Kandy: a spiritual venue © Wisden Cricinfo

The Barmy Army have a Sri Lankan rival, and his name is Percy. A bespectacled, 62-year-old grandfather, Percy Abeysekera is perhaps Sri Lanka's most exuberant supporter. And this is his golden jubilee. If this morning at Kandy is anything to go by, those 50 years will have been noisy for fellow supporters, good for Sri Lankan morale, and bad for opposing batsmen.

The problem is Percy's maverick approach to chanting. Spurning the Barmies' "Wall of Sound", he favours the precision strike, often beautifully synchronised with the moment of release by a Sri Lankan bowler. Favourites include "Now or never", or the more offbeat "You know your onions". Opposition wickets and Sri Lankan fours bring gleeful swishing of his yellow, orange, green and burgundy national flag.

For every home Test, Percy is granted paid leave by his employees at Associated Cables Limited in Colombo - one perk the foot-soldiers of the Barmy Army don't enjoy. In his yellow ACL T-shirt he smiles his way round the grounds, clapping and gesticulating wildly. When England toured last December, the Army recognised a kindred spirit, and gave him a T-shirt, a baseball cap and what Percy calls "salutations". Both his son and grandson are named Garfield, after the great Garry Sobers. And he also claims, convincingly enough, to have been given a match-award medal by Martin Crowe.

And, in fact, there are a few scattered battalions of the Barmy Army here in Kandy. These mutineers were put off by the inflated prices for the Caribbean trip for English visitors, and form the "Sri Lanka Barmy Army Rebel Tour". Several, according to their banner, come from Wokingham in Berkshire, previously better known for stockbrokers than sedition.

The sight of the Union Jack in Kandy is a poignant one: Kandians spent more than 300 years and a lot of energy trying to prevent foreign flags, and the British one in particular, being hoisted in their mountain kingdom. This fastness, deep in the beautiful and inaccessible Sri Lankan interior, was the last stretch to be conquered by colonists. There is a spot in the pass between here and coastal Colombo called "Watching" in Sinhala. What they were watching for was the British redcoat, full of bawdy song and potent liquor. (The average private in Queen Victoria's army drank more than 20 gallons of brandy a year.) The British finally took Kandy in 1803, but to avoid the desecration of the Temple of the Tooth (which holds the Lord Buddha's canine, saved from his funeral pyre centuries before), the retreating Kandians burnt their city.

Briefly they regained control of the ruins, before finally succumbing in 1815. But despite the history of resentment and animosity towards the British, there are certain British habits the Sri Lankans took up with relish, including Marmite and betting on horses. In any Sri Lankan betting shop, and there are plenty, you will find at least one old-timer, usually with a cigarette in his mouth and a copy of the Sporting Times in his hand, who knows all there is to know about the past month's weather in Fontwell or Towcester, or any other tiny British racecourse town. Other colonial hangovers speak of a world long-forgotten even in Britain: tinned mutton, for example, is readily available here, but was abandoned in the UK after the Second World War.

But sometimes the distance between Kandy and Britain can be measured in light-years, not miles. Each morning most visitors here are woken at 5.30 by the haunting sound of amplified Buddhist chants floating over the serene lake. And there are other clues hinting that Sri Lankans look at the world in a more spiritual way. The back windscreen of my rickshaw to the ground this morning had an unusual message for passengers: "Belief is difficult, unbelief impossible." In Britain, where boozing habits haven't changed so drastically since Queen Victoria's day, we have stickers in taxis too. But most of them say "Soiling Charge £25".

Paul Coupar is assistant editor of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack.