India in Sri Lanka 2012 August 4, 2012

Lonely Hambantota, lovely Pallekele

Hambantota and Pallekele. Two names we had heard frequently and always together in the run up to the 2011 World Cup, as the locations for the new stadiums Sri Lanka was building
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Hambantota and Pallekele. Two names we had heard frequently and always together in the run up to the 2011 World Cup, as the locations for the new stadiums Sri Lanka was building. Both modern facilities, with grandstands and grass banks. One close to the southern coast; one in the mountains. Both amid forests. One difficult to access, one comfortably reachable.

The Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium has to be one of the remotest grounds in cricket. It takes its name from the coastal town of Hambantota, but is located at least 35km north of it. That would have been still bearable but apart from the hotel where the teams stay, there hardly seem to be any decent hotels in Hambantota town. Our hotel is in Tissamaharama, a town north-east of Hambantota and close to the Yala National Park. The town is surrounded by lakes and fields. The stadium is around 60km away.

One has to take the road southwest towards Hambantota and then turn northwards for the ground. The second leg of the journey is a completely out-of-place looking four-lane stretch. You train your eyes on the horizon, and struggle to count even four vehicles using the road. A thick forest lies on both sides. Forget a stadium, you'll be lucky to spot a house or two. Just when you actually start to think that you might have taken the wrong route, the stadium rises suddenly out of the forest. We have drop-in pitches, this seems like a drop-in stadium. There is next to nothing close by. At night the ground glistens in floodlights surrounded by endless darkness.

A surprise awaits us on the way back to the hotel after the first game, well past midnight. An elephant is standing on the edge of the road, less than ten feet from our car. We hold our breath, as if that will let us pass unnoticed. Not happening. The elephant suddenly starts towards us, then, fortunately for us, jerks away as we speed past. We can afford to smile now, but the fact that it was a narrow escape is not lost on us.

One can cut the journey by about 20km by using a shortcut, a narrow one-lane road that connects the road leading north from Tissamaharama towards Ratnapura and the road linking Hambantota and the ground. "Dangerous at night time," says our driver Gamini. "Elephant crossings. Lots of them." We do take that road twice during daytime. There is no road at several places; it has broken into pebbles and potholes. It is so narrow that two vehicles cannot pass through without one of them abandoning some of the road. Shortcuts extract their own price. Fortunately, another four-lane mammoth is being built along the shortcut.

The series moves from south coast to west coast to the highlands in a week. The Pallekele International Cricket Stadium has to have one of the loveliest settings in cricket. It is about 15km from the hill city of Kandy, and the short journey by tuk-tuk has beautiful views of the city and the surrounding mountains. The one colour that can describe Kandy is green. The tops of buildings sprout from the all-encompassing thick foliage. The centre of Kandy is situated between the hills and the rest of it snakes up through countless roads, each showing the city from a different angle.

We go down one of these from our hotel towards the Temple of the Tooth, and then along Kandy Lake. Suddenly the tuk-tuk takes a sharp turn that rises steeply and quickly, so much so that in a few seconds, the lake seems to be vertically beneath us. The trees seem to rise and fall with the slopes of the terrain. There are many 300-degree turns in the road. There is even a bridge over a river with huge rocks.

And unlike Hambantota, there is lots of human habitation as well. The stadium is located close to the Kandy Industrial Zone complex. There are grass banks here, just like in Hambantota. But, unlike Hambantota, they just seem to blend seamlessly into the landscape here. Maybe it is the hills that do the trick. Maybe it is the cooler weather. But Pallekele captivates you. The stadium at Hambantota is equally magnificent, the surroundings as green, but somehow, Pallekele seems to have more of a soul.

Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Tej on February 3, 2013, 9:21 GMT

    definitely selecters sulohd give a chance to jeewantha kulatunga bec he was the man of the tournament of provincial t20 competition and only player who got a century in that tourment. and scored centuries in all pro . formats this year namely 4 dayers, 50 overs and t20 . but selecters haven't considered his talent so far jeevantha sulohd be selected . and age is not a problem to talent .. (0)

  • cheap guild wars 2 gold on August 22, 2012, 7:22 GMT

    Highly energetic blog, I liked that bit. Will there be a part 2?

  • Dilan Manoj on August 11, 2012, 2:00 GMT

    Hambanthota is a real waste.SLC made it in Hambanthota because our president was born there.It will be better if it is in the City.But it is in a forest.that's why there are no SLPL matches in Hambantota

  • Dasun on August 9, 2012, 23:18 GMT

    hambanthota is nothing but a colossal waste of money and resources in order to cater to a demented politician's flight of fancy. pretty much everything built in hambanthota falls in to this category. those responsible ought to be prosecuted for such self-serving acts..

  • trenil on August 9, 2012, 14:54 GMT

    I don’t know why ICC agreed to give t20 world cup matches to Hambantota ..ICC pls change the places and move all matches to Pallekele…..!

  • Zhao Qi on August 9, 2012, 7:54 GMT

    "How can the author expect the ground to have a soul if it is named after a person who doesn't have a soul?"

    You gotta love the innocent fluffy hug-able LTTErs.

  • soody Rajendram on August 8, 2012, 8:46 GMT

    its great to hear nice things about kandy,its a great place to live.I'm verry proud to be a kandyan.I already 20 years away from my city but i love kandy and i miss each every day.

  • CricketPissek on August 6, 2012, 18:46 GMT

    ElBeeDubya is spot on. It's not surprising if foreigners think Mahinda Rajapakse is actually the name of the town now! It thinks its a mega city, but it's actually only a bit busier than a village. The megalomaniac who has named a seaport, airport, cricket ground, and has his family's photos in massive cut outs posted all over the town is an absolute embarrassment to its people.

    Kandy on the other hand was long overdue to have its own stadium (it had been renting the Trinity College grounds at Asgiriya for far too long). And it's a big city and its people deserve a stadium such as Pallekele.

  • Nimal on August 5, 2012, 18:09 GMT

    It's a criminal waste of country's money to build the cricket grounds in Hambanthota just as the ill thought of extravagance over the London Olympics by the British government that have discouraged people coming there, resulting in vacant seats and poor takings at the hospitality industry of London usually busy at this time of the year.Corrupt politicians know how to screw up things.

  • Kamal on August 5, 2012, 14:17 GMT

    I cannot recollect any of the International stadiums named after politicians in Australia...correct if I'm wrong. Why do our politicians wants to name them after their names, while building it with people's money...how pathetic.

  • Tej on February 3, 2013, 9:21 GMT

    definitely selecters sulohd give a chance to jeewantha kulatunga bec he was the man of the tournament of provincial t20 competition and only player who got a century in that tourment. and scored centuries in all pro . formats this year namely 4 dayers, 50 overs and t20 . but selecters haven't considered his talent so far jeevantha sulohd be selected . and age is not a problem to talent .. (0)

  • cheap guild wars 2 gold on August 22, 2012, 7:22 GMT

    Highly energetic blog, I liked that bit. Will there be a part 2?

  • Dilan Manoj on August 11, 2012, 2:00 GMT

    Hambanthota is a real waste.SLC made it in Hambanthota because our president was born there.It will be better if it is in the City.But it is in a forest.that's why there are no SLPL matches in Hambantota

  • Dasun on August 9, 2012, 23:18 GMT

    hambanthota is nothing but a colossal waste of money and resources in order to cater to a demented politician's flight of fancy. pretty much everything built in hambanthota falls in to this category. those responsible ought to be prosecuted for such self-serving acts..

  • trenil on August 9, 2012, 14:54 GMT

    I don’t know why ICC agreed to give t20 world cup matches to Hambantota ..ICC pls change the places and move all matches to Pallekele…..!

  • Zhao Qi on August 9, 2012, 7:54 GMT

    "How can the author expect the ground to have a soul if it is named after a person who doesn't have a soul?"

    You gotta love the innocent fluffy hug-able LTTErs.

  • soody Rajendram on August 8, 2012, 8:46 GMT

    its great to hear nice things about kandy,its a great place to live.I'm verry proud to be a kandyan.I already 20 years away from my city but i love kandy and i miss each every day.

  • CricketPissek on August 6, 2012, 18:46 GMT

    ElBeeDubya is spot on. It's not surprising if foreigners think Mahinda Rajapakse is actually the name of the town now! It thinks its a mega city, but it's actually only a bit busier than a village. The megalomaniac who has named a seaport, airport, cricket ground, and has his family's photos in massive cut outs posted all over the town is an absolute embarrassment to its people.

    Kandy on the other hand was long overdue to have its own stadium (it had been renting the Trinity College grounds at Asgiriya for far too long). And it's a big city and its people deserve a stadium such as Pallekele.

  • Nimal on August 5, 2012, 18:09 GMT

    It's a criminal waste of country's money to build the cricket grounds in Hambanthota just as the ill thought of extravagance over the London Olympics by the British government that have discouraged people coming there, resulting in vacant seats and poor takings at the hospitality industry of London usually busy at this time of the year.Corrupt politicians know how to screw up things.

  • Kamal on August 5, 2012, 14:17 GMT

    I cannot recollect any of the International stadiums named after politicians in Australia...correct if I'm wrong. Why do our politicians wants to name them after their names, while building it with people's money...how pathetic.

  • AMAR on August 5, 2012, 12:57 GMT

    People who comment against Hambantota ground, do so with political emotions. This are was neglected for decades. Why we should not get development projects...? You can not critizise the ground alone without taking in to consideration of the harbour, airport, housing projects, Industrial parks, roads and other projects .This city will be the third largest city in the next decades. Also, our urban-population will be decreased by this new township and Rajapaksha, had that vision. The writer too had little knowledge about what is going on in Hambantota. It will take some time, but you will be witnessed the success of Hambantota stadium very soon...! Finally, it is not awhite elephant and it is a very wise investment for the future....!

  • Subramani Dharmar on August 4, 2012, 20:29 GMT

    How can the author expect the ground to have a soul if it is named after a person who doesn't have a soul?

  • andrea on August 4, 2012, 17:53 GMT

    hi...... come and see the beauty of Pallekelle stadium

  • ElBeeDubya on August 4, 2012, 17:30 GMT

    The article says "Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium has to be one of the remotest grounds in cricket. It takes its name from the coastal town of Hambantota..." cannot be correct. It takes its name from a politician who loves to compare himself against past Kings and loves to name things after himself while still in office would be more accurate.

  • Donly on August 4, 2012, 17:16 GMT

    Great Kandy

  • Sam on August 4, 2012, 14:57 GMT

    Only a demented idiot will think about building a stadium in Hambanthota. I guess they are planning to have monkeys play cricket there, when teams are not FORCED to play! The ICC should refuse to let teams in Hambantota. Then Monkeys can continue to play cricket, it seems to be the original plan anyway.

  • Shankar on August 4, 2012, 12:01 GMT

    In Today match, Tiwary was twice out caught behind. Gautam Gambir was out plumb LBW. Umpire made decision wrongly. I think India does not accept DRS only because of these, since it wont get any favourable decisions.

  • San on August 4, 2012, 11:42 GMT

    Hambanthota was just a waste of money!

  • S.H.Moulana on August 4, 2012, 8:00 GMT

    Hambantota cricket stadium is a white elephant like Dambulla which is abandoned now. The same fate is awaiting Hambantota soon. The heads of those selected these locations should be tested at Angoda.... Think about the millions wasted for nothing and playing for rows and rows of empty chairs. This is an unpardonable criminal wastage of public money. This is something like opening a Pizza Hut or McDonald at Bintenna to sreve the Veddahs! Send those initiated to Angoda right now before they come out with more crazy ideas. Please rush them now!

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  • S.H.Moulana on August 4, 2012, 8:00 GMT

    Hambantota cricket stadium is a white elephant like Dambulla which is abandoned now. The same fate is awaiting Hambantota soon. The heads of those selected these locations should be tested at Angoda.... Think about the millions wasted for nothing and playing for rows and rows of empty chairs. This is an unpardonable criminal wastage of public money. This is something like opening a Pizza Hut or McDonald at Bintenna to sreve the Veddahs! Send those initiated to Angoda right now before they come out with more crazy ideas. Please rush them now!

  • San on August 4, 2012, 11:42 GMT

    Hambanthota was just a waste of money!

  • Shankar on August 4, 2012, 12:01 GMT

    In Today match, Tiwary was twice out caught behind. Gautam Gambir was out plumb LBW. Umpire made decision wrongly. I think India does not accept DRS only because of these, since it wont get any favourable decisions.

  • Sam on August 4, 2012, 14:57 GMT

    Only a demented idiot will think about building a stadium in Hambanthota. I guess they are planning to have monkeys play cricket there, when teams are not FORCED to play! The ICC should refuse to let teams in Hambantota. Then Monkeys can continue to play cricket, it seems to be the original plan anyway.

  • Donly on August 4, 2012, 17:16 GMT

    Great Kandy

  • ElBeeDubya on August 4, 2012, 17:30 GMT

    The article says "Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium has to be one of the remotest grounds in cricket. It takes its name from the coastal town of Hambantota..." cannot be correct. It takes its name from a politician who loves to compare himself against past Kings and loves to name things after himself while still in office would be more accurate.

  • andrea on August 4, 2012, 17:53 GMT

    hi...... come and see the beauty of Pallekelle stadium

  • Subramani Dharmar on August 4, 2012, 20:29 GMT

    How can the author expect the ground to have a soul if it is named after a person who doesn't have a soul?

  • AMAR on August 5, 2012, 12:57 GMT

    People who comment against Hambantota ground, do so with political emotions. This are was neglected for decades. Why we should not get development projects...? You can not critizise the ground alone without taking in to consideration of the harbour, airport, housing projects, Industrial parks, roads and other projects .This city will be the third largest city in the next decades. Also, our urban-population will be decreased by this new township and Rajapaksha, had that vision. The writer too had little knowledge about what is going on in Hambantota. It will take some time, but you will be witnessed the success of Hambantota stadium very soon...! Finally, it is not awhite elephant and it is a very wise investment for the future....!

  • Kamal on August 5, 2012, 14:17 GMT

    I cannot recollect any of the International stadiums named after politicians in Australia...correct if I'm wrong. Why do our politicians wants to name them after their names, while building it with people's money...how pathetic.