Twenty20 Cricket in Sri Lanka
Des' Tour Review
It was a warm welcome to a warm climate for the Howzat tourists who travelled to Sri Lanka for the Cricket World T20 Tournament. A short break in a beautiful beach-rimmed country to watch the shortest format of the game was a real bright spark on the horizon for those feeling the twinges of the onset of autumn at home.
We arrived for the Super Eight Group stages and drove along the long and winding roads to the mountainous World Heritage site of Kandy, the home for the games we were due to watch; a group containing our first loves, England, our wonderfully hospitable hosts, Sri Lanka, the bombastic power hitting and fun-loving West Indies and everyone’s (well quite a lot of people’s) second favourite team, New Zealand. Our hilltop hotel was just that, a hotel on top of a hill, and we gathered for Welcome Drinks having enjoyed the views and the lovely pool.
Although T20 is the shortest form of the game, the fact that two matches were scheduled back-to-back meant that we saw 80 overs of cricket in a day, a mere 10 overs short of a full day at a test match. The scheduling of one day of cricket followed by a ‘rest day’ was thoughtful for our tourists so they could either explore the area, taking in the culture of the Botanical Gardens, Temple of the Tooth and the market, or relax by the pool in between the games.
On our first visit to the newly built Pallekele International Stadium, situated 18 kilometres out of town in luscious rural surroundings, we found our seats to be superbly situated behind the slip cordon with food and drinks on the same level behind us. Here we witnessed all the drama and tenseness associated with T20 as Sri Lanka defeated New Zealand in a super over, much to the delight of the home fans, followed straight after by the West Indies defeating England, much to the non-delight of our party. The national anthems were played at the start of each match which, throughout the tournament, provided a wonderful opportunity for our group to sing God Save the Queen as loud as we could. Some were more tuneful than others, particularly choristers Bill and Annie. (see video). They were wonderful.
We had plenty to sing about on the second day of cricket as the England team registered a win, beating New Zealand in a very close match, followed by Sri Lanka thrashing the West Indies. With all teams still mathematically able to qualify for the semi-finals we certainly had our T20 excitement’s worth at the third games when the unlucky New Zealanders were eliminated following another super over defeat. Unfortunately, England could not produce a performance to propel themselves through, losing to Sri Lanka.
England and New Zealand had left and we also left, but only for Colombo where the tournament would reach its conclusion with Sri Lanka to play Pakistan and West Indies against Australia. The journey down from Kandy to Colombo was punctuated by a visit to the elephant orphanage, where we could watch these wonderful pachyderms bathing in the river whilst refreshing our palates.
Our hotel in Colombo was the magnificent Cinnamon Lakeside, real luxury accommodation and much appreciated by our group. The swimming pool is enormous and adjacent to the lake so has an aura of space about it with numerous restaurants and a bar overlooking the scene. Various members of our group spent many a ‘happy hour’ outdoors in this area enjoying the warmth with Duncan giving Apple Apps classes next to the pool and being teased by Gary and Jo with comments coming from Bill, Mick, Brian and Paul. There was a serious amount of friendly banter within this group and laughter was the sound most heard. Meanwhile, Graham and Lesley were in the gym giving lessons to the personnel, in spite of Lesley’s broken bone in her leg. What a stalwart never complaining even though she had to crutch some distances sometimes. Roger and Mark relaxed reading near the pool recovering from the breathtaking climb up Sigariya while Andrew and Lynne joined us taking full part along with Simon and Emma who were only seen at cricket or night time too busy enjoying themselves. Peter went to dinner with friends and Bill and Annie went exploring; tirelessly.
It is quite something to be at a tournament where the host nation are doing well and feel the wonderful vibe it creates among the people. Cricket plays such an important part in the life of many Sri Lankans that we felt privileged to share their joy as their team beat Pakistan in the first semi-final. The atmosphere in the stadium was effervescent and passionate as the excitement levels rose. The only negative thing I can say about Sri Lanka is that their lovely national anthem is incredibly long.
In the absence of England, we felt an affinity towards the teams from ‘our’ group so most now supported them and were pleased that Sri Lanka would be in the final. The next day the second semi-final saw the West Indies blow the Australians all the way back down under. We were fortunate to witness Chris Gayle, surely one of the most watchable batsmen of all time, in full flight with 75 from 41 balls and a quick-fire 15 ball 38 from Kieron Pollard. Chasing 206 to win the Australians were going to need a T20 world class performance from several of their batsmen, and once two of the men who could possibly have provided this, David Warner and Shane Watson had departed quickly it was never going to happen although we did enjoy George Bailey smacking 63 from 29 balls.
These Colombo matches were also an introduction for some of us to the women’s game with one being played before the men took to the field. These women players certainly knew how to bat properly with excellent technique, but sometimes it looked like the game was being played in slow motion – Peter described it as looking like they were running in treacle. On a politically incorrect note they gave us men the chance to watch the game from a different aspect and choose the best looking lady to support. I must take responsibility for starting this, before any females condemn me it is what many of them have being doing for a long time with the likes of Stuart Broad and Alastair Cook. Most importantly it was a tournament that England looked like winning, before being defeated by the old enemy Australia in a very close game with only 4 runs the difference.
Our group’s disappointment at seeing their country women defeated in the final was quickly overcome by the anticipation of the men’s final. The start of the West Indies innings was the total antithesis of their performance in the semi final. They scored a measly 32-2 from the first 10 overs and our Sri Lankan friends were convinced they would be able to chase down whatever total was eventually posted. However, they didn’t bargain on their star bowler Malinga returning figures of 0-54 from his four overs as the West Indies blasted 105 runs from their second 10 overs. As connoisseurs of films (or quiz’s) will know Humphrey Bogart never actually said ‘Play it again, Sam’ (he said ‘Play it, Sam) but I can imagine those were the words being shouted in the West Indies camp as the two Sam’s – Darren Sammy (26 from 15 balls) and Marlon Samuels (78 from 56 balls) including six sixes smashed took them to 137-6. Although not a massive total, it proved to be enough with Rampul taking a wicket with first ball of Sri Lankan innings and Sammy then squeezing the life out of their batsmen. Narine’s accurate bowling made sure Sri Lanka couldn’t score the required 44 from the last four overs and the West Indies got the party started (and continued it for some days I believe). It was Gangnam Style Calypso.
The home crowd were stunned but Sri Lankans are such good people they accepted it. Instead of disappearing off into the night they stayed and joined in the celebrations and got their money’s worth enjoying the fireworks, speeches and the spontaneous dancing of the victorious West Indians. Gale again entertained the crowds with his Gangnam Style moves and was a great favourite of the Sri Lankan cricket public all through the tournament.
The tour culminated with our Farewell Dinner at The Cricket club Café. Stephen Brenkley was our celebrity speaker and like a good cricketer fielded numerous questions from us admirably all in his inimitable and optimistic way. He certainly provided a knowledgeable and in-depth look at various aspects of the game we love. Thank you, Stephen.
This form of the game needs a different approach compared to Test Cricket emphasising the significance of every ball bowled which in turn calls for extreme versatility in both the batsman’s and bowler’s attitude and skills. It is vibrant and exciting and a tournament like this gives the cricket follower a chance to see many of the top cricketers in the world at one venue. Combine that with the opportunity to revel in excursions like the beautiful Botanical Gardens, the bustling Market, the Jewellery Factory, the Spice Garden, the Cultural Dancing and Fire-walking Show and the sacred Temple of the Tooth all within the enchanting mountains of Kandy. Add to that the iconic Sigariya Mountain Fortress Kingdom and a unique thrilling visit to the Elephant Orphanage where one can touch and feed these wonderful pachyderms and watch them bathing in the river while you buy lunch and elephant dung writing paper. Then go on to enjoy the tourist spots of Colombo with its Temples and colonial and modern buildings, mad traffic, cheap shops, restaurants, golf course and Tuk-tuks to return to the sparkling swimming pool filled to the brim with warm water overlooking the lake with an ice-filled glass filled to the brim to know we were building up memories to reminisce over during the cold winter ahead.
As we sit now and read this, just a few weeks later, huddled by the radiator with darkness outside at 5pm we can look back on our Howzat’s ‘best of both worlds tour’, having seen the best of the World Cup and experienced a world class holiday and look forward to when we all do it again.