Columnists 11.7.2018 11:55 am

Behind that wall is a diamond in the rough

Jaco van der Merwe.

Jaco van der Merwe.

Galle International Stadium is one book you shouldn’t judge by its cover.

If you were to ask most international players to compile a list of their favourite cricketing destinations, the usual suspects are sure to feature strongly on most.

Lord’s, the Sydney Cricket Ground, Eden Gardens, Newlands, the Wanderers and those idyllic Caribbean destinations like Sabina Park and Kensington Oval.

These stadia are revered for either their rich heritage, their famous stands or characteristics, their beautiful settings or maybe a combination of a few.

When you turn on your television tomorrow to watch the first Test between Sri Lanka and the Proteas and you see the unusual brownish wall that acts as backdrop to the Galle International Stadium, the scenery might not bowl you over first ball like the sight of the famous Pavilion Stand at Lord’s or the majestic Wynberg overlooking Newlands.

But this is one book you shouldn’t judge by its cover.

Galle International Stadium and its fort. (Photo by Tom Shaw/Getty Images)

I did once and ate humble pie.

The ground might only have been on the international circuit for as little as two decades, far less than its famous contemporaries, but the combination of the ground, the brownish monstrosity that is in fact the majestic Galle Fort and the sheer beauty of the surrounding coastline makes this a diamond in the rough.

Because there are no domestic commercial flights on the island, your options of making your way 129km south of the capital Colombo are limited to either road or train.

And in typical subcontinental style, that distance by car will take you close to three hours and even longer by railroad.

I can attest to the fact that the train trip definitely feels much longer if you are hung over and after getting off in Galle’s very rural station back in 2004 making my way from the comfy surrounds of Colombo as a travelling cricket
hack, it took me another hour in a three-wheeler taxi to my hotel and (what felt like) another hour carrying my heavy suitcase from reception along the hot sand to reach my final destination.

Still nursing my sore hands, cursing the daily two-hour round trip to town that awaited me for the next week and ruing the fact that I probably had five loopdops too many the night before, I was hit by the sobering reality as a wave broke a few metres in front of my beach front cabin to make me realise how privileged I was.

I fell in love immediately and my heart has been yearning to go back there non-stop for the next 14 years.

And I suspect things are still pretty much the same .

The mighty Portuguese-built fort that survived the magnitude of the tsunami later that very same year, which houses a little harbour, a hotel – said to be haunted – restaurants, shops and houses.

My hotel, with all the European holidaymakers ranging from pale white to lobster red, sipping on those dirt-cheap local beers.

That beach bar down the road where the foam breaks over your feet under your table during sunset.

The humble people that are always happy and treat their guests with a smile.

And finally the under-appreciated cricket ground, which was built in 1876 as a racecourse and is flanked by the Indian Ocean on both sides of the fort.

If Galle doesn’t top players’ lists of hidden cricketing gems, they’re spoilt brats, like a reporter I once knew…

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10 November 2018 TURFFONTEIN

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