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King Cricket reader and semi-regular contributor Ritesh Banglani writes…
Cricket-wise, the summer of 2019 was a frenetic time in the Banglani household.
It started with the boys, then almost 7 and 5, attending their first ever cricket coaching camp. Hidden talents were discovered – the younger son’s forward defensive and the older one’s barely-in-control left arm spin; temperaments unveiled – the usually calm 7-year old turning into a compulsive puller at the crease. The first few games of the World Cup coincided with an international trip I took with my parents, where the cricket competed for our attention with my cousin’s wedding. Weeks before, my father had sent our hosts an urgent inquiry about the status and speed of the WiFi network, so we could keep track of the India-Australia game while the couple was reading their vows. I didn’t have such foresight, and had booked my return ticket to coincide with the game against Pakistan, and as a result spent a small fortune to watch a pixelated and constantly buffering telecast of the match 32,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean.
After having gone through such tribulations, the least we expected from our cricketers was to win the thing. But as my younger son explained so eloquently, “they had made all their runs in the earlier matches”. Suddenly, instead of a weekend of anticipation followed by a Sunday night of triumph, we were staring at an eternity of emptiness. Luckily, we got an attractive last-minute offer to spend a long weekend in Sri Lanka, and soon found ourselves in Bentota for a weekend of R&R.
The holiday began very well, with the older son fulfilling his second-biggest lifelong ambition of piloting a motorboat (the biggest, of being a third umpire in a Test match, may take a bit longer).
There were only two minor annoyances: first, everyone we met told my wife that she has a Sri Lankan name; second, everyone had an opinion on why India lost the semi-final. One particularly perceptive taxi driver diagnosed India’s problems to be arising from the absence of “someone like Aravinda” in the team.
The morning of the final began like any other during the low season in Bentota. Over a breakfast of hoppers and sambol, we were entertained by Magic Kumara, the hotel’s glorious resident magician.
We then decided to take the train from the town’s charming little train station, which overlooks a beautiful beachside cricket ground.
The train took us to Galle, and through the entire journey we were bombarded with opinions on the final. Jofra Archer was surprisingly popular in southern Sri Lanka, and a few people were inexplicably rooting for Dan Vettori. One clever young man used the cricket conversation to gain our confidence and attempt a rather transparent tourist scam, but we were alert to his charms and repeatedly brought the conversation back to the final.
The Galle fort is truly spectacular, not least because it overlooks one of the world’s loveliest cricket grounds. Sitting on the best seats overlooking the ground, I told the boys the story of Virender Sehwag’s 201* in a total score of 329 on this ground. The older son observed that if you swam south from Galle fort you would encounter no land for 7,000km till you see the penguins.
The final started while we were in the taxi back from Galle. The children get carsick, so we decided not to watch the game on the phone but rather follow its progress on Cricinfo every 10-15 minutes. Back in the hotel room we cracked open a six pack of Elephant House ginger beer and a large pack of devilled cashews (Sri Lanka’s finest snack/drink combination) while we watched the rest of the New Zealand innings.
During the innings break, we went to the beach.
Since this was the off-season, dinner was a buffet-style affair in the main restaurant. The fish curry was excellent, and we encountered a delightful vegetable we had never eaten before – Dambala, a bean that tasted somewhat like bok choy but was somehow both crunchier and juicier. Our only complaint was that there was no TV in the restaurant to watch the cricket.
Back in the room, the kids were tired after a long day of travel, so we decided it was bedtime for them. That meant no TV in the room either. No matter, the innings was still only halfway through, so we waited for the kids to sleep and snuck out to the hotel bar to watch some cricket. We had barely worked our way through one drink when they said it was closing time. At 9pm. On the night of the World Cup final!
All this had considerably dampened my wife’s mood, so she decided to go to bed too, leaving me alone to figure out where to watch the game. “How” was not a problem because I had a mobile phone and WiFi.
First, I sat in the hotel lobby till it became both physically and socially uncomfortable, the hotel staff surely judging me as the guy who has been kicked out of the room. Then I crept into bed where my wife and one son had already spread out, and watched under the covers so the light wouldn’t bother them. Just as things had started to get exciting, my earphones ran out of battery. I considered waking up my whole family at that point, but decided that marital happiness was marginally more important than the events on the field. So I went out to the little patio/balcony and watched at the lowest volume possible. Sri Lanka, I soon learnt, has mosquitoes the size of small elephants, and they all wanted to watch cricket with me that night. Then I walked back to the lobby in my pyjamas and bunny slippers, this time without earphones, the very picture of a man with nothing left to lose.
It was thus that I ended up watching the end of the World Cup final, hunched over a tiny screen in a hotel lobby in Bentota with the night clerk for company, both of us letting out little yelps of delight into the night.