England’s first away whitewash in a series of 3 Tests or more since 1963 was in anyone’s but Rameez Raja’s book a momentous achievement. Whether you witnessed one, two or all three matches in Sri Lanka you will have been in no doubt that the exciting brand of Test cricket being played by Rooty’s merry men heralds a steady progression back towards the coveted number one team ranking.
Off the field this tour proved to be a tough challenge for me and fellow tour managers Jamie Mann, Andrew Strawford and Ashleigh Lloyd. It also resulted in tragedy when for the first time Barmy Travel experienced the death of a client on tour.
Peter Marples was just 61 years old when along with Dave Johnstone, his drinking pal from Dorking, Surrey, he set out to watch the first two Tests in Galle and Kandy. Though Pete was not in the best of health no one could have foreseen that breathing difficulties caused by the intense heat and humidity would lead to an admission to hospital, followed by the contraction of pneumonia and ultimately multiple organ failure when he simply wasn’t strong enough to pull through. We take comfort in the fact that his brother Chris was at his bedside when he passed away and he died whilst doing what he loved, watching and supporting the England Cricket Team.
I learned of Pete’s passing from his brother during the evening of Day 3 of the third and final Test. The following day we all gathered on the grass bank under the scoreboard to mark our respects with a minute’s silence followed by a minute’s applause. The latter was intended as an acknowledgment of Pete’s love for his football club, Norwich City fittingly standing at the top of the Championship at the time of his death. It was very poignant when we saw the England team and back room staff were also taking part. We know how much they value our support and I guess this was one small way of acknowledging it.
Though this tragic event naturally overshadowed the last two Tests I guess life had to go on and our 200 plus Barmy Travel clients still had a fantastic experience on this wonderful island.
Here are some of the highlights of the tour both on and off the field:
Our clients landed in Sri Lanka courtesy of Sri Lanka Airlines and Etihad Airways and after a 4 hour coach journey from Colombo airport took up residence in two beach resort hotels, The Long Beach, Koggala and the Citrus Hikkaduwa. The clients soon made themselves acquainted with Lion Beer, Sri Lankan curries and wonderful seafood in readiness for the cricket.
With it’s stunning backdrop of the 16th century Fort and the sparkling Indian Ocean, Galle International Stadium looks drop dead gorgeous on the TV and is, quite rightly, one of THE iconic must-visit away Test venues. Unfortunately the fact that it sits on a World Heritage Site means that it is unable to be improved and developed to any extent and the facilities at best can be described as rudimentary when compared with modern cricket venues. Fortunately everyone soon became accustomed to the conditions and England, courtesy of magnificent centuries by Foakes in the first innings and Jennings in the second, dominated the match winning here for first the first time in five attempts by a massive 211 runs.
On the evening of Day 3 we all headed to the famous beach resort of Unawatuna for the traditional Barmy Army charity party featuring Billy ‘The Trumpet’ Cooper and Barmy favourite and England legend Matt Prior. Rain in biblical proportions threatened to wash out proceedings but we were able soldier through and across the tour over £5K was raised for the deserving and well established charity Their Future Today.
The Hikkaduwa contingent had an extra treat when en route we used our coach to pick up Matt from his hotel and one of England’s finest ever wicketkeeper batsmen willingly joined in the banter en route to the party.
Away from cricket it’s a fact that England’s winter tours generally clash with the Autumn rugby internationals and it’s always a challenge trying to find TV coverage. Fortunately our hotels pulled out all the stops with big screen streamed coverage and accompanying barbecues meaning we could witness England lose narrowly to the World Champion All Blacks by a single point in an exciting match that could have gone either way.
The Sunday immediately after the end of the Test was of course the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day. There was a huge turn out on Galle Fort as English Supporters came together at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day for a traditional service based on the one held at the Cenotaph. It was an emotional occasion as Billy performed The Last Post and the National Anthem rang out.
A couple of days of beach time and battery recharge then followed before we headed en masse to Kandy, the ancient capital of Sri Lanka and one of the significant cradles of the majority Buddhist faith. Kandy is a year round tourist destination and the high hotel occupancy meant that we were forced to spread our large group over 5 hotels making the 40 minute coach transfer to Pallekele Stadium for the Test a daily logistical test.
I was fortunate enough to have visited this wonderful stadium during the ODI Tour of 2014 and had been looking forward to England’s first ever Test match here immensely. In my opinion this is one of the best in Asia with the only real negative being its out of town location.
Rooty won his second successive toss of the series and proceeded to demonstrate why he is one of the top three batsmen in world cricket compiling a superb and ultimately match winning century.
This match will live long in the memory for one of our clients in particular. Richard ‘Tiny’ Nicholls turned himself into a tour celebrity by first taking a superb crowd catch from a towering Sam Curran six and then, with the help of his partner Sophie Davies, he gave first aid to Zena, a fellow Barmy Travel tourist who became overcome with heat exhaustion and had collapsed needing medical attention.
Day 2 evening was our traditional exclusive Barmy Travel Q&A event and the clients made their way to the Royal Kandyan Hotel for a few hot snacks, a couple of beers and an evening of cricket chat. Hosted by regular stalwart Jonathan Agnew the panel consisted of eminent and respected cricket writer and journalist George Dobell plus award winning professional photographer Philip Brown.
I had been trying for years to get Brownie to come and talk to us about his career and achievements so I in particular was thrilled to be able to finally nail him down. He was introduced by a showing of this montage of his work set to music which enthralled the audience to the point you could hear a pin drop. In the ensuing chat he brought the house down during a discussion on batting orders. Aggers was debating England’s issues at the top of the line up when Brownie interjected “you’ll always be a number two to me, Jonathan”.
England clinched the series victory early on Day 5 and as part of the post match celebrations we made a coach drop off at the wonderful Slightly Chilled Bar on a hill overlooking the city. An impromptu victory party headed well into the evening with a medley of Barmy songs ringing out over the hills that was so loud one of my friends in a hotel at least half a mile away across the valley texted me to say he could hear us loud and clear!
The following day meant an excursion to Sigiriya, another of the island’s nineteen World Heritage Sites. Climbing this 200 metre high rocky plateau takes quite a lot of stamina and a head for heights. It was a shame that not everyone on the trip was able to make it to the top where the stunning views across the lakes and forest make it well worth the effort.
Then another long coach trip to the Capital for the final Test. It would take far too long to explain what it’s like to travel on the roads of Sri Lanka. They certainly aren’t very good and dual carriageways are few and far between. Let’s just say you don’t really go very fast and the rules of the road are unrecognisable from what we are used to. Suffice it to say the coach drivers are utterly brilliant and their spatial awareness is breath taking.
A large proportion of the group had elected to stop off en route at Pinnawala Elephant orphanage, another tourist must. Sadly the heavy rains meant the river was flowing high and fast preventing them from witnessing the elephants bathing - generally the high point of the whole experience. They’ll just have to come back!
As a surprise, I organised a stop at Geragama Tea Factory, one of the oldest in Sri Lanka. This proved a massive hit as we were shown round the original hundred year old machines by a superb guide and talked through the entire process, ending with a delicious (and free) cuppa.
And finally to Global Towers, Colombo where for the first time the group, now numbering ninety nine, could all be together in the same hotel. Anyone disappointed by the standard of service they received here should acknowledge that mid range hotels in Sri Lanka find it difficult to retain staff with good English. As soon as they become proficient they get snapped up for a few more rupees an hour by the numerous high end establishments. The result is staff with limited English who give the appearance they understand what they are being asked because as you talk to them they nod and smile. However this isn’t always the case and it can be frustrating when your request isn’t immediately fulfilled. Fortunately I think most of the clients understand that the next level of hotel would raise the price of the package - maybe even to the point that it would put people against coming altogether.
Away from the historic series whitewash win featuring a superb century by Jonny Bairstow at number 3, the week featured great nights at the Chillax bar adjoining the hotel watching the England rugby boys smash the Wallabies and on the final night the “The Don” - our head guide - performed a Magic Show and brought the house down, sometimes unintentionally. Speaking of guides, Viran aka Travis (Viran to his peers, Travis to the clients) became the star of the Barmy Army End of Tour Party, jumping up on stage with ‘Sri Lanka’s Best Covers Band’ to perform his signature song “Country Roads, Take me Home” to rapturous applause.
Finally, on the way to the airport the tour was brought to end with the traditional End of Tour Song, adapted accordingly each series:
Set to the tune of ‘When this Bloody War is Over”:
When this bloody tour is over, oh, how happy I will be (I will be)
On the plane back home to England
No more rip off SLC
No more crappy plastic seating,
No more sweeping very ball (every ball?!)
We’ll remind the Tuk Tuk drivers,
Of how the Lankans lost in Galle
Lost in Galle, lost in Galle
We’ll remind the Tuk Tuk drivers how the Lankans lost in Galle.
- Andy Thompson, Barmy Army Tour Manager