Having left behind the rainy south of India, and the flooded north, it's a relief to see the sun beating down as we land at Katunayake airport. The warmth extends as far as immigration, where the official's face lights up when I mention what I'm there for. "We're in good form, you know," he says, just in case I hadn't watched Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene take South Africa to the cleaners and beyond a week ago.
It starts to cloud up as we begin the drive into the city, but despite all the streamers and posters promoting the South Asian Games - they start on the 18th - it's cricket that rules this beautiful island. Even before you leave the airport premises, you can see a billboard for Sri Lanka's Board of Investment, which quotes Sanath Jayasuriya as saying: Sri Lanka - a perfect pitch where your business scores. A few kilometres down the road, Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara grin at you from an MRF tyres hoarding. And in case you hadn't already got sick of it back home in India, there's the Reebok ad featuring Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh, goofy grins and all.
It comes as a bit of a shock then to drive towards the Colts Ground, where India are playing a warm-up game, and see a young woman wearing boxing gloves taking pride of place on a billboard opposite one of the city's main roundabouts. The lady in question is Anusha Kodituwakku, recently crowned light-flyweight champion of Asia. Having never seen the likes of Mithali Raj or any number of talented female hockey players receive any such acclaim back home, it's a pleasant shock.
The Colts Ground itself in surrounded by old trees, and with deep verandahs to watch from, it certainly has a charming old-world feel to it. My arrival, however, seems to jinx the Indians. Tendulkar casually flicks one to midwicket, and Sehwag then delivers a near carbon-copy. An hour later, as I prepare to leave for the press conference at the Taj Samudra, Dravid and Yuvraj appear to be coasting home. But with Dravid brilliantly caught on the boundary, and Kaif not taking his chance, the crowds drifting away are enticed back by the prospect of a Dhoni lash or two. "Let's wait a few minutes more," pleads a young woman, even as her partner readies to wander off. Her entertainment lasts only nine balls, but she and many others will hope that the man with the flowing mane and fearless strokeplay sticks around a while longer when the real thing starts.
After a fabulous dinner at the Gallery Cafe, neighbour to the equally storied Cricket Club Cafe on Queen's Road, we head to the Galadari Hotel, uninvited guests at Robin Jackman's birthday party. What we don't know is that it's inside a karaoke bar. Tuneless chorus of Happy Birthday and cuts of cake later, Jackers, encouraged by the Ten Sports crew, launches into a spirited rendition of [Oh won't you be] My Teddy Bear , the song immortalised by a certain Elvis Aaron Presley. Like Mark Butcher, who could sing a ballad with the best of them, Jackers can certainly hold a note. Who said cricketers were boring, one-dimensional creatures?
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo