Reverse swing on the Hambantota highway
Before Sri Lanka and West Indies eventually called off their ODI series, the media and fans went through a harrowing 24 hours with officials unable to decide on whether the matches would go ahead. Andrew Fernando tells his tale
After the rain-plagued failure that was the Test series, hopes of an uninterrupted one-day leg were not high among the media people covering the tour. The first match was in Hambantota and most journalists chose not to make the seven-hour trip from Colombo, choosing instead to work from home. The rest did so reluctantly, having heard reports from the ground that the venue remained desperately incomplete and that the weather was just as bad in the normally drier south-east as it had been on the rest of the island.
The few of us who took the trouble to travel should have followed the lead of our wiser colleagues and not have bothered. I first got wind of a possible series postponement at around 5.00pm on Wednesday, when we were about two-and-a-half hours away from Sooriyawewa, the town that hosts anyone visiting Hambantota. One of my travelling companions received a news alert on his cellphone saying that Sri Lanka Cricket had announced a series postponement due to inclement weather.
We immediately began making phone calls to other journalists and photographers to confirm the news. It seemed inconceivable that an international one-day series could be postponed - especially because of bad weather - on the eve of the first match, but everyone else seemed to have heard the same news that we had. The series had apparently been postponed.
We turned back and headed towards Colombo but, on our way, managed to finally get through to SLC's media manager for an official update. He told us that the board was looking to postpone the tour, but that the West Indies board was yet to get back on whether that would be possible. Realising now that the match could very well be on, and not wanting to take any risks, we turned around once more and headed for Hambantota.
We arrived there at 8.00pm, having heard reports from various people about the state of affairs. Each new piece of information was more confusing than the previous one and we were yet to hear official word on anything. Late into the evening, we received news that there had been no postponement and this was confirmed on the morning of the game, despite the fact that it was raining heavily at the time. The match was back on.
We made our way to the ground, not knowing what to expect; not that we could have been prepared for what we saw. The stands at the Mahinda Rajapakse Stadium were so far from completion, parts of it had barely taken shape. Much like the R Premadasa Stadium during the second Test, the new stands were just terraced concrete slabs; the driveways and carparks around the stadium were a mix of mud and loose gravel. Two gigantic cranes hovered over the ground and were at work when we arrived, while diggers and bulldozers littered the stadium's perimeter as men in hard hats ran around trying to get things ready on the inside. The temporary press box had a roof and a floor, but two large portions of wall were missing, meaning that wind blew through the place as journalists attempted to work. The scaffolding that was positioned alongside most of the buildings completed the picture. To say that this was a stadium under construction would have been a severe understatement.
Once inside, the media manager quickly confirmed that the series would go ahead as planned and we set up for the day, despite the fact that it had rained incessantly since the morning with no end in sight, and there was little hope of any play. We sat and waited.
We didn't have to wait long for the next in an endless series of U-turns. Apparently the series had been postponed once again. The official word came via an email from the Sri Lanka board at 1.39pm, less than an hour before the scheduled start of play. SLC were backpedalling at an alarming rate.
They then said that although the boards had considered postponing the series on Wednesday, they had decided to stick it out for one more day - on a suggestion from the meteorological department - to see if the weather would improve enough. It hadn't. Apparently the same department had forecast bad weather throughout the island until the end of December, which is why they had decided to call off the series at the last moment. This response, just like everything else that had come from the board in the last 24 hours, only raised more questions than it answered.