August 9, 2010

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

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.

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