Sri Lanka v England Cricket Tour 2014
Tour Manager's Review
We celebrated wins, we witnessed losses, we had laughter and we had dancing. And we had tuk-tuk racing! It was a joy and a privilege for Steve and Des to travel around Sri Lanka with this group of Howzat Travellers. We undoubtedly had one of the best tour group spirits we've ever had, made possible by everyone getting on so well and enjoying each other's company!
Des' Tour Review
It happens now and again on a tour. It certainly was the case with our party of eight adventurous souls who ‘opened the batting’ by joining our Howzat Travel cricket experience for the start of the series. I’m talking about the incredibly happy spirit that prevailed among the group which led to a team atmosphere of belonging, punctuated with much laughter, teasing, swimming, walking, drinking and dining out together. It happens.
Welcome drinks at the beach bar at our hotel the Jetwing Beach were great. This was followed by the group going for a meal a five-minute stroll away at the King Coconut restaurant, and a nightcap at The Rodeo Bar. The Weatherstones took a tuk-tuk to visit the harbour and herb garden. Having the shops and bars/restaurants so close to the hotel made a huge difference. Good spot. Well chosen by the Howzat team.
Then came the cricket. The vibe in the stadium was festive, loud and friendly. Sri Lankans are generally so congenial. When they piled on 317-6 off their 50 overs, it seemed as if England’s poor one day form on these shores would continue. However, Moeen Ali scored a magnificent century (off 72 balls the third fastest ever by an England player) and some late hitting from Ravi Bopara nearly pulled off a spectacular start to the tour but, try as we might, we could not push England over the line. They fell 25 runs short when they could so easily have won the first ODI. No matter, our team spirit was intact as witnessed back at our lovely hotel on the beach where one of the swimming pools was 50 metres long! No, we did not stage any relay races; the beer, wine and tea was too good.
Our team spirit could not help England with the 2nd ODI when they reverted to type, being bowled out for 185 which the Sri Lankans knocked off with just two wickets down and 10 overs to spare. For the bigger cricketing picture though we were privileged to witness the batting of two modern greats – Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawadene – as they neared the end of their careers. Such a small island can produce such giants. So we concentrated more on the cultural side of our tour and went out for an English tea.
The farewell dinner for the first part of the tour was a great success, with that erudite scribe and famous cricketer, John Etheridge, regularly swapping places with Steve and I so he could speak personally to everyone. John is a firm favourite of Howzat Travel and our travellers really did enjoy him for his cricket knowledge and, as one of our girls said, for his good looks!
Alan and Jean, who were there for all seven ODIs, were now joined by the main body of expectant cricket lovers for a 25-minute flight down to Hambantota and the Peacock Inn Hotel beautifully situated on the beach. The visit to the Bundala National Park proved to be a delight for bird lovers!
Our much larger group must have inspired England to a much better display. They made heavy weather of it though, which seemed not to auger well for the future, winning by five wickets with eight balls to spare in a rain-effected Duckworth-Lewis game. Moeen once again provided the base, not just for the England innings but for the whole tour – defeat here would have meant 3-0 down with four to play but 2-1 meant things would be interesting for a bit longer yet. The Suriyawawe International Stadium, in the middle of nowhere, was impressive and our elevated position enabled us to see the rain coming from the distance. Most were impressed by the way the ground staff managed to cover the whole field and, after torrents of rain, still resume play after a couple of hours. We returned to the hotel for a nightcap feeling positive.
Steve took his group off to ‘Little England’ and the tea plantations while my group thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Yala National Park. Comfortable enough in safari jeeps we had some very good sightings including elephant, crocodile, water buffalo, birds, spotted deer and a bonus - leopards! One spotted in a tree and another on a small outcrop. After a sobering visit to a Tsunami-stricken site on the beach, which used to be a restaurant in the park with a lovely view of the sea, we returned to the hotel.
Our transfer journey to Mount Lavinia proved to be quite hilarious. After leaving the Peacock, we were overtaken (or rather forced over) by the police-escorted minibus carrying the umpires and TV crew. Our bus driver promptly slotted in behind and displayed huge talent on narrow and winding roads packed with traffic of all kinds to keep up with the brigade, often to cheers for manoeuvres not dreamt of in England. The result was that we got to Galle early meaning a leisurely lunch at a restaurant and walks within and on top of the walls of the Old Dutch fort by the sea.
On the expressway, it was our turn to overtake the police procession. Their minibus had blown its engine, not used to such speed, and was being towed which allowed us to ease past with much laughter and sign language.
Mount Lavinia awaited us and was described as possibly one of the best hotels in all of the country. It did not disappoint. The site itself, on the rocks overlooking the beach with its variety of eating and drinking spots, both in the hotel and on the private beach, was superb. Its elegance reminds one of the splendid days of yesteryear and with its romantic origin is a favourite spot for weddings - with up to four a day taking place. Everyone took full part and thoroughly enjoyed this place.
The truth is that an earlier governor, Sir Thomas Maitland, built a mansion as a retreat for his girlfriend and secret lover who was a beautiful local dancer called Lavinia and duly named it Mount Lavinia. They were desperately in love. When asked where he was going he would reply that he was ‘going to Mount Lavinia!’ Well I never!
Soon we found ourselves at the Premadasa Stadium in Colombo for the 4th ODI where Sri Lanka regained their two match lead by going 3-1 up in the series. It was a competitive game thanks to a wonderful 90 from James Taylor, who KP had previously mentioned was not up to it! Taylor was making his first appearance of the series and some tight England bowling at the end meant Sri Lanka only squeezed home with two balls to spare.
After a tour of the city taking in the highlights of a Hindu Temple from the outside, a Buddhist Temple inside and out, Independence Square, a bonus visit to the CCC (Colombo Cricket Club) - the oldest Test ground in Sri Lanka as well as a drive around the city and a happy group dining on the beach at Fish Cove, we felt we had ‘done’ Colombo and set off in the morning for beautiful Kandy.
The road becomes prettier and more interesting the nearer one gets to the city nestled between surrounding mountains and rivers. We stopped by a herb garden where we bought oils and herbs to cure anything from baldness and snoring to serious ailments. I felt much better, secure in the knowledge that everyone on my tour was now immune to everything! Soon we were at our beautiful hotel, the Cinnamon Citadel, on the banks of a huge river and sporting an open-air feel where the only door one encountered was the door to one’s bedroom. The swimming pool and entertainment area were lovely and having breakfast on the veranda was a special experience. The entertainment, little did I realise had but merely started.
In the evenings a two man band would play some golden oldies music. It did not take long for Janet to get up and dance away beautifully. She was soon joined by Allan and then everyone else. In fact our group was responsible for everyone in the hotel, who were a bit shy before, letting their hair down on the dance floor. This happened every night! Derek said we were much better than the Kandy Cultural Dancers!
The Pallekele Stadium out of town beckoned us for the 5th ODI. Our seats were right behind the bowler’s arm and TV cameras, fantastic seats. We had a police escort to enable us to get there before the mob so got the best of the free seating even though our seats were numbered! Another England win was well received as they took the Joe Root (route!) to victory with a century from the Yorkshire man, another contribution from James Taylor and six wickets from Chris Woakes. We went home to dance.
No visit to Kandy would be complete without a visit to the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens. Covering 147 acres, flanked on two sides by the big lazy river, it is a delightful mixture of huge majestic trees and vast lawns interspersed with avenues of palm trees and huge bamboo forests to magnificent orchids and a variety of flowers giving flashes of colour.
The Temple of the Tooth was, as always, very interesting and the Cultural Dance display and hot coal walking was more interesting for some than others!
6th ODI - rain interrupted again. A Sangakarra hundred set Sri Lanka up for a win and England never looked being close to chasing it down, losing by 90 runs. This rain did not dampen our group’s spirit and we carried on play back at the hotel.
Our final sightseeing stop was perhaps a highlight for many. It was the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage. I have often said that this is the best viewing site for elephants in the world. One can enjoy a drink and a meal on a restaurant deck looking out on a beautiful river while these pachyderms frolic in the water close below. They walk along the path no more than an arms length away and then you can still feed the orphan babies. Two orphaned very young ones enjoyed a game of ‘tag’ while Graham and I watched with great amusement!
Our Farewell Dinner was thoroughly enjoyed by all. Lawrence Booth, the editor of the Wisden Almanack and scribe was our guest speaker and what a revelation he was. An excellent speaker, knowledgeable of course interspersed with a fair amount of wit and much common sense. “It was a pleasure to have heard him”, said many people. A delightful prospective orator of substance I feel.
The 7th ODI was a similarly emphatic Sri Lankan victory to give them a 5-2 series win. This was probably a fair overall result. We were grateful England got the couple of wins to keep everyone interested.
However, I think that the real winners were our Howzat Travellers who came to this Pearl of the Indian Ocean in the Northern Hemisphere (seven degrees north of the equator!) and lapped up the warmth, sunshine and goodwill of the Sri Lankan people and had in plain language a wonderful cricketing holiday. .
Yours in Howzat cricket tours...
Many good wishes
If you wish to read about more of Des' travel experiences, you should check out his book 'Sporting Travels of a Karoo Son'.
"A great read. It took me right back to my growing up years, working alongside and playing cricket and rugby against Des, so real. It then took me on a tour to some of the countries I played in and showed me that while us players are out in the middle we are only a part of the action as other stories are unfolding all around the game." Allan Lamb
You can buy it here -