Back in the 1970s Hunter S. Thompson took in an historic game of cricket at the old Hong Kong Cricket Club and lost ten bucks to the Big Baxter.
I was probably about 10 years old when one evening the front door opened and there stood my father, swaying slightly, before falling, cartoon-style, to the floor where he lay, giggling helplessly and waving a ten dollar note in the air.
It was a while before I learned what had reduced the Big Baxter to this state and its name was Gonzo.
But while Baxter looked to have come up the worse for the encounter, in fact he was ten bucks ahead, won in a sporting contest with Thompson in his alter ego as sports writer Raoul Duke.
Thompson had a dual listing on the masthead of Rolling Stone in those days, as national affairs correspondent, and as Duke, sports editor.
It was around 1973. Thompson was in Hong Kong after a short stint in Vietnam and was introduced to Bax by Newsweek correspondent Tony Clifton at the Hong Kong Press Club in Wanchai.
“It was Friday night at the Press Club, a scene of much vibration,” was how the Big Baxter remembered it, years later.
“Over a noisy drink or two we advise Thompson, speaking now to his alter ego Raoul Duke, that Sunday promises a taste of history for any sporting man to savour – nothing less than the final match at the historic Hong Kong Cricket Club.
“It will be a struggle to pit the best that Hong Kong, with all its colonial history, can offer against a team of Australians, all former Test match stars including the great Neil Harvey and Alan Davidson.
“In the cricket world, you’re talking box office with this lot.
“And it’s a dream scene. A compact little ground with skyscraper banks towering around it, the majesty of the Peak rising above it and the sounds of the harbour drifting in…”
Thompson the sports journalist sensed the value of the match and joined Clifton and my father for lunch at the Foreign Correspondents Club, in those days located in the heart of Central in Sutherland House.
They settled down to watch it, first from the FCC balcony overlooking the famous original Hong Kong cricket ground, and later from the edge of the hallowed turf itself.
“As we savour the thump of willow on leather, Raoul Duke boasts that this probably makes him the only American sports editor to have actually taken in a game of cricket.
“Clifton and I carefully take him through the nomenclature and the rules.
“A bowler not a pitcher. A keeper not a catcher. A bat not a club. An over, a no ball, a wide, a full toss, a wicket, the wickets, the bails, the pitch (‘the thing you play on’), a Yorker, a googly, slips, deep square leg, mid-on, mid-off, point, fine leg, square cut, a snick, a bouncer, bodyline, and ‘Owzat!’
“We talk of giants of the past, Hutton, Larwood, Bradman, McCabe, Lindwall, Miller and the mystery of Meckiff’s delivery and Iverson’s freakiness.
“He listens intently as I tell him of the days when, as a young reporter in Brisbane, I ghosted a column by the great Wesley Hall himself. Now there was a fast bowler, the Barbados Bombshell…”
But back to the story, Dad…
Hong Kong had put a good score on the board but with the clock in the final quarter hour of the game the Aussies were coming up fast.
Thompson by now had assessed the form of all the players on the field, the batsmen at the crease, the bowlers, the wicketkeeper, the fielders, and had trotted through the pavilion and taken a look at the batsmen padded up and ready to go in.
“He’s applying all sorts of physical and mental yardsticks better suited for baseball and gridiron football, and maybe basketball, to the players and he’s decided that the team in the field, Hong Kong, will win,” Baxter said.
“It’s $10 cash, to be autographed by the loser.
“He’s on Hong Kong and I’m on those brave Aussie lads, their bones creaking at the creases in some cases, from arthritis, but they’re putting on the runs.”
With two minutes on the clock and the Aussies still needing runs to win, the match reached the last over.
“The bowler puts down two balls and the runs mount, but on the dot of 6pm Thompson, alias Raoul Duke, the sports Editor, starts jumping up and down and shouting ‘That’s it.’
No, no, no, Clifton and Baxter patiently explained above all the shouting and cheering.
“This is not baseball. In cricket you bowl out the last over to completion.”
The Duke is stunned, to think that any game could be so stupid.
He grumbled about a ‘sucker bet’ but even before the winning runs were scored he’d paid up, autographing the $10 with a friendly note about being chiselled.
Times got tough for Bax later on, and one day he reluctantly pulled out the note and spent it.
So much, he said, for nostalgia and its trimmings.