Sri Lanka Tour 2012

Sri Lanka Second Test 2012

And so we leave the delights of Galle for the madness of Colombo but not before a final goodbye from our tuk tuk driver, Baba. He was supposed to pick us up the previous night but mysteriously did not appear. This, he explained, was due to the near fatal accident which had befallen him in a back road the day before, leaving his passenger hospitalised and his turbo charged three wheeler wrecked.

The fact is that every time you take to the highways and byways of Ceylon you are thrust headlong into a game of Sri Lankan roulette, a fact underlined that very day by the front page of the Daily Mirror (the local one, not the British one) which reveals that 400 people have died on the roads since the turn of the year. That edition of the paper also helpfully informs me not to do my washing in the Nilwala River, as you are likely to be breakfast for a crocodile.

It’s back along the Expressway from Galle to Colombo in a comfortable car for myself and Midnight, where the Manc is still obsessing about Giles Clark who he has encountered checking out of our hotel. If Midnight’s not going on about New Zealand or Giles, there is only one explanation. He’s asleep.

We arrive at the 5* Cinnamon Grand Hotel, which is found near to the Galle Face and the residence of Sri Lanka’s President, Percy Mahendra "Mahinda" Rajapaksa. Any thoughts I might have to knock on his door to ask about what really happened with the massacre at the end of the civil war with the Tamil Tigers soon disappeared when I noted the size of the serious weapons pointing out from its fortifications.

That night of our arrival, who should come prancing in to the facsimilie British pub in the bowels of our hotel but the Tractor Girl fresh off the plane. PC Ginge looks a bit overwhelmed as the harsh reality hits him that he has to summon some energy to entertain his wife to be, after a very long week of high jinx down south.

Fortunately for the spent constable, Andy Strauss and Jonathan Trott are in the bar, and Tractor is bounding around like bambi on acid with the excitement of it all. We then move on to the arrangements for their coming nuptials, which will mark the third Addis Army wedding. It all sounds horribly expensive but I forgive Tractor for her intricate and detailed explanation of the planned activities as she has promised we can play a cricket match. No doubt the flame-haired groom will be spitting feathers once again as I dispatch his buffet bowling all around the wedding venue.

Midnight is happy as a lark, after discovering that the bar sells Guinness. At the end of our stay, I am less happy as our room bill reveals that the Irish stout is about three times the cost of Lion beer. For Tractor and PC Ginge, it’s back to the splendours of the YMCA for the night before a trip to Kandy. Either the accommodation is really shit or the copper is going soft, as he admits that it is not apparently ‘fun to stay at the YMCA’.

By Monday, the rest of the merry crew arrive from Galle and Kandy and an arrangement is made to meet up at their hotel, the Berjaya, at Mount Lavinia. On the map this is about 10 Km away from us, but the journey is an utter nightmare in the congestion of Colombo’s roads. It’s not just the stop/start nature of the journey but the choking fumes.

600 Rupes and 45 minutes later we arrive and it all comes flooding back. It’s the famous hotel where West Ham Mike held the stool of a chair while a local stripper performed her ‘act’ the last time we were here. One thing had changed though, the adjoining building site where Mike had enjoyed a comfortable night’s rest with a swarm of mosquitos had been transformed into a Chinese Restaurant, where we had an expensive meal and Midnight was raging as he did not get his order.

Before the meal, we revisit the AA names given to our new members. PC Ginge’s feral bunch are confirmed as ‘Stacey’ (because of resemblance to Gavin out of ‘Gavin and Stacey’), ‘Squirrel’ (said gentleman has, in the Saint’s opinion, a tufty look about him) and ‘Pocket’ (something to do with money being kept in his shirt pocket for some dubious transaction).

On a later occasion, Saint can barely contain a look of pure disgust as it transpires that Mr Stroud (an acquaintance of AA member Son Of who has turned up in Colombo and whom we have taken in out of the kindness of our hearts) has not only disgraced himself by emigrating to the southern hemisphere country beginning with ‘A’ – the full use of the name of this penal colony being unacceptable in polite company – but is also a follower of a renegade football team located in London, N17. This man, now named ‘Kylie’ needs to take a long hard look at himself in the mirror.

PC Ginge meanwhile is recounting the story of his train trip to Kandy where apparently someone was knocked down by the locomotive, necessitating a stop to scoop up the remains of the body and chuck it in the back of a wagon. Gruesome, but no doubt not an uncommon incident.

Reluctantly, given the absence of a free elevated position outside the ground, everybody has stumped up for a few days’ tickets at 5,000 Rupes a day. This decision later proves not to be the wisest.

Day 1

The P. Saravanamuttu Stadium is the home to the Tamil Union Cricket and Athletic Club and was the venue for the inaugural Test between Sri Lanka and England in 1982. It is definitely and literally on ‘the wrong side of the tracks’ being surrounded by what some people kindly describe as a shanty town but more accurately a slum.

Inside though, it is quite an attractive little ground and even has its own swimming pool at 500 Rupes for a dip. It is hot though, blazing hot, and I am amused to see the Gullivers tour party fanning themselves frantically inside a hermetically sealed 2nd tier stand on the other side of the ground. Later that day, when I go on a little tour of the ground and gatecrash their capsule, I find out why. The air conditioning is rubbish and the plutocrats do not look at all happy with the sub-standard arrangements. The tour guides are clucking around like a bunch of headless chickens as Colonel Blimp types berate them.

There is a certain déjà vu about the cricket, as just like in Galle, England make the early breakthroughs to have Sri Lanka at 30/3, only to see the man with the longest name in world cricket, Denagamage Proboth Mahela de Silva Jayawardene – try saying that after a bottle of arrack - drop anchor once again. He and Samaraweera put on 124 for the fourth wicket but the day ends on a hopeful note after Swann does some late damage, leaving Sri Lanka on 238/6.

Business calls on my return, although this is the story I tell Midnight, as in reality I do not wish to be a gooseberry on his dinner date with Posh Margaret, who is about the only cricket fan I know that can match the miles that the Manc has put in travelling the globe. Margaret is a Lord’s season ticket holder along with me and rather inexplicably supports Doncaster Rovers. She also seems to know about 50 blokes called David. Despite Midnight not being called David, I say that this is a match made in heaven, and fine material for the fourth AA wedding. I suspect though that Greavesie might request that the stag do is not in Prague after his hospitalisation the last time we went there on the occasion of Midnight’s 50th birthday.

Day 2

It all goes rather nicely for England, as the final four Sri Lankan wickets get swept up for just 37 runs, thanks to Swann who takes three of these. We all sense an opportunity, and after navigating a nervous 4 overs before lunch, Strauss and Cook progress well, reaching 122 without loss by drinks in the final session.

Strauss gets out just before close of play, but we all conclude that 154/1 marks a very satisfactory day and leaves England in a great position. There's only one thing for it - a night of celebratory drinking in an establishment close to our hotel called rather bizarrely ‘In on the Green’. It's actually quite hard to get into this place as they lock the door and you have to knock rather vigourously to get the attention of the bouncer.

Once inside, it is like Valhalla for Saint, as not only do they have a strange contraption, a bit like an oversized soda stream which dispenses beer at the flick of a knob, but also indoor smoking is allowed. Given the highly comfortable surroundings, Saint has a look of pure incredulity on his face as I suggest that the assembled party might nip round the corner to sample the delights of the Galle Face Hotel buffet, where you can consume unlimited international and Sri Lankan nosh for a mere 1,600 Rupes. Midnight also makes it clear he is going nowhere as he is suffering with a sore throat and has concluded that Guinness has some kind of unknown until now medicinal quality which will sort him out.

The rest of the party, that is Spud, Tractor, PC Ginge, the feral crew, a Kiwi who has been named ‘Granite’ (because he lived in Aberdeen for some time) and some random Welshman end up at the free for all feast.

One of the great things about the Galle Face Hotel is that they have a bust in the foyer of one of the heroes of the Soviet Union, the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin. Apparently, Comrade Gagarin was sent to Sri Lanka to recuperate after his epic journey in 1961. This had to be explained to the feral youth, who after hearing of the heroic adventure of the cosmonaut, were very keen to have a picture taken with him. If you think about it, Gagarin went into space before modern technology was really available. As Nikita Krushchev later said, "Gagarin flew into space, but didn't see any god there."

After the meal, we return to the In on the Green to find Saint and Midnight in a convivial mood, although Saint’s tell-tale ‘Japanese sniper’s eye’ is fully in evidence, indicating an advanced stage of inebriation. I leave early for some well earned rest and also to escape the all pervading ambient cloud of toxic tobacco smoke which the Saint and collected pals are belching out with gay abandon.

At approximately 2.30 am, I am rudely awaken by a violent slapping of my feet which are sticking out from under the bed covers. The perpetrator of this cruel and unwarranted torture is none other than the Saint, who finds it highly amusing. This leads to me making some rather pointed comments interspersed with some ancient Anglo-Saxon words.

Day 3

Much to Midnight's disbelief, rather than working some magical soothing of his ravaged throat, the dozen or so large tins of Guinness the night before appear to have worsened his condition. The Manc is looking rather shabby, but is still determined to go to the cricket. Rather mistakenly, I decide to take the day off and earn myself some money.

What I miss, is a truly exceptional innings - somewhat overdue it has to be said - from KP, although I see most of it on the television in our room. As the onslaught begins to take place of the Sri Lankan bowlers, it is clear that a bit like Mahela Jayawardane in Galle, this innings is going to be a match winner. KP hits a magnificent 150 off 162 balls, including six sixes. The day ends with England concluding their innings on 460, 185 ahead. This is much more like it.

Midnight returns from the cricket, very happy with what he has seen but rather less happy with his throat. It's an early night for him to try and recover for day 4. I decide to take the familiar and hazardous trip in the tuk tuk to Mount Lavinia, seeking justice for the violence I have suffered at the hands of the Saint.

In a beachside restaurant, I make the massive mistake of asking Squirrel to officiate at the judicial proceedings. There is no doubt that the Saint is guilty as charged, but the dipshit Bristolian concludes with a logic that could only be dreamt up by a cretin that Saint must have mistaken my exposed feet as belonging to an indeterminate animal. This leads me to assert that I am left with no other alternative than to seek justice by other means. For the record Saint, although I could not avail myself of that justice in Sri Lanka, I will Sir, in due course.

Another perversion of justice also takes place at the dinner table when Saint, back in his familiar role as Justice of the AA, decides to clear Pocket of charges of treason against Her Majesty the Queen, after it had become known that a great uncle of his had been transported to Tasmania as a result of sedition against the Crown. Squirrel, who is similarly related does not get off as PC Ginge points out that he has in been mouthy about his association with his convict descendant. This leads to a fine of Rs.500.

Day 4

I awake to find Midnight looking like death warmed up. I inform the sickly Northerner that I am going to arrange for a doctor to visit him, but not before I give him my diagnosis, which is “You have a chest infection and a throat infection. You need antibiotics.”

It wouldn't be an AA tour without Midnight going down with some ailment. Last time in Sri Lanka he was shitting through the eye of a needle with the added bonus of being munched by mosquitos. I discover later that the highly qualified health professional that visited his bedside concluded, “You have a chest infection and a throat infection. You need antibiotics.” Midnight’s spirits were raised however as the doctor told him that he had also visited another irritable Northerner in the shape of Sir Geoffrey Boycott.

At the P Sara Oval, I have no ticket and decide that I have really had enough of paying Rs.5000. Wandering around the perimeter of the ground, I bump into lost-looking Stacey who is also trying to effect an entrance the does not include shelling out a load of cash. Skulking around just about every entrance are touts, or should I say, Sri Lankan-style touts. These gentlemen do not actually have any tickets, but they tell you that they know someone on the door and can get you in. Instead of Rs.5000 per ticket, they say they can do it for Rs.2000. I tell Stacey to stick with me and the tout, and sure enough the policeman on the gate do not seem to be interested in seeing our tickets.

All well and good, except that I try to renegotiate the cost of the entry, which leads to a protracted discussion with the tout who ironically threatens to call the police. Stacey, showing his commitment to sticking by his mates decides the best course of action is to run away like a girl, leaving me with a very irritating tout. It ends up with me having to go out of the ground shake the tout off and then seeking the help of Spud who helpfully makes arrangements for a spare ticket stub to be delivered where I am waiting outside on the edge of the slum.

The Sri Lankan 2nd innings is underway and it is slow progress. At lunch, they are 84/2, but this is not as bad as it seems as they had put in a night watchman the evening before and he had scored 34 runs. At tea, the total has moved on to 139/4, and rather worryingly, it is that man Mahela again who is putting up stiff resistance. When the new ball is taken, Jayawardene has his half century and Samaraweera has 42, the total now being 206/4. Things are not looking so good again, but Swann strikes with two dismissals in the same over, to leave Sri Lanka on 218/6, some 33 runs ahead of England.

Tractor is in full on stalking mode and has taken up residence down by the boundary just to the side of the scoreboard. She is holed up in a drainage ditch, fluttering her eyelashes at Jonathan Trott. The ‘ditch bitch’ as her betrothed lovingly calls her, snatches a few conversations with Trott, who asks her where she is staying. This enquiry does not go down well with PC Ginge.

Back at the Cinnamon Grand, Midnight is still bed-ridden, so I once again get into a 3 wheeler to go down to Mount Lavinia. The roads are clear though, as is a Poya Day, a Buddhist holiday where the sale of meat and alcohol are forbidden. These Poya Days coincide with the full moon, so there are 13 every year. The April Poya is known as Bak Poya and according to the sign in the foyer of our hotel commemorates the second visit of The Buddha to Sri Lanka which took place in the fifth year of his Supreme Enlightenment.

Saint, meanwhile shows his Supreme Enlightenment by convincing his hotel staff that the alcohol ban does not apply to West Ham supporting residents of Oxford. There is no need apparently to consult any holy Buddhist tracts to verify this, and several cold Lion beers are soon produced.

Final Day

I have informed everybody that I am supremely confident that I am going to see my 4th England away victory (Barbados 2004, Mumbai 2006, Durban 2010). Midnight points out that he has now 6 wins on his travels, but let’s face it, he’s counting New Zealand and Bangladesh. These cannot count in my view, although the Manc looks like someone has shot his puppy, when I point this out. “You can't say that Herbie”, he blusters. “A win’s a win”.

Midnight is still not feeling well enough to come to the ground, although I suspect that if things go the way I am expecting, we will see the walking wounded arrive at the P Sara.

At the ground, is the usual ritual of trying to get in without a ticket. It's not that I can't afford to pay the Rs.5000, it is the principle of the matter, a personal rebellion against unjust and inflated prices which have only been created for the travelling English fans.

This time, my partner in crime is Greavesie, who spots a guy from Wimbledon of Sri Lankan parentage he has met the day before. We get introduced to a local called Suresh who is apparently related to one of the ladies who sweeps the wicket every time there is a break in play. Greavesie loves these ladies and has been showing his appreciation by slipping them some rupees. As a result of this random act of kindness, Suresh is keen to repay in-kind by getting us into the ground. This involves him calling a policeman who he knows is on duty and the message (in Tamil) is “Come to the gate in 15 minutes”.

Keen to be an accommodating host, Suresh calls over a pal who has a tuk tuk and invites us for a drink down the road. We are taken through a network of narrow streets and plonked down in the heart of the shanty town. Greavesie is now looking very nervous and has the demeanour of a man expecting to be robbed. However, just after we are offered beer and marijuana, the call comes to return to the ground. Needless to say, the policeman on the inside is nowhere to be seen and our entrance is blocked by about six local constables in their regulation brown uniforms.

In the end, it is the ticket stub ruse which firstly gets me into the ground and then Greavesie, after I returned back outside to retrieve him. He looks somewhat surprised that I would come back out to assist him, but I refer him to the film ‘Platoon’, where the commanding officer refuses to leave the field of battle until all his men safely accounted for.

The morning begins to look very promising as the key threat to an England victory, Mahela, is dispatched by Swann. This knocks the stuffing out of the hosts and by lunch they are all out for 278, leaving England what appears to be a simple target of 93. Inevitably, the incapacitated Midnight turns up out of the blue, no doubt fearing that his non-attendance at the ground will lead to me declaring that he cannot count the Colombo test as a victory. He looks very pleased as he has blagged his way in free of charge by showing the gate attendants his prescription and saying that he needed to get in urgently to give the medicine to a friend. How devious can you get.

We are all supremely confident until Strauss gets bowled by Dilshan with England yet to score. There are a few more nerves as Trott falls for only 5 runs and England are 31/2.

Happily the tension lessons as Cook and Pietersen take charge and the increasingly despondent Sri Lankans begin to give up the ghost. The target is knocked off without further loss and the wild celebrations begin with a pitch invasion.

Bedlam ensues as a presentation area is cordoned off. The heat is completely oppressive and the walk just from the boundary to the strip leaves just about everybody in a state of exhaustion. Later, we find out that it has been 42 degrees Celsius (107 degrees F), highlighting for me that anybody who says that international cricketers are not fit are talking utter crap.

I conduct my traditional pitch inspection and find a rock hard rutted surface. It’s a bit like bowling on pitted tarmac.

The presentations take place, although Midnight later tells me he has missed most of this as he has been in the stand watching Giles Clark. I conclude that he is a bit like the woman stalker in ‘Play Misty for me’.

Next, the England team are throwing various items into the crowd, creating a feeding frenzy. Spud assists Tractor with an elbow in someone’s mush so that she can grab Ali Cook’s batting glove. This quickly assumes the status of a relic from Medieval times, like a fragment of the true cross or the blood of our Lord. She simply will not take it off, and wanders around dazed and muttering, ‘It’s the glove of love’.

It is the end of another superb tour for the Addis Army. It’s been probably the best cricket I have seen on tour – two very good games and a highly creditable drawn series. As usual, the antics have been hilarious and it was brilliant to catch up with old friends and also to make new ones which will no doubt be as enduring.

The only thing left to do was to immediately communicate the decision of the AA to Blade, following this tremendous victory. As I predicted, his departure back to the country beginning with ‘A’ would remove the only barrier to victory. 12 away tests attended and not one win. AA decision: Blade is not to be allowed on tour in future.


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