Colombo Test Cricket Grounds
On every Australian Test Cricket Tour of Sri Lanka, whether we play Test Cricket or not in Colombo, visiting one or two of Colombo's Test Cricket Grounds is easy to do. There may be white-ball games at Premadasa, a tour game at P Sara Oval or Colombo Cricket Club, or a need to visit Singhalese Sports Club to collect tickets, if not playing there.
Always looking for things to introduce to a tour, or new ways to do things, we did a half-day trip to visit Colombo Test Cricket Grounds. And what a great arvo it was.
Having the 'Director of Tickets' of Sri Lanka Cricket on speed-dial meant when security wouldn't let us in to Ranasinghe Premadasa Cricket Stadium, one call to Mr Tickets had the gates open! Gazing around the empty ground and aptly coloured blue & yellow seats, we found the gate onto the field, and went to meet curators and ground staff, cleaning up after the recent white-ball series.
Accessing the field with little more than a smile adds a unique element to any cricket tour. Being in the middle too puts a new perspective on a test cricket ground, you usually see from just one vantage.
Having a chat to curators and groundstaff, looking at the pitch on which the nation's heroes do their best feels bizarre, but enlightening. 30mins of pics & pitch reports, handshakes & high-fives, we went to the ‘visitors’ dressing room.
I've seen many players' dressing rooms, but seeing the look on others was grand. Using experience to add something as unique as this to someone's tour is why I love doing what I do. We were shuffled out and went down the road to P Saravanamuttu Cricket Stadium (P Sara Oval).
On all tour's past Australia has played a tour warm-up game on the ground that Don Bradman's Australia played All Ceylon in '48. It was here Bradman ran quick-singles to whom be knew was All Ceylon's best fielder. Thinking it would be a tight run, Bradman kept making his ground with ease. Believing something was amiss, he asked for the pitch to be measured to discover it was only 20 yards, accounting for why he was never run out.
The gates opened on our arrival and so too the fridge of the bar of the club where Muttiah Muralitharan honed is craft, his portait on every wall. Ground staff were preparing for a tournament so the middle was a hive of activity and enthusiasm for photos with Australian Cricket Tourists. The ground has come far since I first saw cricket played here, but it remains the tranquil little-known field that everyone should see, and swim at.
There is a pool at long-on, in which players and spectators alike have paddled side by side, watching life in the middle. Player's hoping a wicket wouldn't fall so they could soak longer, us hoping play wouldn't end (bring back timeless tour games!). It's one of cricket's true hidden luxuries, literally. The hedge around the pool has grown so the view of play is not as it was.
It's a beautiful field, hidden in suburban Colombo, and the only test cricket ground with a female head curator. If you didn't know P Sara Oval was there, you would never pass it by accident.
After buying 12 club caps and ties, 18 beers and six gins, the bar closed at 2pm and we rolled 10mins to Singhalese Sports Club (SSC), where I was sure we’d be playing a test match in 2022. Two Tests in Galle was never considered but shows one can never bet on fixtures. Getting into the SSC was as difficult as Premadasa but after one call to Mr Tickets, it was 'open sesame' into the ground and on to the field.
Groundsmen were feverishly curating, which allowed more photos in the middle with people thrilled to see Australian Cricket Tourists not only visiting Sri Lanka but walking their turf. Imagine knocking on the door of the Melbourne Cricket Ground after the Boxing Day Test and saying, 'we're just here for a look' and walking on to the field? Imagine it!
The SSC is a strange mix of embankment and basic stands, the latter seemingly built without any consideration to aesthetics. 'Just build it where it fits, and get on with the game'. Not every venue needs giant uniformed stands, but work could done to 'clean up' the SSC without expanding beyond the 10,000 spectator capacity.
Farewelling the groundstaff, we went back through the members', past galleries, honour boards, dressing rooms, snooker halls, restaurants, and pool. The Sri Lanka Cricket Museum was closed so we'll go back next tour.
5 mins walk up Maitland Place you will find Colombo Cricket Club (CCC), which last hosted a Test in 1987. Modern facilities were not the focus back then as the ground is barely first-class now, but they're working on it as a new Member's terrace with dressing rooms underneath takes shape.
Now speaking of quality, CCC was where Scott Muller debuted for Australia in 1999. A looping pie dipped, swung, floated, and crashed on the full into the pads, snaring Scott a wicket with his first ball, and Test selection later that year!
During that match, Carlton was playing Essendon in the AFL Preliminary Final. During the 2nd session with Australia in the field, over-rates justifiably slowed with more attention paid to score updates shouted down from the media centre than getting the overs bowled, and over-rates have been crap ever since!
Colombo Cricket Club is members only and earlier attempts to access the bar were met with stiff security and a book of club laws. This time, entering the ground through the curator's shed before security could collar us softened their position.
The others wandered the ground and I wandered into the office where it was agreed that our price of entry was 'one beer each’. Sold! After our team photo in the middle, the barkeep with us taking orders, we moved to the terrace of hardwood floors, brick wall bar, white-washed walls, historic photos, piano, pillars, and plantation chairs, to pay our price.
Shooing non-members away to protect the credibility of the (any) club is one thing but they could be a little more fiscal-savvy. Seeing Australian Cricket Tourists investing in, not devaluing, the club, meant 1 beer became 3 beers each, 6 G&T's, a few sodas, a couple of Arracks, and 6 plates of roasted cashews and fries.
Reflecting on the afternoon, I made the bold statement that this was one of our 'best day-trips ever'. We've had some ripper excursions over our years, but this was something different, perhaps because we had never done it. It was unique.
Not knowing if we'd get into any ground, it was a play-by-ear day. It turned out a roaring success, visiting 4 of Colombo's 5 test cricket grounds, accessing the field of all, having beers and photos, knowing home was no more than 10mins drive. Only driving 10-15 mins to each test cricket ground was a pleasure. Some day trips are more driving and enjoying, which resulted in a perfect day that didn't end at CCC.
Around the corner is the Ceylon Turf Club. Long since been a racetrack, this public field is still overlooked by the stunning grandstand, used as vantage for soccer and rugby games now played on a field big enough for cricket. We dreamed of a tour game here, but Colombo does not need any more 1st class cricket grounds.
Colombo's 5th test cricket ground was left for the next day. Tyronne Fernando Stadium is 12km south of Colombo, so we added this to our drive to Hikkaduwa.
Packing up and leaving Hilton Colombo after 10 days was a sad affair. Reception, guest services, waiters, and door staff were there waving us goodbye. You may expect that from a family run hotel or guesthouse, but not a global brand. It made the stay all the better, knowing we'd made such an impression; or the staff just wanted to make sure we left!
Some had arrived early for the first Test in Galle and being in Colombo for the first time we stopped at Cricket Club Café to show off this Colombo institution and give friends Gabby & James (from Melbourne) a few more rupees. After a stinking hot 7 mins drive from Hilton Colombo, it was important we kept our fluids up.
After 30 mins at the café, we were in the bus to Moratuwa. Getting into this test cricket ground was as easy as walking across your yard. Security, curators and ground managers were more intrigued than happy that Australian Cricket Tourists were visiting their humble field. I guess they don't get too many visitors.
Australia played the inaugural Test here in 1992 (Allan Border 106 | Ian Healy 71) but test glory was short-lived as they only hosted 4 Tests (all drawn), West Indies ‘drawing’ the curtains in December 1993.
We thanked everyone for allowing us to tick the box on the 5th Colombo test cricket ground, though it's not really Colombo. The same way you say you play in Kandy, and not Pallekele.
As it's no longer a test cricket ground, if Tyronne Fernando can give anything to Sri Lanka Cricket, it’s their scoreboard. It is unfathomable that Galle International Cricket Stadium does not have one of Sri Lanka’s iconic scoreboards yet Moratuwa does. Even with names and numbers on players' backs, it is near impossible to know who's playing in a test match in Galle.
Visiting Colombo Test Cricket Grounds is a cracking way to invest an arvo, especially if you can time bar closing hours (2pm – 5pm, everywhere).