In most cities, on most cricket tours, you only see a small fraction of the place. In Sydney, it’s ‘The Rocks’, the tiny but exclusive suburb on the water next to the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. In Colombo it’s the Galle Face Beach with its furtive lovers, squawking crows, waves and swirling smells.
A two-kilometre stretch of coastline was first ‘board walked’ by the English colonial governor, Henry Ward, over 150 years ago and the battle to maintain the stone walkway at the back of the beach still goes on today. The waves crash relentlessly, parts of the wall collapse, it gets rebuilt.
The footpath is as wide as a road and is never, ever empty. Even at 4.00am there will be strollers and pineapple sellers with their rickety barrows.
There are seven international hotels on or just behind the two-kilometre walkway beginning with The Hilton and Intercontinental at one end and finishing with what is now called the Cinnamon Grande but was formerly The Oberoi and then the Lanka Towers.
In the middle is the Taj Samudra, the hotel in which the team stayed during the recently concluded Test series and, also, during the inaugural tour here in 1993.
But a change of sponsor between the Tests and the one-day triangular tournament featuring India and the hosts meant a change of hotel and, whilst the Taj has an air of run-down, peeling paint grandeur about it, the players were only to happy to move the 500 metres to the top end of the Galle Face and into the Cinnamon Grande. Thefts of cash and official clothing and a lack of entertainment options had also begun to wear thin.
The other major benefit of a move between series is the fresh mental approach that inevitably comes with a change of scenery. There was an air of absurdity about the journey between hotels because they could have walked there in five minutes instead of the 30 it took to load the bus with a group of 28 (including back-room staff, management, security, liaison and three other people who didn’t seem to be doing anything at all.)
All the negativity associated with the Taj and the Test series loss can be forgotten and the players can now look forward to being able to buy Ceres juice in the supermarket next door to the hotel – which also sells South Africa’s favourite chutney, a wonderful addition to the coffee shop toasted sandwiches.
But just when you think the Galle Face beach lifestyle and the familiarity of Colombo’s tourist district has shown you all you need to know, something will come along to surprise, shock or amuse you. Or all three. Even if it’s as simple as an article in the sports pages of the local newspaper, in this case the Daily Mirror.
Under the headline: “60 Slicers for SAARC c’ship”, the article reads as follows:
“Slicers form India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Nepal together with Sri Lanka will play in the 10th SAARC Carrom Championships from August 13-15 at the White Haven Hotel, Panadura. Carrom Federation of Sri Lanka is hosting the championships.
“Sixty players and officials from these five countries will arrive on August 12 and arrangements have already been made to accommodate them and the Sri Lankan slicers and umpires at this hotel.
“CFSL has obtained the services of well-known coach from India, Ramesh Chitty from Bangalore, to coach our carromites. Chitty was also a former champion slicer and Indian coach for few years.
“Sri Lanka will field two mens and two womens teams, being the host country.”
Many questions will be asked and answered over the next couple of weeks. Will Roger Telemachus and Loots Bosman establish themselves in the one-day squad in World Cup year? Can Shaun Pollock really do a batsman’s job at number five? Does Andre Nel have anything more than ‘grunt’ to offer on flat, subcontinental pitches?
But just as intriguingly, does South Africa have any slicers? Or carromites? Do we have a national team in this sport? What is this sport?
Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Feel free to get in touch.