Sea, sun, scandal
Moving house is listed among the five most stressful things that can happen in one's lifetime. As someone who travels fairly frequently, I did not believe that until I did it. Two weeks before I was due to head out to Sri Lanka, I left Johannesburg's icy sunshine for Cape Town's wet, windy winter. Being a summer person, I was relieved when it came time to leave for Sri Lanka. Taking off from Cape Town International was a different feeling from leaving OR Tambo International, maybe because I had said goodbye to my home 14 days before.
The trick to being a roving reporter is to find the most cost-effective way to get around, even if it takes a little longer. My route from Cape Town to Galle goes via Dubai, Male and Colombo, with most of Monday to be spent in the Maldives. Luxurious? Not quite. The postcard turquoise waters were only experienced on a short ferry ride from the airport to the capital, where there is no sandy white beach or umbrella-topped drinks to be had. It's a bustling city decorated with graffiti from the March election. Like people in so many parts of the world, Maldivians have demanded more freedom. Strange how travelling makes one feel at home.
Took a holiday in Galle in 2011, after the World Cup, but did not stay in the Fort. Fix that this time. Fort Dew guest house is on Rampart Street and the sea is a stone wall away. A strong stone wall that resisted waves of assault through Portuguese, Dutch and British occupation, and then real waves when the ocean attacked a decade ago.
Now there is a beautifully self-contained, multi-ethnic village. I know I am going to enjoy it here, much more than the South Africans seem to be enjoying their training across the road at the stadium. They have been chorusing about how the combination of heat and humidity stifles them, and when I stand in it, I can relate. At least I can seek shade without having to run shuttles first.
Anura's is one of the places where cooling off and filling up can be done. Colleague Andrew Fernando suggests it for a first taste of Sri Lankan cuisine. We eat coconut-laced curries and chat with Anura's son, who runs the establishment. His nickname is "Fort Son", because he was born within these walls and has lived here all his life. Imagine how stressful he would find moving.
At the risk of sounding a little too Cape Town (South Africans will relate), one of the things I was most looking forward to in Sri Lanka was fresh, natural foods. My research told me coconut water great for replenishing electrolytes and providing essential minerals. On my way to the Test, I buy a king coconut and gulp the water. Refreshing. This becomes a daily routine.
South Africa bat first, Dean Elgar does his bit to fill the Graeme-Smith sized hole in the top order and they finish day one in command.
Accents can be as revealing as lace curtains, and when a couple staying at Fort Dew hear mine they know we have something in common. I meet David, from Kwa-Zulu Natal, and Bronwyn, who is from Melbourne. They live outside Brisbane and have come to Sri Lanka to watch the cricket. They were also in Hamilton in March 2012 and David was at Lord's in August. Strange we did not meet sooner.
David is a forester and wonders why the grass embankments at the ground do not have any trees. For the fans, they would be a welcome addition. Many cluster under the two trees outside and view the game through the fence. I know SLC cannot put lights at the ground because the Fort is a world heritage site and its appearance cannot be artificially altered, but surely trees would be allowed? I think of the oaks at Newlands...
South Africa take control of the Test with a breathtaking Dale Steyn spell. He defies the surface and the conditions. But that night, a cloud is cast over his efforts. Shortly before midnight, the ICC send out a release informing that Vernon Philander has been fined for ball-tampering. Here we go again. This happened in the UAE too but a repeat stain on South Africa's reputation will stick. In the silence of the Galle night, I type my story.
Just as the South African quicks seem to relish the challenge of a pitch designed to thwart them, journalists enjoy digging out a good story, and there is more to the ball-tampering than meets the eye. Why was footage of Philander doing it not shown immediately, like was done with Faf du Plessis nine months ago? Why did the television director go straight to the match officials? Why is the footage not broadcast in the lead-up to day four?
In the afternoon, there is a kite-flying competition from the Fort. Colorful tails twirl above the game. That's a pretty picture.
I watch the first hour from the ramparts, mostly to clear my head. The view from the top is wonderful because you can get almost right behind the bowler's arm and watch the ball closer. At the stadium, more details emerge about the tampering, and eventually it is confirmed CSA put pressure on Ten Sports not to air the visuals. When SLC find out, they respond by also applying pressure on the broadcaster. The footage is eventually shown in the dying moments of the match and Philander's guilt is clear. South Africa are comfortable winners, with not a hint of contrition. "In the papers tomorrow, it will say we won the match regardless," says Steyn. I suspect the real stain will be more difficult to scrub out this time.
Short tours mean the open road calls frequently. The train ride from Galle to Colombo is one of my favourites in the world because of the contrasts it throws up. Out of one window, there is the ocean, so close you can touch it. Out of the other, gravestones. The scene chilled me when I first saw it three years ago, and it has the same effect this time. It's difficult to capture it properly on camera. The train moves so quickly and the moments seems so fleeting.
In Colombo that night, I visit the Cricket Club café. The last time I was here, the only grounds I had been to on its signboard were Newlands and Eden Gardens. Now the only ones I have not been to are Queen's Park Oval and Jinnah Stadium. Oh for a tour to West Indies and for cricket to return to Pakistan.
Too often cricket is the domain of the privileged, and the locals say the SSC is a symbol of that. It is the ground of the old guard. I'm pleasantly surprised when I get there to see an event aimed at challenging elitism. The South African reserves and the entire Sri Lanka team are taking part in a coaching session with children to raise money for Sri Lanka's blind team.
Try one of Colombo's newer places for dinner: 41 Sugar. Mzansi, a South African jazz band, is the house act. The lead singer comes over for a chat and it feels like we've known each other for years. She first came to Sri Lanka in 2010, when the South African embassy asked for musicians to liven up the World Cup vibe. "I couldn't believe it, there were vuvuzelas everywhere," she said. "The same for this World Cup. People really get into it." She has since returned twice more on contracts and her current one is year-long. They will return home in two weeks, and promise to pop in at the Test match.
Have not had much opportunity to take in Colombo's sights, so make a plan to see Mount Lavinia. Get there just in time for sunset. Stunner.
Was looking forward to the SSC press box because, unlike Galle, it is not glassed in. Being able to hear the game makes a big difference. For most of the day, we hear South Africa's frustration as Sri Lanka bat big. Mahela Jayawardene's century on his home ground is a great way for him to say goodbye to South Africa. They won't see him in whites again.
Hashim Amla was asked before this game if he'd be content with a draw, because that would seal the series for South Africa. He said he might have an answer after the first two days. Even if he didn't, we did. South Africa batted as though they were barely moving. Test cricket that moves slowly can be filled with tension and pleasing on the eye, but this was not. Difficult to watch but serving a purpose.
Captaincy and Amla were going to be an interesting marriage but he shows how serene it can be with his first century as skipper. Unlike others, it is not a bouquet with silky cover drives, but a grind of singles and dot balls. Another long day of difficult cricket. Head to the Galle Face Hotel afterwards to wind down in front of the ocean. Meet a girl who is about to depart for Perth. She says she is flying Malaysian Airlines. I'm not sure what to say when I see the anxiety in her eyes.
Sri Lanka make their move. They score quickly and declare. Their intent is clear. So was South Africa's. The match is set up well for a final day but the monsoon lurks. Being from Johannesburg, I am used to aggressive downpours but when this rain unleashes itself, it is different. It comes almost without warning in sheets. But it is a wonderful cooler.
The last time South Africa were in Sri Lanka they were soundly beaten. It was also the last time they lost a Test series away from home. No doubt that is on their minds as much as regaining the No. 1 ranking is. They bat with the same stubbornness I saw in Adelaide and Johannesburg. They get the same result. Just the one they wanted. Another tour is over. Now tea country awaits for more explorations in natural drinks. Then Zimbabwe. The journey continues...
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent