Why I Love Sri Lanka… A North American takes a crack at playing one the world’s biggest sports
Change of Plans
The wind turning onshore from the Bay of Bengal puts a damper on our group’s afternoon surf plans. The waves at Pottuvil Point on Sri Lanka’s east coast are sloppy now but Kenny, our local driver, assures us the day’s not a loss and makes a crafty detour to his village. The teen darts into his folks’ shop and reemerges in seconds from between the plywood fruit stands, one hand twirling a rectangular bat, the other balancing two chewed-up leather balls. I’ve seen that meaty piece of wood before – the batsman’s tool in the game of cricket.
My spectator’s passion for cricket is tipping five years now since first learning about the foreign and confusing game (says the Canuck) in a South African pub. Now, living in Australia, it’s usually a hot topic of chatter around the office water cooler. I love watching it on TV with the mates but haven’t actually played the sport before.
Ben, Charlie and I are crammed in a back seat for two, balancing the cricket bat across our knees. The two Aussies — who I work with in Brisbane — and I have been scoring exceptional waves during our week-long surf expedition in Sri Lanka, so we can’t complain about today’s bit of bad wind. Kenny’s rickshaw sputters and off we go to possibly the humblest game of cricket ever assembled.
Take Me Out to the Ball Game
We weave between dozens of docile cattle sunning themselves in the middle of the dirt road. Kenny punches the brakes and the rickshaw fishtails to a stop in front of a vast, open field surrounded by distant palm trees. Each of us flaps our arms through the turbulent dust. Villagers are warming up in the dirt field, getting ready for action.
For North Americans, who generally know little to nothing of cricket, the ball is bowled at the batter. No, not like in bowling alley, silly. Like a pitch in baseball, but the cricket ball must bounce once on the way to the batter. For the first inning, I’m out in the field and away from any of the action. Two limber Pottuvil kids strategically stand close by to help me field any balls hit my way. I get the sense that, given my larger frame, they think I’m slow and lumbering. After three quick wickets (cricket-speak for “outs”), it’s our turn to bat.
The Heavy Hitter
Charlie is bowling for the other squad and my team insists I bat first. He and Ben have played cricket their whole lives, so skill level takes a nosedive when I’m called up. Given my wide shoulders and association with the talented Aussies, the Sri Lankans assume I’m a power hitter. My teammates clap with encouragement and guide me in front of the stumps — three sticks jammed into the dirt. They’re like a broomstick, although only about a foot high. If the ball makes contact with the stumps, it’s a wicket (or “you’re outta here!”).
They have me believing in myself. How hard can it be to track a bouncing ball and smack it with this huge device? In my mind, there’s way more surface area with which to make contact versus the traditional baseball bat. Way too easy, like fish in a barrel!
“Gimme some pepper, Charlie!” I shout before he begins his run up. The ball catapults from his hand. I got this!
SMASH! The cricket stumps explode behind me. There’s no joy in Pottuvil — mighty Zack Klamn has struck out!
“Ha! That enough pepper for you?” Charlie cracks, “At least have a swing at it next time, mate.”
A Second Chance and Far Beyond
Swing at what? Once the ball hit the dirt, it was like it disappeared. Charlie made quick work of me. I should be taking my place on the sidelines again, but the locals insist I keep trying to bat. Their confidence in me is unwavering. Do they think that first dismal display was just a bit of bad luck?
They put the stumps back together as I collect the cricket ball. “Charlie, maybe not as spicy this time,” I declare as I toss it back. He nods with a keen chuckle.
Five more bowls with the same result. How am I this bad? I cannot make any contact. Some of Charlie’s teammates try to bowl, but every single one is unhittable for me. By the time I swing the bat forward, the ball is already behind me in the catcher’s hands or knocking over the wooden stumps for yet another out. Dude, you suck! Frustration sets in. I’m handy with a baseball bat, but I cannot get the mechanics right with this wooden cricket contraption.
An Easy Target
“One more bowl.” Kenny puts up a lone finger and ushers in an eight-year-old kid to face me.
Yes! Surely I got this. I bang the bat in the dirt and point at the young’un, hoping my size may psych him out. Here comes the wind up, the lad flicks his wrist and the ball is whizzing at me with a great deal of spin. I got it lined up, look out world, I’m gone crush this…
CRACK! The wooden stumps fall over onto the earth.
“Ohhhhh, gone!” Charlie laughs from field.
As they say in baseball, big whiffer! With one hand, I swing the bat once again towards the pipsqueak trickster, whose surgical bowling precision has me smiling at the dirt and humorously disgusted with myself.
A giggling Ben pats me on the shoulder on my walk of shame back to the team. He takes the bat from me, it’s his turn now. The kid tries the same deceptive spin bowl attempt on my Aussie friend. Ben spanks it over everyone’s heads, so deep into the field that the balls rolls into a patch of jungle. “See mate, that’s how it’s done!” he shouts to me.
Like Charlie, he’s either a top-notch cricketer or my act wasn’t too tough to follow. I’ll call it both.
Don’t Be A Stranger!
Thanks for reading another Tacks on a Map story, I’d be happy to hear any comments or suggestions. Adios amigos!