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Tour Diary

Rear-ended in Hambantota

ESPNcricinfo's relationship with Hambantota is already a storied one. Several reporters have had adventures there, and Andrew Fernando joins the list

ESPNcricinfo's relationship with Hambantota is already a storied one, despite its relative brevity. In December 2010, I was en route to what would have been the first international match in the ground, when we heard the series could be postponed. After two u-turns and several official phone calls that assured us the match would go ahead, we arrived at a stadium under construction to be told that the matches would not happen for almost two months.
When Kanishkaa Balachandran was here for the Pakistan tour in June last year, a snake slithered up the French window near where he was working, prompting a seemingly well-rehearsed reptile response plan to be sprung into action by the hotel staff. A month later, the vehicle Abhishek Purohit was in was charged by an elephant on the way back to the hotel, well past midnight.
After the first ODI against Bangladesh, a separate group of journalists and photographers hit a sleeping water buffalo with their car in the black of night, killing the buffalo on the spot and wrecking the vehicle. It's just that kind of place. Cricket journalists are a pampered breed, for all our complaining, but on a tour to Hambantota one must be prepared for adventure.
Though we dodged our share of sleeping cattle and monitor lizards on the roads, our tale this time was of the more mundane variety, and we are perhaps lucky it occurred in one of the more far-flung regions. Having woken up at around midday, after a late night's work, Bangladesh correspondent Mohammad Isam and I headed out for some lunch in Embilipitiya town. We had heard good things about a restaurant in the middle of town, but as we were about to turn right into the car park, a tipper-truck slammed into the back of our car, crushing the right side of our boot, taking out the lights, and sending our bumper scraping along the tarmac.
Our car was shoved onto the other side of the road, but thankfully no one in either vehicle was hurt. When we parked the car to check on the damage, the road was littered with unrecognisable plastic and a crowd had gathered at a rate a cricket match in the Hambantota Stadium can only dream of.
To my relief, though, not only had the other driver stopped, instead of fleeing the scene like they often do in Colombo, he was also reasonable and composed - also a rarity in the big city, where car accidents can quickly degenerate into fistfights. Police were quickly onto the scene, and upon hearing both accounts and checking documents, we were taken to the Embilipitiya police station to hash out the official details.
From there, every pen stroke followed the rule of law. The police instructed us to first seek advice from our insurance providers, and in our case, our rental car company, and were helpful and jovial to the point of almost making it a pleasant experience. A litany of police forms had to be filled out - all at a rural pace, which kept us at the station for four hours - but oddly for law enforcement, they went the extra mile and called a local mechanic to come in and inspect the vehicle to see if it was driveable - for no charge on the part of the police or the mechanic.
Leave Colombo aside. We would have been fortunate to encounter customer service representatives anywhere in the world that were as accommodating and agreeable as Embilipitiya cops. The only complication was that each new policeman who entered the room would begin addressing Isam in Sinhala, which was frustrating for him, embarrassing for the policeman, and hilarious for me.
When we eventually drove away, I was dismayed at having broken a major-accident free record since I got my driving license in 2007 (though for posterity, I should mention that while I was learning to drive I was hit by a lamp post), but happy - not only that we escaped injury, but because the entire ordeal was far less painful for having happened in one of the provinces.
If only the insurance process could be as inoffensive.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here