The murmurs have been around for a while, and they’ve now finally come to the surface. Sri Lanka’s players and team management are far from pleased that they have been forced to play first in Hambantota and then Pallekele, and will only get to their beloved R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo if they get past the Super Eights.
Even given that this is an International Cricket Council tournament and not a bilateral home series for Sri Lanka, it’s impossible to have no sympathy for the home team. After all, while it’s great to be taking in new venues if you’re a visitor or tourist, for the players the focus remains on giving themselves the best chance to win. To this end, the long inter-city bus journeys have already elicited moaning tweets from some.
From the point of view of the organisers, though, you can see why they would want Sri Lanka matches at all venues. Colombo has a big enough cricket market and a population ready to lap up even matches not involving Sri Lanka. The West Indies-Australia match in Colombo was a big success, but even this is likely to be dwarfed by the forthcoming India-Pakistan encounter. In order to ramp up ticket sales in venues such as Hambantota and Pallekele, it made sense to have Sri Lanka play there.
Beyond having to travel around the country, there was further irritation for Sri Lanka on Wednesday (September 26), as their practice session ahead of the game against New Zealand was slotted at the Asgiriya International Cricket Stadium. While this is a ground steeped in tradition, with an old-world charm about it, the outfield is well worn and patchy. This is perfectly adequate for the venue as it is really only a school ground, but international cricketers are used to far better. They certainly expect more in the middle of an event like the ICC World Twenty20.
Graham Ford, Sri Lanka’s coach, admitted that the situation was not ideal. “I don’t know if preparations are ever perfect,” he said. “You do what you can. Ideally we would have liked to have had a session down at Pallekele. I think we’re the only team in the group that hasn’t had a session down there, so that’s a bit of a disadvantage. We thought we were going to get a session but unfortunately didn’t. A bit hard here because the outfield is not conducive for fielding practice and the nets have got a bit tired towards the end. It hasn’t been ideal, but at the end of the day you’ve got to make what you can of what you’ve got.”
While Ford’s grouse is legitimate, Wisden India has learnt that the established protocol for requesting a session at a certain ground at a certain time is to write to the relevant authority in the tournament organising committee a day before the desired practice. It’s learnt, however, that Sri Lankan team officials only sought the change late on Tuesday night, and by this time it was already too late to accommodate them.
Ford, however, hoped that his team could take this hardship and turn it into an inspiration. “The work rate in the last few days has been fantastic,” he said. Hopefully there’s a determination and a steeliness that has come into the group. It has been a little tough. We’re also the only team likely to play at three different venues. It hasn’t been home advantage all the way. But hopefully the determination comes through, and we’re able to play with a lot of character tomorrow.”