. We all want to learn. I am looking forward to meeting some Australians and talking cricket again.’ He smiled broadly before going on to hit a rapid-fire 68 runs.

Tako called for rotation, so pads and boxes were removed and swapped, gloves and bats handed on.

The burly Hari, more comfortable as keeper, hefted a slow ball into the rice paddies. Fielders waded calf-deep in mud in search of the lost ball. Someone yelled that he had seen it sail over a fence, so the net used to retrieve leaves and scorpions from the swimming pool was located and used to lift the ball from where it sat amongst the new rice seedlings.

Play resumed. ‘Ooooh ... Shot!’ called Eddi, back on the sidelines, as the same young man hit the next ball into the driveway,  Enam!! (six) called Agus, scribbling in the scorebook.

After two practice innings and increasing anxiety, the Aussies turned up in several cars. ‘They are two hours late,’ Tako noted sourly.

The boys continued to play while the Aussies extracted themselves from the cars.  

The first to emerge was a huge man, fat as a whale, with a bum-crack of at least 8 cm visible above his elastic-waisted nylon trousers. In modest Muslim Indonesia, we all averted our eyes. He made no attempt to haul up his strides before, leaning back into the car and hefting a case of vodka which he then carried across to the house.  His walking was laboured and slow. I could see he had bad knees, not a surprise in mechanical, if not medical, terms.

Other players emerged. One tall, taciturn man carried his gear in a deep blue nylon bag. His face remained impassive and he did not smile or acknowledge the Indonesian players. Later, he told me that for him, travelling was simply a way to indulge in sport and drink. ‘I usually play golf. If the course is good I will go anywhere. I drink with me mates and then go home to the missus.’  

The large man, Tiny, whistled through his teeth as he watched the West Java team’s prowess.    ‘Might as well go straight for the beer and forget the game, fellas,’ he laughed. ‘They will walk all over us.’  At that point, 17-year-old Darusman, currently at the crease, swung wildly, launching a huge arcing shot right over his own head. It landed with barely a splash in the pool. If it had been a diving contest, the judges’ cards would have shown 5.  Tako waded in to retrieve it.

The younger team stopped play and wandered over to meet the visitors. A white haired, soft-faced lawyer with extensive Asian experience asked me questions about Indonesia.  No-one actually spoke to the team they were about to play, merely nodding at them, so the Sundanese lads did what all young men do; they played at fighting, feinting and throwing mild play punches, and chortling if one ‘accidentally’ landed; grooving to dangdut or Indo-hip-hop on fake iPods. I could not look at Eddi’s face as he tried so hard to get involved and was subtly rebuffed, or worse, ignored.

The Australians’ shirts were covered in sponsors’ advertising, like wannabe Formula One drivers. One symbol was obviously their team insignia. CBB, they told me, stood for Colonials Behaving Badly, a spoof on the MCC. I admit I winced at the obvious and then winced again at my own smugness. The fat man, who I gather lived in Dubai, approached with a crate of beer and another of vodka, signs that they planned to behave badly in Bogor as well.

The West Java team watched with growing apprehension and some impatience. They were there to play. If there was an Indonesian word for fart-arsing I think I would have heard it. But politeness won, and they patiently waited as one by one the Australians publicly or in one of Tako’s many rooms, changed into cricketing outfits. Tako called players out to the pitch. The West Java team won the toss, opting to bat first.

There was some great play. I sat next to Agus, who was assiduously scoring and counting overs as he waited for his turn to bat.  The rest of the team sat on the grass and around the pool like seductive Indonesian screen stars, waiting to go on. ‘Shot! Yah! Alhamdullilah!’ they called, as cover drives sent the Australians gingerly picking their way into the spiky bougainvillea in search of the ball.

Tiny stepped up to the crease to bowl. He could not run, so stood his ground and hurled the ball down the pitch with what could only be described as lethargic energy. The Sunda boys easily batted him away, sending strong shots to silly mid on where they went through the legs of the older Australian fielder. The Aussies were hopelessly outclassed by the ability, youth and competitive spirit of the younger team. But they were also having a damned good time.

Suddenly Tiny bent over, face contorted in pain, clutching at his knee. The Indonesian team gathered around him, concern plainly showing on their faces. I thought he was going to topple onto the grass, and for one horrible moment I wondered how the hell we could get him up again. Do we cement-render him and turn him into an object of reverence?  But he managed both to stay on his feet and hobble off. Play resumed, and the lanky golfer, whose name I never heard, took over the bowling. Tiny made it as far as the small empty spectator’s hut.

On the field the Australians were now batting. The elderly lawyer acquitted himself well, making 23 runs from 8 overs. One affable blond man from Melbourne handed me his camera and asked me to take some snaps.  I captured the moments when he swung a six, thwack into the newly threshed rice, and later when he took a good catch. I also captured some great close ups of the Sunda boys as they watched and cheered both sides.

As the day got hotter, the play became more sluggish, and then it was over.

The Sundanese team won by a big margin, and went inside to eat and to drink – but only water. Alcohol is haram, particularly on this holy day. Most of the Australians gathered on the veranda neglecting food and preferring beer. Tiny had limped to the main house and with a vodka in his hand joined his team mates in what looked to be an long evening’s drinking binge. Tako gave us a pleading look. We shrugged and went inside to pack. We were heading back to Jakarta.

The young guys were reliving the game with one of Tako’s lovers, who had just arrived. Eddi looked downcast. He had lost face and credibility; and worse, his attempts to talk cricket had been ignored. I smiled and said, ‘Bloody great play!’

As we travelled down the highway, I carried the energy of the Sundanese team with me, back into the dense Jakarta air. I could not help but think that I had been lucky enough to witness a sporting jihad in which the infidel had been roundly defeated at its own game.


Melody Kemp
Last blog date: Oct 10th, 2015


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