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Charging down the track, charging towards the president

The joys (and potential pitfalls) of being a cricket photographer in Sri Lanka

Philip Brown
Philip Brown
Boys play street cricket near the Premadasa Stadium, Colombo, 2011

Salute to Victor Trumper: cricket near the Premadasa Stadium  •  Philip Brown

I've mentioned a few times that I love travelling around the world covering cricket. I enjoy seeking out other games to photograph, apart from the required match I need to cover for work. The Sri Lankan team has just arrived in the UK for their latest tour and it gives me a chance to reminisce about my many trips to their wonderful and beautiful country over the last 15 years.
I find it super easy if I'm in Kandy, Colombo or Galle to jump in a tuk-tuk and ask the driver to find me something "crickety" to photograph. There are always lots of games going on in the streets and open spaces.
I've been lucky in Sri Lanka and have made two good friends among my regular tuk-tuk drivers. Jayasiri normally looks after me in Colombo (find him near the Cinnamon Grand hotel) and Mr Upali sorts me out for travel near Galle. I've even had an eight-foot high inflatable Santa strapped to the top of Mr Upali's tuk-tuk in the past. Inflatable Santas are fairly rare in the island and when I spotted one, I just had to have it. (After my purchase I did spot a 12-foot high Santa, but I just made do with my eight- footer.)
During the World Cup in Sri Lanka in 2011, I would usually wander out from the Premadasa Stadium before matches or after training sessions and find loads of cricket matches going on nearby. Sometimes the young players would get distracted and want to wave at the camera but usually they were so engrossed in their match that they ignored the scruffy photographer. Sometimes they would try to persuade me to remove myself from their private playing area. I usually take up a position close to the batsman - as in the shot above of a young lad on the attack near the Premadasa - and it is quite amazing that I haven't been hit with the ball more often than I have. It's not unusual for goats, cows or dogs to be on the field with me as I shoot these games.
The Galle Test back in 2007 was an interesting one. The ground was being rebuilt after the catastrophic tsunami three years earlier, and though the place wasn't anywhere near completion, the president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, came by on practice day to open the ground. Sri Lanka was in the midst of the civil war at the time and there was much security. The press were told that if we were not in the ground before nine o'clock, we were not getting in until after the president had left.
I made it to the ground early but wasn't overly interested in taking many pictures of the president cutting ribbons and pulling back curtains revealing plaques, but when I spotted his huge entourage walking around at the far end of the ground, near the fort, I decided to take a couple of shots. It was only as I was running over the field at high speed towards the president, wearing my rucksack full of camera equipment, that I suddenly realised it was not a great idea. I was running towards a president of a country at war and he had many armed guards surrounding him. I probably looked very suspect. Luckily for me I was not shot at or even thrown to the ground. I must say that I have learned from my mistake and I have not run towards any head of state since that day.
Nikon D3 35-70mm lens@38mm 1/1250th 500ASA

An Australian freelance cricket photographer based in England, Philip Brown has photographed over 150 Test matches around the world