There was a sense of anticipation amongst the group of twenty of us (nine players, one umpire, two scorers and eight supporters) as we foregathered at Heathrow airport on the evening of February 17th. One more player was to join us in Sri Lanka from Australia, and we were to “pick up” an “overseas” player for each game along the way.
The overnight flight out was extended by a “technical stop” in the Maldives, while we waited for Colombo airport to re-open after work had been carried out re-surfacing the runway, but we finally arrived to be greeted in traditional style. For centuries, when meeting people at the end of long, hot, tiring journeys, the Sri Lankans have hung garlands of sweetly scented orchids around the necks of their guests! I wonder why!
We were introduced to our guide, Anura and bus driver, Marcus, who would be with us throughout the trip. An hour later we arrived at the beautiful Jetwing Lagoon Hotel near Negombo which, as we found out later, was the best hotel of the tour. Not many hotels are built around Olympic sized outdoor swimming pools!
On the day after our arrival we had time to relax and recover from the journey. At dusk, we were taken on a cruise around the lagoon in three open boats, finishing up at a waterside barbecue.
The day dawned for the first match of the tour on the 20th. We travelled into Colombo for the match against a Ministry of Health XI at the Wesley College ground. CCC Vets won the toss and batted first, knocking up a massive 191 in their 30 overs at more than a run a ball. (All of the matches were to be 30 overs. That was deemed to be long enough for any veteran player to field in the searing heat!) In reply the Ministry of Health put on a brave show and made 187-7, thus leaving the CCC winners of a hard-fought battle, by 4 runs. The win was due mainly to two individuals: Malcolm Roberts with the bat (80 from 82 balls, including two sixes and eight fours) and Graham Crawford with the ball (6-0-20-4). He also weighed in with the bat with a nifty 31 from 19 balls.
The next morning, we packed up for the journey to Kandy – about four hours in the bus but with a couple of stops. We had lunch in a restaurant overlooking the elephant orphanage at Pinnawala where several “oohs” and “aahs” could be heard to emanate from the party! We stopped again at a spice garden to see and hear about traditional herbal remedies. It turned out that our guide and mentor at the spice garden was also a keen cricketer and so found our “overseas player” for the next match!
We had one free day in Kandy and different people took different options to see the area and enjoy the city and surroundings. Those who stayed were able to go to the shops, visit the famous Temple of the Sacred Tooth and enjoy a cultural show. Others took the chance to go shopping, whilst four individuals hired a car (and driver) to the ancient site at Sigiriya – an amazing place in itself, made even more of an adventure by the experience of several hours in a small car in Sri Lankan traffic …. It was deemed worth the discomfort, especially by two of the four who climbed the 1,200 steps to get to the top!!
The second match was at the beautiful University Ground in Kandy where CCC Vets played “Kandy Vets” on February 23rd. Kandy Vets won the toss and again, the CCC Vets batted first, amassing a score of 212-4. This time there was a role reversal for Roberts and Crawford inasmuch as Crawford made 83, but from only 58 balls, whilst Roberts Retired - out at 51. There was a little cameo for Andrew Moulding who made 31 from 29 balls. In reply the Kandy Vets only managed 174-9 but our overseas player from the spice garden proved his worth as he stood in as wicket-keeper for the injured David Moxon and made two catches and one stumping. Darrell Carter, who had bowled so valiantly in the first match for no returns (4-1-4-0), in this match was rewarded with 4 wickets, again for very few runs (6-0-25-4). Crawford was “wicketless for lots” this time around - ‘nuff said! The winning margin was 38 runs.
We had an early start the next morning in order to catch the train from Kandy for the journey over the hills to Colombo where we met up with our bus again and travelled down to our third hotel of the tour at Bentota – made memorable for the fact that it was necessary to travel across the river by boat between the reception desk and the rest of the hotel!
The third game on February 25th was at the Seenigama Ground at Hikkaduwa, a ground built with support from Middlesex Cricket Club after the tsunami in 2004. The opposition was the Ambalangoda Vets team and for this match the CCC Vets “overseas player” was Chula da Silva who had played with or against a lot of the CCC members as he had been an overseas player in the Middlesex League for a number of years. Once more the CCC Vets batted first, but Malcolm Roberts didn’t open. Three of the top four batsmen (Graham Crawford, Andrew Moulding and Chula da Silva) made 156 between them out of a total of 209-7. Ambalangoda Veterans in reply made 163 all out conferring another victory to the CCC, this time by 46 runs. The wickets were shared around.
There followed another rest day with an opportunity to be lazy around the hotel pool in the morning but then to join a trip to Galle in the afternoon, stopping for lunch at a restaurant by the beach in Hikkaduwa, then visiting the Test Match ground in Galle before taking some time to stroll around the old town and the Fort. Throughout the day, we saw chilling reminders of the Boxing Day Tsunami. This restaurant was no exception, as it had a wave painted on the wall at some 2.5m height, showing how unbelievably devastating it must have been. To this day some twelve years later, Anura our guide, still finds it too dreadful to describe.
February 27th saw our fourth and final game at the Surrey Village cricket ground just north of Bentota, but also an early end to Doug Webster’s involvement because of a torn Achilles tendon and repatriation one day early for him and Anna.
Once again, an English county cricket club had funded re-construction after the tsunami. In this case, Surrey CCC had not only provided the cricket ground but had also supported construction of a whole new village with road names such as “Alec Stewart Drive”! The match was played against a Sri Lankan professional cricket umpires’ team. It was no surprise to see that the CCC Vets batted first, however, the top five batsmen did not contribute as much as usual. It was our overseas player, Dilshan Thilakaratne (no, not that one! The hotel manager!) this time who top scored with 43, but as David Foss sat this game out another replacement, S Rupasinghe, was close behind on 41. The CCC Vets made 203-7. For the final time of bowling on this tour the CCC Vets were more than capable in skittling out the opposition for 157 in 25.4 overs. Graham Crawford’s 4-27 and Russ Collard’s 3-22 contributed greatly to this but mention must go to Malcolm Roberts, to whom captain Mark Stear turned, which gave Malcolm the grand figures of 0.4-0-4-2. Stuart Lott’s wicket accounted for the tenth wicket and so, as in the previous match, it was a win by 46 runs.
And so we came to the end of the trip! We had one more day around the hotel in Bentota, rounding off with a boat trip on the river to take a last look at the local wildlife and dinner together – including a birthday celebration for Alison – and then a 02.00 departure from the hotel to begin the long journey home. Some of the abiding impressions of the tour: an immensely joyous and welcoming people; the refreshing lack of “Elf ‘n Safety” regulations in every mode of life; the traffic – ah yes! The traffic! (overtaking buses when there is an oncoming lorry for example); a tour where everyone got on with each other and became friends, if not so already. Most of the party returned home at this point, but four fortunate individuals were lucky enough to spend some extra days at the original hotel at Negombo. We can’t wait for the next visit!
Scorecards can be downloaded from the links below