January 4 saw 14 St Andrean cricketers head to the dustbowls of Sri Lanka, a healthy mixture of fresh-faced players wanting to prove a point, and experienced campaigners looking to leave behind their own legacy at the club. Having been met at the airport in the early hours by our guide, former Sri Lankan cricketer Tony Opatha and his trusty aide Kamal, we were shown our transport for the two weeks, an ancient, double-decker bus, resplendent in pink and white racing stripes. Despite riding this monstrosity, we pressed on with optimism in our hearts and the immortal words of KC & The Sunshine Band on our lips.
The beautiful city of Kandy played host to us for the first half of our tour. Following a very ropey, jet-lagged training session on a wicker-mat pitch, the team took to the field against a Combined Kandy Universities team on a searing hot morning at the Peradinya University Ground. Bowling first, our creaking President, Ali Stokes, got us off to a flyer, removing the opener in the first over. However, after that, a combination of good batting and mounting extras meant the Sri Lankans maintained a rocketing run-rate. Despite tidy spells from the soul-mates, Messrs Earnshaw and Abbott, this meant the hosts posted 257 for 5 after 40 overs, a tough but achievable target for the Seagulls.
In strode the familiar opening pair of Arthur and Earnshaw, the latter sporting a GoPro that would in time become the mandatory ‘cursed object’ of the tour. Needless to say the, first ball of the tour – a harmless half-tracker – was slapped straight to short cover by Earnshaw, sparking memories of the previous Seagulls tour to Barbados when John Lowe was out on his first ever ball for the university; the incident (caught on the GoPro and immortalised in the tour diary) is certainly worth a watch on YouTube! Unfortunately, Earnshaw’s dismissal saw the rain emerge – clearly the weather Gods were as appalled with the shot as his teammates – rain that was there to stay, meaning the match was abandoned after just one over of the reply. Despite the lack of cricket, the rain gave the players a chance to rediscover their football and rugby skills; inevitably the ‘Gulls were found lacking in both disciplines. This was quickly attributed to the Lion beer and local Arrack liquor, two beverages that made more than several appearances during the tour.
Match 1 vs Kandy Universities (Match Abandoned):
Kandy Universities 257-5 (40 overs) STAUMCC 1-1 (1 over)
Earnshaw 1-20 (8 overs) Everett 0*
Abbott 1-32 (8 overs) Arthur 0*
Day 3 saw the ‘Gulls take on Dharmasoka Old Boys at the strikingly beautiful oval of the school, high above the city, causing the overloaded bus to struggle up the hill just to make the ground. A few of the team were delighted to hear Captain Jolo announce we were batting, having spent the previous night polishing off several bottles of rum – the self-proclaimed ‘Grande Fromage’ Robinson wandering around the hotel in just a dressing-gown being one of the more disturbing sights of tour. On a flat but dusty pitch, the Seagulls really didn’t equip themselves well with both bat and ball, succumbing to the first trial by spin, and then being taken apart by the left-handed opener with a bright future.
Match 2 vs Dharmasoka Old Boys at Dharmasoka (won by 10 wickets):
STAUMCC 119-10 (30 overs) Dharmasoka 120-0 (10.4 overs)
January 8th was the date of the presidential elections, and so the alcohol curfew imposed was an unwelcome proposition for the team. Yet, a quiet word from Tony and some undisclosed bartering from Tansher Singh, ensured the end of the first double-header was celebrated suitably. A few lived to regret this on the next day, as the squad headed up the staggeringly beautiful, yet very twisty road to Nuwara Eliya, a place affectionately known as ‘Little England’. Having stopped on route at a tea-plantation and enjoyed a three-course meal at The Hill Club, a hunting lodge which (ironically) wouldn’t have been out of place in Scotland, the majority of the squad took to the 125 year old Nuwara Eliya golf course in an attempt to clear sore heads. In spite of several air shots on the first tee, a thoroughly entertaining day was had by all. The following days saw several members try their hands at haggling in the local markets – with very mixed results – a trip to the ancient Temple of the Tooth, and a stop-over at an elephant sanctuary on route to Bentota, our next stop.
The road to Bentota was a very harrowing one. The destruction, debris and mass graves caused by the tsunami were still evident, even 10 years on. One of the places destroyed was the venue for our next match. A perfect example to the way cricket and cricketing organisations played such a huge role in the aftermath of the disaster, the Seenigama Surrey Oval had reopened in 2007, having been completely rebuilt with the help of Surrey County Cricket Club. Another picturesque ground, it was a perfect place for the ‘Gulls to try and set an imposing total, having won the toss. Fresher Everett, along with Loughton and Robinson, ensured a good start to the innings, with Everett scoring his first half-century for the club. However, despite the astro-turf wicket, spin started to slow us down, which combined with wickets regularly falling, meant 196 was set, a mediocre total but one that was certainly defendable. Some lusty hitting at the end from Stokes and Chadwick gave the scoreboard a glossier sheen but we widely agreed we came up around 40 runs short. Frustratingly, our bowling once again wasn’t good enough and their openers took full toll of some loose balls and a small ground to put the game beyond us early on. Despite the Seagulls trying everything, including captain Lowe applying blood to the ball having split his webbing (an injury that would hinder the rest of his tour) the opposition were able to wrap up the win with time to spare. Special mention goes to Haines, another fresher, who picked up his first wicket for the club.
Match 3 vs Seenigama (Seenigama won by 4 wickets):
STAUMCC 196-9 (40 overs) Seenigama 197-4 (22.2 overs)
Everett 57 Haines 1-22 (2 overs)
Loughton 33 Singh 1-33 (3 overs)
That elusive first win on tour eventually came about at the Galle International Stadium, a place we were all honoured to play at. Bowling first, everything clicked and the bowlers found some rhythm. The opening pair of Stokes and Chopra was tight and they were superbly backed up by Earnshaw, Chadwick, Abbott and Haines, in particular, who finished with figures of 4-12, at one point being on a hat-trick, a ball he then decided to bang in halfway down the pitch and was lucky not to see end up in the sea. In response, there were contributions throughout the top order, with many retiring their innings to allow everyone an opportunity to bat. A middle order collapse, sparked by the dreaded GoPro now being worn by Singh (another golden duck for the by then cursed GoPro), put the Seagulls momentarily on edge, but Soneji and Abbott guided the ‘Gulls to their first victory.
Match 4 vs Galle CC (STAUMCC won by 3 wickets):
Galle 102-10 (26.2 overs) STAUMCC 105-7 (19.5 overs)
Haines 4-12 (5 overs) Everett 22
Stokes 2-23 (5 overs) Arthur 20
Victory in match four sparked wild celebrations within the squad. Having enjoyed a post-match stroll around the ancient fort that overlooks the stadium and downtown Galle, we indulged in a fantastic barbeque, laid on by our tour sponsor, Sri Tea. The bus journey back to the hotel was fuelled by Arrack and dubious renditions of the tour playlist and Barmy Army songbook. That night saw the majority of the squad mingle with other guests at the hotel, Ukrainians and Russians alike; one member in particular (Betley) seemed to enjoy the company of the Russians. The next day was an opportunity to clear our heads and enjoy the beautiful Bentota beach and lagoon before travelling to our penultimate game the following day.
Our fifth match against Darmapatharaja Old Boys saw one of the best St Andrews’ batting displays in recent years, led by a stunning maiden century by Max Arthur, off just 75 balls. On a good pitch, Arthur went after the bowling from ball one, striking the ball extremely cleanly, ending up with 20 boundaries and 6 maximums in his 137. Arthur, along with useful contributions from Robinson and Everett, meant the ‘Gulls posted 303-8 in their 40 overs. In response, the bowling was very tight and the fielding electric in the heat, not allowing the opposition to get anywhere near the target. A mammoth victory of 181 runs was a superb result for stand-in skipper, Everett, on his captaincy debut.
Match 5 vs Darmapatharaja Old Boys (STAUMCC won by 181 runs):
STAUMCC 303-8 (40 overs) Darmapatharaja 102-10 (26.2 overs)
Arthur 137 Earnshaw 4-23 (7 overs)
Everett 38 Chopra 3-29 (5 overs)
The final match of tour, against Old Cot XI, turned out to be the tightest and most competitive match for the Seagulls. Batting first, a good second wicket partnership between Everett and Stokes seemed to be building a solid platform for a good total, but once again, spin proved to be the ‘Gulls downfall, losing 7 wickets for under 40 runs. Some intelligent, lower-order batting from a one-handed Lowe, Abbott and Haines pushed the total to respectable 162, but we knew some good bowling was still required to seal victory. In spite of an expensive first over, Stokes, in partnership with Abbott, restricted the opposition’s run-scoring. Stokes was very unfortunate not to pick up a wicket but helped Abbott pick up 3. Some equally tight bowling from Loughton and Earnshaw, who picked up 3 wickets between them, ensured the match, and a hugely enjoyable tour, was pushed to the bitter end.
Match 6 vs Old Cot XI (Old Cot XI won by 3 wickets):
STAUMCC 152-10 (38 overs) Old Cot XI 155-7 (28.2 overs)
Everett 42 Abbott 3-38 (8 overs)
Stokes 38 Earnshaw 2-14 (2.2 overs)