Sri Lanka Tour 2012
Sri Lanka First Test 2012
Getting work done before departure on tour is always a bit of a challenge for me, but this time it wasn’t too bad. Earlier in the week I had the pleasure of a beer or two with Freddie at Victoria to collect the famous Addis flag, as it had been in the big man’s care since the last tour. Freddie was not happy though, in fact he looked like someone had shot his puppy. He’d just started a new job and had to cancel his trip to Sri Lanka because of some company conference in Berlin. What hard luck, but I’m sure the pay rise and the many attractions of Germany would be adequate compensation. Not.
The day before departure and I have an arrival from Aldershot in the shape of Midnight. Well, it’s Audenshaw really, but we will never let him forget that hilarious time when Midnight was quoted in that high quality organ, the Daily Star, with the reporter misunderstanding his town of residence. I can sympathise with the hapless scribe – the more northern monkeys drink, the less I understand them as well.
The bent Dutchman
Anyway, Midnight arrived to find me in a state of some excitement as a random trawl of the Internet had revealed a nugget of pure comedy gold in that some Sri Lankan had posted on a travel blog that Saint and Greavesie’s salubrious accommodation in Unawatuna, ‘Surf City’ was now being run by a ‘criminal Dutchman and his Muslim accomplices’.
There was nothing else to do except let Saint know about this immediately, providing him with the relevant link. This led him in some anxiety to email all and sundry to check out if he was in fact staying with some Flemish chapter of Al Queda. A quality ten minutes’ work, even if I say so myself.
Off to the airport courtesy of Costas my local Greek cabbie who is a world authority on cars and watches. If he tells me one more time how much the cost of a Rolex has increased over the past few years, I swear I will trade him in for a new airport driver.
At Heathrow Terminal 4 we arrive at check in with Sri Lankan Airways to find no aisle seats. This is a bad sign and I am great believer in omens like this ever since I was walking under a railway bridge to watch West Ham play the Spuds at $hite Hart Lane and some pigeon crapped on my back. That day did not end well either.
Midnight was straight into the airport bar where he began sampling draft Peroni like it was about to be prohibited, whilst I was looking with pure disgust at some woman wearing a Chelsea shirt with Lampard on the back. It took a great deal of self-control to refrain from commenting on that.
Arriving at my seat on the plane, I find myself sitting next to some brain dead mute and two extras from ‘The Only Way is Essex’, off to Sri Lanka to celebrate a wedding of one of their friends. Oh well, at least I can watch a movie or read a book to pass the time. No chance, as the entertainment system is buggered and so are the overhead lights. Nice.
Midnight is totally unconcerned by this and decides to subject me to four hours of cruel torture as he once again tells everybody willing to listen about how great New Zealand is. The Manc is standing up bellowing this out whilst chain drinking cans of lager with some new found pals. Just as I am about to lose the will to live hearing Midnight’s Antipodean tales for the hundredth time, I notice out the corner of my eye that my TOWIE neighbours are playing tongue tennis. The slurping of body fluids and Midnight’s UK Gold Kiwi oration is a combination that I hope to never encounter again.
Suffice to say, I will not be flying Air Sri Lanka again. Except on the way back.
We arrive safely and after a pleasant night at our luxury hotel, it’s time to track down the Saint to see how he is coping with the lowlander and his band of international terrorists. It is 12.30pm and all is quiet at ‘Surf City’, although we track Saint down in his room, comatose and fully clothed with the room windows wide open. I am taken with his rather fetching but unused pink mossie net and point this out to the Saint when he drifts back into vague consciousness, trying to work out why his bed is covered in sand. Midnight – who has a morbid fascination with mosquitos – is speechless that Saint could slumber in such an unprotected way.
We learn later that Saint has required some assistance from PC Ginge and his feral crew of pals to make it to his room at 4 am the previous morning after dancing the night away at some impromptu Full Moon Party on the beach. Saint’s human stairmaster is required again the following night, leading me to remind the Oxfordian that it is ‘a marathon, not a sprint’.
Meanwhile, down at the nearby pool, The Blades have arrived from the convict colony, having turned their backs on their country and thrown their lot in with the horse thieves. Young Thomas Blade has certainly grown up since I last saw him, but hold on a minute, what is that language he’s speaking? That certainly offends my ears and the ‘Cricket Australia’ bag as well is not a welcome sight. I remind the Blades that it is their patriotic duty to stop their son morphing into something rather unpalatable.
PC Ginge turns up looking worse for wear from the previous night’s proceedings but is keen to take me on at cricket. As usual, Tango Pubes labours long and hard but cannot get me out. He also makes a schoolboy error bending over the pool to retrieve the ball, enabling me to shove him in. Police brutality follows as he puts me in some hold he learnt at the University of Old Bill and throws me in as well. I have already made a complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Commission to add to the others pending against him. Then Greavesie fancies himself at table tennis, so I give him a lesson in that as well. I may be 50 next month, but I remain a sporting phenomenon.
Sunday night goes a bit wrong as Midnight’s long day on the beer takes its toll. Just as you thought it was curtains for him, the clock strikes twelve and he gets his famous second wind. We all know what’s coming next as he starts crooning his favourite numbers. But what’s this? Newly christened AA member Spud has got a half decent voice and to add to the fun, he has a repartee of songs which has the added bonus of winding up Midnight. The Manc is literally foaming at the mouth when Spud belts out ‘The Fields of Athenry’. “That’s a f*cking Scouse song”, says Midnight looking outraged.
I decide that everybody in the AA needs to learn this wonderful song. All together now:
‘Low lie the Fields of Athenry,
Where once we watched the small free birds fly.
Our love was on the wing we had dreams and songs to sing It's so lonely round the Fields of Athenry.’
Midnight – how come you’re not joining in?
First day at the Test to be chauffeured by Baba the tuk tuk driver, who is to take us to and from the ground from Koggala each day, following the usual roadside negotiations. He has a turbo sports model three wheeler and it’s a blood curdling 25 minute drive. We make straight for the Fort where you can sit on the ramparts and get a decent view of the cricket. Up there, you think about the best way to describe the experience. “It’s hotter than the inside of Satan’s jock strap” or as someone put it rather aptly, “I’m sweating like a Geordie doing a maths test.”
There are some pretty crazy things going on up there as well. Someone turned up with a 6 foot long python. “Is it poisonous?” I hear some wary wall-dweller enquire. There were monkeys dressed in pyjamas and I turned the corner of one part of the fort to see some guy charming a cobra out of a wicker basket. They ought to introduce it at Lord’s.
We arrive 30 minutes late to miss the first three Sri Lankan wickets tumbling. Blade turns up looking a bit sorry for himself as the 4 am antics led to him falling backwards off a beachside bar. He has a bruise the size of a frisbee on his back. Saint apparently also fell off the same decking, but is as right as rain. I conclude that Saint is indestructible like Captain Scarlet, but only when drunk.
After lunch – and this is to be our routine every day – it’s time to bunk into the ground in the manner of SP at Trent Bridge since time immemorial. This is an easy task as the gatekeepers do not seem the slightest bit bothered. I conclude that the 10,000 or so England fans who have shelled out 5,000 Rupes (£27) for a daily ticket have left the authorities completely unfazed about a few gatecrashers. They are rolling in it. It makes my blood boil to hear that the kangaroo-shaggers were only charged 500 Rupes just last August. Is this some kind of belated payback for the years of colonial rule?
From a promising start to the day, it has gone pear-shaped, with Jayawardene hitting 168 not out. Monty drops two catches as well, one of which I believe I would have snapped up. The gathered members of the Addis Army look at me with disdain when I say that the missed chances have cost us the game. Midnight calls me the ‘Croaking Raven of Doom’, but as usual my prediction will prove to be right. Sri Lanka 289/8.
Day 2 at the Test and back up on the walls of Fort. Clearly feeling outdone by Blade’s drunken injury, we learn that Spud has popped his shoulder out of its socket whilst swimming off Unawatuna Beach. Fortunately he has not drowned, but has gone off to sample the Sri Lankan health service. Later, Greavesie, who has accompanied the Irishman to hospital, describes the x-ray showing the bone floating around some distance from where it should be.
Lunch it is after Sri Lanka score 318 and we make for a marvellous restaurant called Mama’s Rooftop not far from the lighthouse. The old Dutch quarter is a fantastic place and the buildings look like they have been the subject of further restoration since my last visit in 2007. One of my favourite spots is the Magistrates Court where there are live cases going on. There are a number of lawyer’s offices with desks piled high with paper.
Up at Mama’s there is a big table of the Addis Army tucking into the ‘specialite de la maison’, the ‘rooftop curry’. This involves fish or chicken accompanied by a selection of delicious side dishes of dhall, jackfruit, cabbage, okra and sour mango. It is exceptional and costs the princely sum of 650 Rupes or £3.60.
There is no need to hurry back after lunch as England wickets have been falling with monotonous regularity. Swann, Anderson and Monty do a reasonable rearguard action, but England are all out for 193, a deficit of 125. The day does finish a little better with Sri Lanka of 84/5 and 209 ahead.
Day three and to the Fort we trot, although Midnight is beginning to complain about the heat. On the plus side – and it is a massive first – he has not been feasted upon by mosquitos. So, unusually for him he can gloat over the bites of others. PC Ginge appears to have been breakfast, lunch and dinner for a number of now replete insects.
On the cricket front, things are improving with Sri Lankan wickets falling, but unhappily around 100 runs are added for the last three wickets, leaving England a highly improbable target of 340. Back at Mama’s again, PC Ginge appears to have pulled over lunch. Maybe a little older than the strawberry blonde, but a woman in a red dress seems to have taken a real shine to Constable Smith. This leads to me singing that famous wedding reception number ‘Lady in Red’. I promise not to mention this again, which is of course a complete lie as you are reading it here. No doubt this will lead to more police harassment.
I am then wiping tears from my eyes as the secret to Midnight’s mossie bite free experience is revealed – a special roll-on repellent that he has bought from some bearded ramblers’ shop in Manchester. The container looks like a sex toy and leads to PC Ginge simulating various unspeakable acts with it at the table, which seems to interest the Lady in Red.
Back to the ground and England are batting. So is young Thomas Blade in a match against a Sri Lankan youngster, which is picked up on TV as I tap a cameraman on the shoulder and suggest that he starts filming. We later learn that Thomas has been seen worldwide, and has become a major media personality. I decide that it is time to promote Thomas as the AA’s media star in preference to Tractor who is clearly washed up. That’s showbusiness and it’s a brutal industry. It begins to look promising as by close of play England are 111/2 with Trott and Pietersen still intact at stumps.
Although overnight a number of the AA are fancying the remaining 229 run chase, I know better. After all, Blade is amongst us, the AA’s very own Jonah. This man has been at 11 international test matches away from home and has not seen us win once.
Day 4 – game over
Despite the presence of the ill-fated Yorkshire Convict, day 4 seems to be going reasonably well as at lunch we are 177/4, with Trott still there. At post lunch drinks we are beginning to believe as England are just 112 short with six wickets still intact. But then it all unfurls as Herath and Randiv undo England. We fall 75 runs short as the last five wickets fall for a paltry 31.
This setback is not going to deter the party I have planned as part of my pre-50th birthday celebrations. That very night the AA assemble, including Saint, Greavesie, Midnight, PC Ginge (+ feral entourage), Spud, new member Sundance (named because he looks like Mark Butcher), Saint’s pals Lisa and Baby Dave, The Blades, Midnight, Five-0 (in customary loud Hawaiian shirt), Gigi and a dude that looks like Rory McIlroy.
It is ‘Arrack Attack’ time on Unawatuna Beach, although I mix things up by starting things off with a litre bottle of Mountgay Rum, as a reminder of the great time we had in Barbados on tour. Four bottles of arrack follow and a mad drinking game involving reciting various phrases like “six Sicilian seamen sailing the seven seas”. Blade falls in a deep roadside ditch, but rises Lazarus-like, impressing everybody as the immediate thought was that he would require hospital treatment. Proceedings end for me at 5am, although PC Ginge bows out at a disgraceful 2am. An apology follows the next morning, which I actually get at 2pm when I wake up having no recollection of how I got back to the hotel.
We may have lost the Test but it was a really good game and the partying was superb. I have decided that I am going to be a ‘Sri Lanka’ bore from now on to counter Midnight’s New Zealand fetish.”It is the greatest place to watch cricket in the world....I want to live there.....the beaches are outstanding....it’s cheap....the people are brilliant.... blah blah blah....” I have also decided that we are going to win in Colombo as ’12 no win’ Blade has caught the prison ship back to the convict colony.