During the Easter holidays we were very fortunate to take a 1st XI cricket tour to Sri Lanka. We met at Heathrow Airport for our Sri Lankan airways flight to Colombo.
When we arrived in Colombo we were met by our guides and given a garland reception. We set off for our first net session in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, the British weather had followed us and due to monsoon conditions we had to abandon it and go for an indoor session instead. Nothing was too much trouble for our guides and the indoor session was organised with no hassle at all.
Afterwards we checked in to the Ramada Colombo for the first two nights.
The next morning we embarked on a city tour of Colombo, visiting temples, colonial buildings, new Sri Lankan government buildings and theatres. After lunch we headed for our first fixture of the tour at the Singhalese Sports Club.
This was a fantastic experience for the children, playing cricket in an international stadium. We had all the glitz of the players balcony, home team dressing room and the Pakistan international ladies team training on the ground before us.
The weather was much warmer today, very hot and humid. The guides provided all the cold water for the match and arranged a fantastic lunch. The match was excellent, the perfect standard for our first game. We lost narrowly, but it could have gone either way in the last few overs. The standard of umpiring and scoring was excellent too; this was a standard that was kept up throughout the tour. The tour company provided two umpires and scorers for all of the matches, allowing the staff to concentrate on watching the game and player development. After the match presentations we headed back to our hotel.
The hotel was in a very central location near the beach and allowed for a very safe and picturesque walk to the Dutch Fort Hospital area of Old Colombo. Here we found a great choice of restaurants, western, as well as Sri Lankan. There was also the Ministry of Crab, a popular seafood restaurant owned by Kumar Sangakkara, Dharshan Munidasa and Mahela Jayawardene in this cricket-mad country, unfortunately a very big waiting list for tables too!
On day 3 we headed off to the cultural triangle. The road system is very old in Sri Lanka and they are in the middle of building new motorways, so it does take a long time to drive inland. Fortunately, the scenery and life along the route is very absorbing to pass the time. Late afternoon we arrived at the Sigiriya Rock Fortress, a UNESCO Heritage site that used to be the capital city, a palace and fortress complex built high up on the rock in the 5th Century. There is a huge gateway built in the form of an enormous lion and the whole place is magical, especially the frescoes decorating the sides.
We checked into our hotel. This was in the form of lodges centralised around a swimming pool and dining area. The boys all had a fantastic time here and really enjoyed the experience. The buffet food was excellent and everyone enjoyed the numerous large helpings.
The next morning we headed to Polonnaruwa, an ancient city which also had been the capital of Sri Lanka at one time. We enjoyed looking around the many ancient buildings and especially liked seeing the Buddha figures at Gal Vihara.
In the late afternoon we headed out on an elephant safari. Everybody piled into different 4x4’s and explored the Kaudulla National Parks. It was amazing to see the many Asian elephants in their natural habitat, large herds to single mothers and calves, and a truly memorable experience for all.
After another superb night at Amaya Lake Resort we headed off back to Colombo. On the journey we visited the spice gardens and learnt about Sri Lankan herbal medicines, many of which are now common ointments in the UK and then on to the Glenloch Tea Factory. Here we learnt about the production and history of tea in Sri Lanka and tried many different varieties, before stocking up on gifts for the family back home.
After the highly recommended cultural sightseeing, it was back to serious cricket for the rest of the tour. On day six we played Thurstan College. Again this was a magnificent ground for our boys to play on. The temperatures were very hot and again it was a very close game that we just lost.
The next day we played at the Moors Ground in the centre of Colombo business area. This was a fantastic venue in a great stadium and surrounded by high-rise apartments and office blocks. This was the first game in which we had batted first; we started very well and ended up posting a score of 225 for 5. In reply the Sajeewa De Silva Academy took it to the final over. Very nerve racking for all involved, but we snuck our only victory on tour with the opposition 218-7. After the match we visited the Cricket Café in Colombo. This café pays homage to Sri Lankan cricket, where we were able to see the many bats, shirts and memorabilia as well as enjoying a victory drink.
On the Sunday evening we headed to the Hard Rock Café for dinner, the boys had done very well sampling the many fantastic different Sri Lanka curries, but were in need of a western burger!
The next morning we headed off to the south west coast, to visit Galle and the beach area of Hikkaduwa. We started with a Galle City tour, a UNESCO world heritage site, with a spell binding mixture of Dutch, Portuguese and British history. In the afternoon we visited The Foundation of Goodness at the MCC Centre of Excellence in Seenigama. This was a centre set up with the help of the MCC and many international cricketers to help the victims of the 2004 Tsunami. It is a school, health centre and central village hub for the many local communities. This was a very moving experience and really hit home the importance of cricket in everyday Sri Lankan life. We played and relaxed with many local children, who attend the school, and saw first had the strength and passion for their cricket.
That evening we had a large tour dinner on the beach at our hotel. This was a great way to bring all the tour party together, but also to celebrate a significant birthday for one of the parents who had accompanied the tour. It was a truly memorable evening and demonstrated how privileged we are to be able to have dinner in such beautiful surroundings.
The next day we went back to Seenigama to play the Foundation of Goodness Academy. This was the biggest lesson we had on tour about the skills, attitudes and determination that is required to play cricket at the top level. We played their Under 13 team and unfortunately witnessed some of the biggest cleanest hitting by an U13 boy. Our boys bowled and fielded well, but were powerless sometimes to stop the ball sailing into the jungle. I think in total four balls were lost in the flora and their batsman retired on 131 not out. Again, when we were batting the locals demonstrated excellent line and length in their bowling and some of their fielding was exceptional. This certainly showed us the levels that we need to aspire too. Our boys were tired after a long trip so far, it was very hot, but we had come to Sri Lanka to get better and this was certainly a valuable lesson in what is possible.
Our final match in Sri Lanka was back at the Seenigama versus Vidyaloka School from Galle. This was a much closer game. The biggest thing we will take back to England is that our bowling and fielding needs to be much more consistent, catches need to be taken and deliveries need to be much tighter to restrict the batsmen. We batted very well, but ended up a few runs short in the chase.
That evening we visited a local turtle hatchery and learnt how the local conservationists are trying hard to preserve and increase the numbers of turtles on the Sri Lankan coast. They are prey for animals and humans who enjoy eating the eggs. Every member of the group was able to release a baby turtle back into the Indian Ocean.
The cricket tour to Sri Lanka was a fantastic experience for all. It was amazing to see the many different cultural and environmental aspects to the country. The friendliness and helpfulness of the locals cannot be underestimated and we will definitely look to tour Sri Lanka again. The standard of the grounds, hospitality and cricket is first class. In terms of a cricket tour, all of our expectations and targets were surpassed. I am sure we will see the fruits of this journey flourish long into our cricket season at school and into the later life of our pupils.
Many thanks to Nathan Savage for this report.