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In Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, the 34th edition of an International Cricket Sixes is being played, ending on April 6. Its inaugural competition took place in 1988, but three years were lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sixes cricket was introduced to Thailand by Myles de Vries, initially at the Royal Bangkok Sports Club in 1985. A move to Chiang Mai was initiated by de Vries and Adrian Gundlach. This was to establish a separate identity for the Sixes away from Bangkok and take advantage of an underutilized facility at the Chiang Mai Gymkhana Club. It is believed that support was provided by the tobacco industry, which was based in the north.

The 1988 competition comprised 16 teams, three of which have participated in each competition since that year. They are the Wombats from Australia, Darjeeling CC from Dubai and the Drifters from England. My team is the latter and its name is appropriate.

Folklore has it that the choice was made because its members drifted unknowingly from one situation to another. It has stuck through many iterations and has been a remarkable catalyst for many long-lasting friendships.

This applies to both the Drifters and to members of opposing teams. It is a tournament that epitomizes a combination of friendship and competition, of cricket played in the right spirit. This has led it to become recognized as the largest amateur six-a-side event in the world. It could not have achieved this status without the hard work and dedication, freely given, of a number of people over the years. It is an even more remarkable achievement that the status has been attained in a country not normally associated with cricket.

A common belief is that the game was introduced to Thailand by the children of elite Thai families, who were educated in England. The Bangkok City Cricket Club was formed in 1890, playing its first match in November of that year at the Pramane Ground close to the Royal Palace. However, the game failed to develop in Thai society and it was soon played only by expatriate residents.

According to the Cricket Association of Thailand, the first cricket match played in Chiang Mai was in 1895. This predates the formation of the Gymkhana Club by a group of 14 expatriates with the purpose of encouraging the sport in the north of the country. Cricket was first mentioned in the Minutes of the Club Committee meeting of Nov. 6, 1898. Later that month, the Sports Committee Meeting referenced the inclusion of cricket in the forthcoming Christmas program. The colonial clubhouse, replete with veranda, remains, providing the base for golf, cricket, squash and tennis sections.

Across holes seven to nine of the golf course lies the cricket ground. There are two permanent buildings. One serves as the engine room during the tournament, housing match commentators, scorers and organizers. The other is the boundary bar. Temporary tents are provided around half of the boundary perimeter to house the teams, while the scoreboard is moved to the other side of the ground so as to be visible to all.

After 1988, the tournament grew in both size and reputation as international cricketing stars were attracted. In 2002, 30 teams came from nine different countries. This was surpassed in 2007, with 33 teams from 14 different countries and in 2008 with 36 teams. Since then and until the pandemic, the number has been between 30 and 32. No stars have been attracted since 2012.

This year there are 26 men’s and three women’s teams in a separate competition, which began in 2008. Eleven of the teams are from Australia, five from England, four from Thailand, the balance from seven other countries. The competition’s format has evolved over the years. Teams are now divided into two sections — Gentlemen and Players — according to historic or perceived strength. Within these sections, teams are divided into groups of four, the results of which determine placings in Round Two. This has five levels, in descending order: Cup, Shield, Bowl, Plate and Spoon. Each is a mini-tournament to determine the finalists at each level.

All of this could not happen without a superb organizing team. Operations Manager George Appleton, formerly in the Royal Navy, has spent most of the last six months preparing for the event. Richard Lockwood, a well-known statistician in the game, is the committee chair and chief scorer. They have been in Chiang Mai for six and 15 years, respectively. Other volunteers have taken on roles as commentators, treasurers, bar managers, organizers of umpires, and media and communications facilitators. They continue a line of previous tournament organizers. One of those was Maurice Bromley, in whose honor the Shield competition is named.

Inevitably, the tournament’s composition has changed over the years. Some teams have aged and faded away. Others have managed to rejuvenate themselves. The tournament does seem to have a solid base. In 2024, five of the 26 teams had competed over 30 times, five between 20 and 26, six between 10 and 19 times, with eight between one and nine. New teams joined, two in 2024, one of them the Lao Elephants. Cricket started officially in Lao seven years ago, being played on a dirt track and a potholed outfield. It has progressed to a newly built AstroTurf pitch, a well-groomed outfield embraced by eucalyptus trees.

In addition to attracting new teams and sustaining the ethos for existing ones, another objective of the Sixes has been to provide support for the development of junior cricket in the Chiang Mai area.

This has been through fundraising, tournament organization, coaching and development work. Selection of players at national age group levels has provided rewards.

None of this could be achieved without the volunteers. Each team pays an entry fee, and sponsorship is attracted, but hospitality income is critical in providing the means to sustain the tournament. It also provides spin-off benefits for the local economy, while matches are streamed live, worldwide. This wonderful event is far removed from the money-laden world of franchise cricket.