England Cricket Tour to Sri Lanka 2018
Tours Managers’ Reviews

Sri Lanka 2018 - Tours Managers' Reviews

October – November 2018

For the first time since 2015/16 our travellers witnessed England Cricket Team win a Test series overseas. With many new players showing their talents on the field, off the field, the country of Sri Lanka certainly left a lasting impression on those that attended. Highlighted by a moving 11th November tribute from all England travelling fans at the Galle Fort, it’s been one of our most enjoyable tours to organise and participate in to date. See how our Tour managers’ enjoyed the tour here…

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Des Newton

For those who enjoy watching test cricket it’s always a joy to travel to a distant land to do so. For those who enjoy watching test cricket as well as warm weather, beautiful scenery, different cuisines, other cultures, sandy beaches and the camaraderie of fellow Howzat Travellers then this tropical island (Island Beautiful) seven degrees latitude North of the equator is the sought-after place to be. It’s named the Pearl of the Indian Ocean for a reason!

The Amari Galle Hotel proved to be a welcome haven for our weary travellers with each room sporting a balcony overlooking the delightful swimming pools with a bar and a beach beyond and a great view of the sea. The proximity to the cricket ground was without doubt a pleasure and a great advantage. The cricket ground itself is unique with the huge old Dutch Fort dominating the scene and the walls offering free seating for the more daring. The cricket itself was top rate with Ben Foakes inspiring us by scoring 107 runs in the first innings when England needed him and so became the 20th England batsman to score a century on debut and the 2nd England wicket-keeper to achieve this. England won easily by more than 200 runs!

The Armistice Memorial Service took place at another unique venue; at the Clock Tower in the old fort. It was dignified, moving and special, arranged by Ian supported by Graham Francis, David and others. The dulcet tones by Billy Cooper on his trumpet playing the refrains of The Last Post, The Reveille and the National Anthem were all very precious moments as were the readings of the names of the fallen.
Rangana Herath also retired after this test.

Our journey to Kandy was broken by a visit to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. These huge Pachyderms could be observed at very close range. They are taken along an alleyway and one could stand close enough to touch them as they went by. A magnificent sight. Once in the river they seemed to revel in it finding relief and comfort. This must be the best viewing platform in the world to see elephants so close-up.

Our group settled themselves into the Mahaweli Reach hotel in Kandy situated on the banks of the river offering refined luxury of an old-world charm. The visits to the Temple of the Tooth and the beautiful Royal Botanical Gardens were well patronised as were some of the bars and restaurants in town. A highlight was surely being escorted by traffic police on a motorbike which did wonders for our time taken to and from the cricket stadium. The Pallekele Stadium (also known as the Muttiah Muralitharan Stadium) is the most modern and user-friendly that we experienced in Sri Lanka. The cricket was again enjoyed by all and the England win put us 2-0 up in the series which seemed to put everyone in a good mood!

Onward we went to the Jetwing Lake hotel in Dambulla. It was lovely, boasting a 70-metre-long swimming pool. Some certainly took part more than others. The accommodation all round was excellent. This site gave us easy access to the wonderful tourist site of the Polomaru Ancient city, the Dambulla Temple Caves and the most visited tourist sit in the land, the Rock Mountain Fortress of Sigiriya. This fortress is dominated by a daunting column of rock 200 metres high and has been declared a Heritage site also known as Lion Rock. Those who climbed the 1200 steps said it was awesome.

After a stop at a herb garden where one could buy cures for nearly all ailments from snoring to arthritis and more we found a new home at the Movenpick hotel in Colombo. It is a tall 23-story skyscraper offering superb views especially from the rooftop bar and swimming pool and great rooms. The closeness to the Sinhalese Sports Club Ground was useful and the cricket proved to be a very satisfying ending in a reasonably close contest with England coming out on top which resulted in a 3-0 series whitewash. Our Farewell Dinner was once again a very special event. Imagine Aggers interviewing Muralitharan as our guest speaker. He was kind and self-effacing and endeared himself to one and all. A great way to end a tour with one of the country’s greatest cricketers ever.

The people of Sri Lanka are kind and gentle. Their traffic driving habits are seemingly fraught with danger. But we never were in any danger according to our guide! I was however amazed at the total lack of road rage! The hooter was used gently to say, “I’m coming” or “Thank you”. Another successful tour for our Howzat Travellers with old friendships renewed and new ones made.

Yours in cricket,
Des

 

Maggi Gibson

Well, my tour of duty for Howzat in Sri Lanka has come to an end. Back in sunny Cape Town, I am sifting through the memories of a wonderful few weeks in the beautiful island country of Sri Lanka.

I was lucky enough to accompany a lovely group of Howzat supporters on a pre-test sightseeing tour around the country before the first test in Galle.

After a first night in the fantastic Jetwing Hotel in Negombo we set off, with our marvellous local guide Richard James, northwards via the elephant orphanage to Dambulla where we spent two nights at the fabulous Jetwing Lake Hotel. With early starts every day we visited most of the important sites in this cultural heartland. Most of us managed to summit Sigiriya Rock and enjoy the stunning vistas, we visited cave temples, the fascinating archaeological site of Polonnaruwa, had a wonderful alfresco lunch where we ate off palm leaves. We learnt and saw so much our heads were spinning!

A day was spent travelling to Kandy and visiting the Temple of the Tooth and cultural show. The next morning after a visit of the astounding Peredeniya Botanical Gardens it was on to a very interesting tea plantation en route to ‘Little Britain’ and an overnight stay in the very grand Grand Hotel in Nuwara Eliya with its beautiful landscaped gardens and cool climate! After some delicious G&T’s in the cosy bar and a good dinner, a small billiards tournament was held with the resident hotel billiards umpire in charge of scoring. All very colonial!

The next day after a spine chilling, twisting, turning drive through beautiful mountain scenery with views of waterfalls, tea plantations and ocean, we finally made it to Galle and we were all dropped at our various different hotels to get ready for the first test in Galle the following day. A big Thank You to our knowledgeable and friendly guide and our amazing driver and assistant for a great 5-day pre-test tour!

Apart from the thrill of the cricket, the first day of a test is always a great time for meeting up with old friends and acquaintances and there were certainly great reunions at the Galle ground. Situated so close to the Fort area it was easy to take a stroll around the ramparts during the lunch break and there were plenty of choices for a delicious snack and drink in the fort area too. Being with the ‘Red tour’, we were based a fair way from the ground but with the new highway our trips to and from the ground were fairly easy, helped by some nice cold Lion beers on the trips back after the days play. It was a great week and everybody seemed happy with our lovely beachfront hotel – The Eden Hotel and Spa near Bentota.

After some wonderful play by, amongst others, Keaton Jennings and Ben Foakes, a resounding victory was assured after only 4 days play. All the Howzat supporters were happy to have a free day to enjoy the beach. A cricket match against the Eden hotel staff was organised by Neil Homer of our tour party with Ross being a main player and Arthur de Sybel commentating. Sadly the match was rained off much to the relief of the Howzat team who were not doing too well! A few people took a tuk-tuk ride to visit a local turtle hatchery.

Next day, the transfer from Bentota to Kandy was enhanced with a visit to the Elephant orphanage in Pinnawela. On arrival in Kandy we checked into the Ozo hotel on the Kandy lakeside and were delighted with our rooftop bar overlooking the lake – one of the trendiest spots in Kandy! Most people had a day before the cricket to do a bit of exploring or go to the old Assgyria stadium to watch a couple of Barmy Army cricket matches. Our local ground handler had arranged a police escort to take all the cricket supporters to the ground on the first day of the test match and it proved quite an entertaining, if not a bit scary, ride. On subsequent days most of our party decided to depart without the police escort as the traffic was not as bad as everyone had expected. The Pallekelle stadium in Kandy is very attractive and everybody seemed happy with the location of our seats and the facilities at the ground. The final dinner at the Mahaweli Reach with Darren Gough was very entertaining as was the “Arrack Attack” after party at the Ozo rooftop bar with live music and much singing and dancing! A five-wicket haul from Jack Leach and a great century from Joe Root as well as great bowling and fielding assured another England victory and a 2-0 lead in the series. With an early finish on the fifth day we had the chance to enjoy some downtime in Kandy.

The next day we said goodbye to some of our party before setting off to Dambulla, with another great local guide, Harsha, for a three-night stay before the Colombo test. We stayed at the lovely Amaya Lake hotel which, apart from the eye-watering wine prices, everyone seemed to enjoy. A lot of lazing around the pool was enjoyed by some of our party whilst others opted to take a variety of sightseeing tours of this cultural centre of Sri Lanka. The three leisure days were soon over and we set off for Colombo. On arrival in Colombo I sadly had to say goodbye to our supporters and fly off back home to Cape Town.

I had a wonderful time, as always, working for Howzat – it was great to see a lot of old familiar faces as well as making some new acquaintances too! I look forward to seeing everyone again in the Caribbean!

 

Nick & Carole Joyce

It doesn’t take many minutes for travellers to Sri Lanka, first timers or those revisiting, to taste and then become absorbed in the culture and friendliness of this gem of an island. There is an openness here that is special, some may call it a welcome but however you describe it, even in the pouring rain of our arrival it is gripping. Even the downpours seem more eye opening here but with the exception of one day, they all arrived after the close of play!

On route from Colombo airport to Weligama (just south of Galle where the virtually faultless Marriott hotel sits on a surf bay that entices you into the waters for a cool down) we viewed rice fields, exotic fruit groves, tea plantations, ocean fishermen plus a huge monitor lizard who crossed the freeway right in front of us. All this and we hadn’t seen a ball bowled yet!

Our Welcome drinks set the scene for our Royal Blue Two Test tour. Friendliness, a delight for exploring and experiencing the country and a palpable keenness to experience great cricket in the culture of the Sri Lankan stadiums, the historical Galle and new era Kandy.

Galle did not disappoint. A world heritage Fort Wall frames the ground, the crowd was knowledgeable and huge plus Herath was making his final Test appearance. Vitally, we won the toss. We chose to bat first. Fireworks and cannon fire greeted Herath’s first ball, appreciated more by the crowd than the facing batsmen! Every session over the whole match provided something to appreciate; Foakes made a stunning debut, Jennings scored a patient ton, the spinners out spun the Sri Lankan spinners, England were victorious and we all got the fifth day free to explore the history, culture and beauty of Galle.

Garath Batty was our Q&A guest mid test and it would be fair to say nobody wanted him to leave, he was honest, frank, enlightening and entertaining in equal measure.

Fifteen minutes of Sunday 11th November 2018 will never be forgotten by those who climbed the Galle Fort wall for 11am. Brought together in sporting friendship in an aura of complete gratitude for those lives lost in 100 years of conflict, Howzat Travel coordinated the service with the reading of names, delivery of famous words and Billy the Trumpeter playing the last post.

So onto Kandy. Some people took a three-day tour visiting the former Kings’ palace, temple and parliament buildings constructed a thousand years ago showing the elegance and sophistication of this nation. Some visiting a Safari Park and the others undertaking the climb to the summit of the impressive Mount Sigiriya. Others made the journey in one day stopping on route at the renowned elephant orphanage; watching the elephants cool off in the river with an iced beer to hand beats any motorway services hands down!

A win already under our belts, we swapped the ocean coastline for a landscape of sharp lush green peaks and a bustling city built around a lake. A city of contrasts which centres around the Buddhist Temple of the Tooth, an experience not to be missed. The city of Kandy centralises the history of Sri Lanka and epitomises its culture.

Just as Kandy is so very different from Galle as a city, so are the cricket venues. Both equally inspiring but here in Kandy we arrived to a new era stadium with seats just as perfect as the stunning distant vista. The second test proved as exciting as the first. Vital again – we won the toss. Surprisingly for Kandy the wicket was another spinners delight but every session held our interest with both teams courting ups and downs alongside moments of terrific cricket. The match had numerous moments of anticipation and then elements of surprise, from a somewhat wobbly batting start some Sam Curran lofted sixes in the late afternoon boosted the England score to respectability. The next day we had hopes of early wickets but the Sri Lankan’s stuck in to gain a lead of 40.
Matt Prior was our mid Test Q&A guest, hosted in the ballroom of our colonial style Mahaweli Reach Hotel, and provided a great hour of insight from his own career and into current scenarios too. Matt predicted we would go on to win this Test and perfectly timed, Joe Root provided us with a 100, batting with great determination which left Foakes and Anderson to open the next morning.

We bowled well but were left at the end of the day with another enticing balance – we needed three wickets with SL 80 runs behind. Mid-morning of the following day saw us all enjoying celebratory refreshment around the colonial establishments of Kandy!

Everyone agreed that for a side in the rebuilding process Sri Lanka had provided great cricket sustained over virtually very session, played in the best competitive spirit, just as England did, much to the delight and enjoyment of us all.

Our Royal Blue Tour had come to a close. The farewell dinner brought us all together, having now enjoyed the friendships, days of exploring, the culture of this wonderful island and their people plus two great cricketing wins – exactly what we had excitedly chatted about at our welcome drinks on day one. The boisterous double act of Darren Gough and Jarrod Kimber, one last fabulous Sri Lankan buffet and as ever, generous support shown to the Howzat Travel chosen charity (the Isabella Peatfield fund) sent us on our way not only reflecting this trip – but planning the next one!

 

David Stewart

Sri Lanka is different. It is beautiful. It is inexpensive. Its people are kind, and interested. What is more, they know and love their cricket. Once the hotel staff in the Amari Galle got to know us, some were confident enough to give us their views – usually unfavourable – on the Sri Lankan team selection.
This was my eighth tour for the company, the circularity being that my first was to this country in March 2012. Galle and Kandy have not changed much, Colombo has done so substantially – lots of new high-rise buildings along the waterfront, a strong Chinese influence which the locals are understandably wary of. Plenty of them were happy to discuss politics, the influence of other countries on their governments, and particularly the corruption which bedevils too much of the higher parts of their society.

Conditions were overcast for the first two Tests, meaning our travellers did not have to put up with potentially punishing heat and humidity. Colombo was another story – one can sympathise with the players, when a short walk would produce a sheen of perspiration across the body. Those who opted for air-conditioned seating mitigated the situation; others in the open but covered stands cheerfully got on with it, fortified by bottled water, Dilmah tea (highly recommended), and Lion beer. And, at the end of the day’s play, there was an air-conditioned coach back to the hotel, and a rooftop bar (before or after a refreshing shower) in which to debrief the day’s play.

At the end of the day, Sri Lanka is still a developing country. As the delightful Muthiah Muralitharan pointed out at our end of tour function, whilst we were mainly observing the 30% around the urban areas, 70% of the population – particularly in the countryside – struggle to put together three meals a day for their families; the oxen driver in a paddy field near Dambulla sprang to mind. From an operational point of view, this means things can and will go wrong. It is to the huge credit of our travellers that they accepted such hiccups with a good-natured and understanding manner, while waiting for a combined solution – between tour manager and local guide – to emerge.

One of the joys of the tour management role is getting to know those in your group. Etiquette suggests one should allow the tourist to reveal their background freely, rather than as result of enquiry. What pleasure therefore, to discover in our ranks: a Wimbledon umpire; a dignified man making light of Parkinson’s, and another who invented a drug to tackle that condition; a retired Master from a leading cricket school who saw a future England captain (among half a dozen future county players) through his teams; a lady who could not join before Remembrance Sunday, because she played in a Silver band and had four commemorative events to take part in; a retired Aids specialist; a man joined by his son for the second Test, all the way from Melbourne; a lady who confessed four years ago in Barbados that it was a big thing to travel for the first time on her own, now a veteran who would chat away happily with newcomers to pass on a few tricks of the trade!

It was particularly warming when people emailed from home to say that the ground looked wonderful alongside Galle Fort, or noting the striking vegetation on the hills around Pallakelle – renditions of Sweet Caroline seemed more particularly to catch the attention at the SSC Ground in Colombo – and how fascinating each of the three Test match contests became: ‘’you are so lucky to be out there…’’.
They seem pretty keen to join us next time!

A personal highlight was playing a small part in the commemorative event atop Galle Fort on the morning of 11th November, attended by several hundred visiting supporters, when Billy the trumpeter played the Last Post and Reveille rather movingly. Full credit to the management of Howzat Travel and Barmy Army for arranging this special event, which was also attended by representatives of the MCC.

Bob Buckler

It’s been four years since my last visit to Sri Lanka. Then it was a hectic itinerary of 7 ODI’s over 21 days. This time it’s a more leisurely pace, with two in Dambulla, two in Kandy and one plus a 20/20 Colombo.

After everyone has arrived, our group splits into three coaches heading off to Dambulla. It’s about a four-hour drive. The rest of the day is spent familiarising ourselves with the hotel amenities, supper and discussing the first match tomorrow.

1st ODI… Day/Night matches are always going to be a problem at the tail of the monsoon season and as predicted the rain arrived after 15 overs and the match finally called off four hours later, most of us having already departed to our respective hotels long before that. Rain in Sri Lanka tends to be fairly localised as we found on return to our hotel not a drop had fallen!

The next two days our guests spend enjoying the pool (no rain) hotel spa and going on various excursions to Sigiriya Rock, Anuradhapura and a local village tour.

2nd ODI… Day match England batting first scored 278 in the allotted overs due to senior batsman Root & Morgan who scored 71 and 92 respectively, with Lasith Malinga’s 5-44 the highlight for Sri Lanka. The rain came at mid-afternoon with Sri Lanka 140-5. 31 runs short on the D/L and that’s the winning margin with time called an hour later.

After a rest day we head for Kandy, visiting the Dambulla Rock Temple on the route, we climb up to the temple which is a World Heritage Site also visit a spice garden in Matale where we are introduced to numerous different spices that Sri Lanka is famous for. We’re also shown how some of these spices are grown and processed. Upon arrival in Kandy we check into our home for the next six nights.

Tuesday is spent exploring Kandy with excursions to the Temple of the Tooth plus sightseeing around the second largest city in Sri Lanka. The city’s heart is scenic Kandy Lake (Bogambara Lake), which is popular for strolling.

3rd ODI Day/Night… Kandy is noted for horrendous traffic with this in mind police escorts are provided for the trip to the stadium. It’s a hair-raising experience having the traffic cleared off the road in front of you. It was a forgettable encounter reduced after five hours rain to a 21/21 over match, England winning by 7 wickets with 15 balls to spare at gone 11.30pm when most of us had already retired to the bar!

With two further days at leisure in Kandy I opted for the excursion to Nuwara Eliya to visit a Tea Plantation and Factory to see how proper quality tea is produced. Some travellers said it’s a long way for a cuppa! Finishing up in the mountains, Little England, over 6,000 feet up about the tea plantations.

4th ODI Day match… It started so well, Sri Lanka posting 273 after the allotted overs. England were always in front of the D/L eventually winning by 15 runs before the 4pm rain arrived. Our trip home in an absolute deluge of rain but our police escort escorted us home safely.

Colombo bound! En-route we visited the elephant orphanage at Pinnawela. Unfortunately, due to the rain, the elephants were not allowed into the river but in no way did it dampen our experience! On arrival in Colombo at the Movenpick we had a traditional Sri Lanka dance and lovely fresh coconut greeting. Our guest for the farewell dinner was Darren Gough, expertly interview by Jarrod Kimber kept us amused with stories not only about cricket but his time on “Strictly” and “The Jump”. An excellent time was had by all.

5th ODI… Sri Lanka amassed 366 against a much-changed England team and by the time the rain arrived at 139 for 9 we were heading for our heaviest defeat by 219 runs.

Our final day has arrived far to quickly after 17 days of cricket, sightseeing, and yes great weather only on cricket days did the heavens open at the wrong time. It’s time to say goodbye to our guests who have been just the best traveling companions you could wish for … till the next time!

PS … 20/20 Saturday October 27th – a few have stayed for this final white ball game with others arriving for the start of the Test tour. Roy’s 69 and Ali’s 27 off 11 saw us to 187 in the first twenty. Denly got us off to good start with two quick wickets Rashid picked up three for eleven and Denly finished off the tail England winning by 30 runs.

My thanks to “Lucky” our local tour guide who for the duration of our trip was informative, witty and always ready to stop en-route buying red bananas, cashews, mangos freshly cooked corn etc.