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Steel bands, the Brothers Ranatunga, and Viru's mock presser

Oh to be in Sri Lanka's capital, where the cops drive tuk-tuks, the felons are Bradmanesque, the shoes mandatory, and the music unceasing

Sidharth Monga

August 9, 2010

Comments: 17 | Text size: A | A

Tourists taking part in a Sri Lanka Tourism Board-sponsored <i>tuk tuk</i> race reach the finish line, Colombo, September 14, 2009
Tuk-tuk? Who's there? © AFP
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July 25
Sinhalese Sports Club. Sri Lanka practise in the nets as loud music is played behind them, possibly at the Nondescripts Cricket Club, which seems to be hosting a Twenty20 competition. Music system blares, "For 24 years I've been living next door to Alice…" Nobody in the nets asks who Alice is. With the steel bands and Percy Abeysekera at their loudest during matches, Sri Lankan players have known tougher distractions.

July 26
Batsman's walk from dressing room to the middle of the SSC is a pretty long one. From the viewing area on the first floor to the end of the dressing room, down a staircase, and then through the long tunnel. The flat pitch, though, makes sure not many batsmen have to take the walk.

July 27
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds. American. Landed in Sri Lanka last year as Reuters' general photographer, and was soon asked to cover the New Zealand-Sri Lanka Tests. Knew nothing about the game. "Man throws ball to man," he used to write in captions. Now loves cricket enough to sit out in the sun and photograph the action, and get the captions right.

July 28
No steel band at the SSC. Ask Gautam Gambhir if it is tough to concentrate when the band is playing. Says: "We are used to more noise, coming from India. It is actually disorienting at times to play in quiet grounds."

Interesting railroad crossing in Colombo, right in the heart of the city, next to Galle Face. Not gates but two bars that come down from either side. Except these aren't long enough for the full width of the road. Enough space for bikes and perhaps even three-wheeler rickshaws, or tuk-tuks as they are known here, to go through. Nobody jumps the signal, though. Inconsistent with rest of subcontinent.

July 29
Denied entry to a restaurant. Wearing slippers, not shoes. Colonial hangover?

Go instead to Ceylon Cleaners to give laundry. "From Taj?" the lady asks. "Many people come here for laundry. Very expensive there."

July 30
Some family, the Ranatungas. Arjuna, country's greatest captain, later chairman of Sri Lanka Cricket, not popular with players, and now an opposition MP, never misses an opportunity to expose the board. Nishantha, only brother to not have played Tests, is now the board's secretary. Sanjeeva, the youngest, with nine Tests to his name, turns up for a joint Kumar Sangakkara-Nishantha press conference, and persistently asks probing questions. With a sweet, slightly cheekily, reminiscent-of-Arjuna smile. Sangakkara brings an end to the topic: "If you want to create controversy, you can see this [team selection] whatever way you want." Nishantha, sitting next to him, wears the same smile. Wonder where Arjuna is.

July 31

There is a place where the sky's always blue
And sea is so calm all day through
Something you should know
Is a new place to go
Go to the city of Colombo…

It's a night of lovely Sinhala music and calypso. Songs about fishermen, the sea, their hopes, their excuses to wives for coming home late. Band also loves AR Rahman's Tamil songs. Introduced to "City of Colombo", a seventies classic, by Brian Thomas, Sri Lanka's media manager, who brings a touch of amateurism to a job that essentially involves stonewalling journalists' requests for player interviews. Creates awkward situations by jumping to the next question every time a player pauses for breath during press conferences. Then makes funny faces.

August 1
P Sara Oval. Next to Welikada, Sri Lanka's largest prison. Used to get prisoners to work on the pitch. Not anymore. Chandra Schaffter of Tamil Union and Athletics Club has a novel explanation. "The TV shows them. When you are in prison and they [people outside] ask your wife about you, she says you have gone to Dubai. If then they see you at the Oval doing the pitch…"

August 2
VVS Laxman's old-school kitbag. Light like his bats. Slings it across his shoulder like a schoolbag. Interesting modern pads inside. With straps, as opposed to the ones with buckles that he usually wears. Also has interesting explanation for using these. Modern pads provide better safety but he uses them only during nets because that's when there is more likelihood of getting hit on pads.

August 3
Scorers all over the world are eccentrics. Thushara Cooray doesn't disappoint. When a wicket falls, he qualifies the time of dismissal as rahu kaalam (the time bad things happen, in astrology). During the Galle Test he does so only during India's innings. Misses the second at the SSC, and by the time he comes back for the third Test, local journalists - in the interest of fairness - ask him to mention rahu kaalam during Sri Lanka's innings too. Hosts lose 20 wickets at P Sara, India 15.

August 4
Nelu Water in press box at P Sara Oval. Sanath Jayasuriya's company. Man still involved with Sri Lankan cricket in some way.

Thilan Samaraweera hits the sixth six of his career during a classy century on a tough pitch. Three days later VVS Laxman goes on to score a better century in the fourth innings, on a pitch that steadily became more difficult to bat on. Number of sixes Laxman has hit in his career? Four.

August 5
Always fascinated by India's fixation with auto rickshaws. For example, this. Sri Lanka seems ahead of India. Spot a cop driving a tuk-tuk. And then another. It's an official vehicle. Policemen - not all, but a few - drive tuk-tuks. Some newspapers, of the Upali Group among them, have bought tuk-tuks for reporters to ride while on assignment. Colombo Ride, the first Sinhala mobile game, is a of those mad chase games. In its third version, tuk-tuks run madly through the streets of Colombo.

Virender Sehwag congratulates VVS Laxman, Sri Lanka v India, 3rd Test, P Sara Oval, 5th day, August 7, 2010
'I'm telling you man, it's as easy as 94 + 6' © Cameraworx/Live Images

August 6
Sakvithi Ranasinghe is arrested. English tuition teacher by training, famous conman by choice. Returned to the country six months ago, and was living in disguise with his wife in Wattala. Almost Bradmanesque statistics. Accused of swindling about Rs 9 billion according to some estimates. More than 1400 complaints against him. Senior policemen, soldiers, a woman athlete, cricket players [Tillakaratne Dilshan among others] and prominent society persons among his victims.

August 7
Laxman helps India draw the series. Paddy Upton, Eric Simons and Virender Sehwag, Laxman's runner, have a mock press conference.

Upton: Viru, what advice did you give Laxman when he was on 94?

Sehwag: Get there with a boundary.

Simons: What boundary? A four or a six?

Viru: Obviously when you are on 94, you can get there with only a six.

August 8
End of Test tours is like retirement. At some point on the tour you start looking forward to the end, but when it arrives, there is nothing to do. No 7.30am alarm. No early breakfast. Think back to king coconuts and wild mangoes. Galle breeze. Percy, who knows "my onions better than you do our banians [vests]". Lottery man who sings Hindi songs without understanding a word of the language. Eccentric curators Jayananda Warnaweera and Anurudda Polonowita, who calls the captains who criticise his pitch "them buggers". Saman, the three-wheeler guy from Galle, who wants three-wheelers imported from India, because "they are cheaper there". Football on beach. Ranatungas. Crows on cricket fields. Old Hindi tunes played by the band at all venues. It's slightly crazy here, but there is something you should know: go to the city of Colombo.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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Posted by Sinhabahu on (August 12, 2010, 2:11 GMT)

Fabulously descriptive article of our good old Colombo, Sidharth. Thanks a bunch for your great diary entries and we hope to see more from you. I bet you're seriously enjoying beautiful Dambulla right now.

As for someone here mentioning a certain Eelam, where the heck is that? I looked all over a map of the world but couldn't find any such place.

Posted by neutral_boy on (August 11, 2010, 14:32 GMT)

nice article.next time you can enjoy variety of Sri Lanka while touring all over Island. new grounds are being buid through out the Island of Sri Lanka.As a tourist you can watch cricket all over the country. waiting for World cup.

Posted by JeromeK on (August 11, 2010, 12:23 GMT)

Hey Siddharth great piece in to every day Lankan life..By the next tour i'm sure you will be able to visit northern Lanka as well finally at peace i'm sure international cricket wont be far off there..As for somebody mentioning something called eelam..Pretty sure must be mistaken for some place in southern India maybe..As a born and bred Lankan never heard of such a place in the island ofcause..: )

Posted by perisen2k on (August 10, 2010, 17:48 GMT)

Hey Monga...I could have appreciated if you could went to Vani or northern eelam on august 9th instead of portraying Colombo as holy place.Hope my comments get listed...

Posted by   on (August 10, 2010, 15:50 GMT)

Very interesting article.. You should have covered bit on Galle test and Murali's retiremnet..

Posted by Pathiyal on (August 10, 2010, 10:27 GMT)

like the country so much. will visit colombo, kandy definitely...just in a year time. thanks for the article, siddu!!!

Posted by Philip_Gnana on (August 10, 2010, 9:35 GMT)

Had to chuckle here. Had a grin on my face whilst reading this article. Office mates want to know what was so funny.. Nice one Sidhartha. Never a dull moment in Colombo that is for sure. You always get more than you paid for...... hmmmm Philip Gnana,Surrey

Posted by Nisanka on (August 10, 2010, 8:36 GMT)

Nice one Monga. Thanks a million to Cricinfo. You keep us well informed with the latest. Encyclopedia of cricket.

Posted by Dhushan on (August 10, 2010, 8:23 GMT)

Thank you Mr. Sidharth Monga for a nice article about our good old island. I know this statement might be biased as I myself am a Kandyan but you should definitely make it down to Kandy (if you already haven't) to see what else this great country has to offer. Why not ask Murali or Sanga who are two great Kandyans! Keep up the great work. Cheers

Posted by   on (August 10, 2010, 7:20 GMT)

and u must come kandy also.

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