Cricket is the second most popular sport in the world, and nowhere is this more evident than in South Asia.
A casual visitor to a city in India, Pakistan or Sri Lanka can hardly fail to be aware of this; street cricket remains endemic. And watching international cricket can be an appealing aspect of a holiday to Sri Lanka which of course has plenty of attractions with a wide choice of beaches, national parks , the hill stations and tea plantations, the wonders of the Cultural Triangle and the delicious cuisine.
There are plenty of options in the fort and the immediate surroundings. A little further afield – 15 minutes in a tuk-tuk to Talpe- is Why House, exceptionally comfortable accommodation set in beautifully lush grounds with a lovely pool.
Since it became a Test-playing country in 1981, Sri Lanka has always punched above its apparent cricketing weight. Never granted the luxury of a five- match Test series, Sri Lanka has nonetheless produced Test cricket’s highest wicket taker, the remarkable Muttiah Muralitharan. And two batsmen with over ten thousand Test runs. In 1996 they won the World Cup – as with India in 1983, that was a turning point- and in 2014 they won the World Twenty20 title.
Colombo has a number of Test grounds, including the Sinhalese Sports Club and the vast concrete bowl of the R Premadasa Stadium. Kandy – Muralitharan’s home town – also has an attractive Test match ground.
But for most visitors Galle will have greater appeal as a venue. The iconic ground, located between the old town, in the historic Dutch fort, and the new town, with the Indian Ocean virtually within striking distance, is one of international cricket’s most dramatic and picturesque locations. Like so much of the region, the ground was devastated by the tragic 2004 tsunami (Harrow School were actually playing a local school team there on Boxing Day itsel ). The ground was out of action for the best part of four years but was reconstructed in time for England’s tour in 2008.
There has been some memorable cricket at Galle. Muralitharan took his eight hundredth wicket there and prompted spectacular celebrations. There is usually a result and, at least when England and the Barmy Army are in town , a decent crowd and invariably a great atmosphere. You can get a good view from the ramparts of the Fort: on one celebrated occasion, Jonathan Agnew and the Test Match Special team had to report on a game from there. Unless you are lucky enough to get into the well-appointed pavilion, spectator facilities at the ground are pretty limited. Temporary stands are erected when England tour. Bring a hat and plenty of bottled water!
Where to stay? There are plenty of options in the fort and the immediate surroundings. A little further afield – 15 minutes in a tuk-tuk to Talpe – is Why House, exceptionally comfortable accommodation set in beautifully lush grounds with a lovely pool. Peerless chatelaine Henrietta Cottam and her friendly team provide exquisite food and solicitous service. Fortify yourself before the game with a Sri Lankan omelette. As the sun sets, dissect the day’s play over an arak sour or two before tucking into some fresh seafood and delicious vegetable curries.
Bill Ricquier, 25/3/2016
This article was published in British Association magazine in Singapore
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