Bangladesh in Sri Lanka, 2016-17 March 21, 2017

Good in Galle, great in Colombo

Our correspondent tucks into the joys Sri Lanka offers, and is on hand for an epic win for his team

Sunset at Galle fort Mohammad Isam / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

March 5
The first person I meet at the airport in Colombo is a taxi driver called Sham, who I lose track of immediately. I am supposed to follow him, but having lost sight of him, I walk nearly out of the airport. Luckily he is also looking for me, and we find each other again. We end up chatting about Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and what great friendships can be like. I wake colleague Andrew Fidel Fernando up in the middle of the night and crash at his place.

In the morning we head to Galle, where the ocean meets the fort and then you see the stadium. I find Shakib Al Hasan first thing, because I happen to have some of his property, including his Test cap, which I hand over.

March 6
Bangladesh coach Chandika Hathurusingha is catching up with old friends back home. It is a proud occasion for him, to have the opportunity to coach a team against the country he played for. The same applies for batting consultant Thilan Samaraweera, who has a more recent history with Sri Lanka.

I speak to Samaraweera about the Galle pitch, which he believes will be very good for batting. He says it reminds him of the time he played here against New Zealand. He also tells me how he knows what the Sri Lanka bowling attack for the first Test will be: traditionally they don't let the bowlers in the XI do any training on the eve of the match.

We take a walk around Galle fort, marvelling at the architecture of the churches, mosques and temples. The sunset is amazing, and then the evening is taken over by writing for the next day.

The Bangla pack: touring journalists sit together in the Galle press box away from their local counterparts Mohammad Isam / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

March 7
The two packs of journalists are seated separately at the Galle International Stadium, and the Bangladeshis seem to outnumber the Sri Lankans. It was the same in New Zealand when Bangladesh played there, and nearly so in India.

The home side are slightly lucky when Kusal Mendis survives a first-ball dismissal after Subashis Roy oversteps the crease. Mendis ends the day on an unbeaten 166, and the hosts play like they usually do against Bangladesh.

I meet Chanul, Sayoni and Minari, the children of Rasika and Roshan, who are the owners of Secret Palace, the guest house Fidel and I are staying in. Minari is a baby, while I met Chanul in 2013, when she was around two.

March 8
We watch the first session from the top of the Galle fort, a first-time experience for me. At one point, Mendis hoicks Roy over fine leg, where Mustafizur Rahman takes the catch and throws the ball back in, having stepped over the boundary rope. Subashis has no idea it's not a wicket and celebrates by lifting his hands and screaming loudly. Niroshan Dickwella tries to show him that it is a six, while the umpire signals six. The three end up with raised hands at the same time, making a great picture.

We go to a restaurant called The Elita, joking that it's in honour of the Bangladeshi singer Elita Karim. We take a photo under the neon sign and enjoy some grilled fish.

Ace correspondent and ace cook: a meal by Andrew Fidel Fernando Mohammad Isam / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

March 9
During the lunch break, we head off to an ocean-side restaurant to do a video shoot. Galle is probably one of the best places in the world to watch Test cricket because of how you can just pop out and enjoy the fort, the beach, and then head back in again - all within the space of a lunch break.

Bangladesh contrive to be bowled out for 312 in the first innings, after having starting the day on 133 for 2. Only Mushfiqur Rahim seems to have the stomach for a fight. Soumya Sarkar tells the press that only Mushfiqur bhai played Test cricket. I end up having a rant in our video analysis. It makes Fidel laugh, reminding him of how ranty he felt in South Africa a few months ago.

At night we run into the Bangladesh coaching staff, who are being given a tour of the fort by local boy and Sri Lanka bowling coach Champaka Ramanayake.

March 10
On the day the Galle Test attracts its largest crowd, Sri Lanka bat long in their second innings. The declaration comes only after Dinesh Chandimal reaches his fifty. Bangladesh get through the 15 overs left without losing a wicket.

Taijul Islam and his wife are walking around the streets of the fort when we ask them to join us for dinner. They politely decline and continue walking towards the ramparts. Later, Courtney Walsh walks past the ice-cream stand near which some of us are eating pizza. He points to my plate and says that it is never empty. Everyone laughs; I don't.

March 11
Bangladesh's day starts in comical fashion, when Sarkar can't fathom Asela Gunaratne's pace - or lack of it. He is bowled off the second ball of the day, and even thinks about reviewing it, thinking he has been given out caught behind, since he didn't really see it brush the bails. Later Mominul Haque does review one, and then walks back to the pavilion before the ruling comes in, stopping a number of times on the way before finally seeing the review isn't in his favour. Bangladesh fold quickly, adding just 130 runs to their overnight total.

We wander the streets of Galle fort one last time, ending up at Pedlar's Café for dinner, where our table is a door.

A view of the ground from Galle fort Mohammad Isam / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

March 12
We check out of quaint Secret Palace and get the bus to Colombo. Most of us sleep on the way. I head to the ground first thing after arrival. I have been to the P Sara Oval before, having, in fact, fielded there in a 20-overs game a few years ago. It is still nestled away in one corner of Colombo, and has a lot of history attached to it. Don Bradman played here, of course, but the ground was also the venue of Sri Lanka's inaugural Test match, in 1982. The bar has photos of many past cricketers from Sri Lanka - including the likes of Mahadevan Sathasivam, who was rated highly by Garry Sobers back in the day.

It is optional training for Bangladesh. Kamrul Islam Rabbi, the young pace bowler, says he had a mild shock the previous evening when he heard that he was heading back home. A BCB press release had erroneously said so in an email about Imrul Kayes' inclusion for the second Test. Something similar happens the next day, with graver consequences.

March 13
A few minutes after the Bangladesh team head out of the P Sara dressing room, Mahmudullah walks back, looking distraught. When I say hello, he replies, but something seems amiss - especially when the rest of the team gathers in the middle and he is still in the dressing room. Bangladesh manager Khaled Mahmud confirms Mahmudullah is being sent back home. He has to say it again, on camera, in a bit, and within the hour, news arrives that BCB president Nazmul Hassan will hold a press conference in his office in Dhaka, at around 4pm. Hassan says pretty much the same thing Mahmud said in the morning. We wonder what all the fuss is about. You have to feel for Mahmudullah. A batsman in a bad patch goes through enough to have to be subject to such drama.

Fidel cooks us a fabulous concoction of Sri Lankan and Malaysian food at his house. The sambol is better than most I've had since 2011. Great food, the company of friends, and the cool Colombo breeze give us a respite from all the drama and confusion.

March 14
No more dramas during Bangladesh's training session, although we follow it closely to find out the batting line-up for the second Test. Mominul Haque bowling in the nets means he will be replaced by the man he is bowling to - Kayes. Mosaddek Hossain gets an early bat, which means he will replace Mahmudullah. Why is Sabbir Rahman also getting a long net? The answer comes an hour or so after training, when it becomes clear that Liton Das is injured. Bangladesh will go back to using Mushfiqur behind the stumps.

I write the preview pieces from atop a balcony that we spied the other day. The view is amazing, until the rain arrives, heavily, after sunset. We make it into a beachside restaurant, which is reached after crossing a rail track, which makes us wonder how those who get drunk go home. Two security guards ensure their passage across, apparently.

Local fish curry at the Elita in Galle Mohammad Isam / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

March 15
Bangladesh players, each wearing a specially made blazer, are presented with a medal and a guard of honour at the P Sara Oval, to celebrate their 100th Test. Mustafizur begins the game well for the tourists before the rest of the bowlers also contribute. Chandimal plays a subdued knock and gets to his eighth Test century.

When around mid-day the ICC chairman Shashank Manohar resigns and then the BCCI CEO Rahul Johri is spotted at the Colombo Test, the press box is abuzz with speculation, though some groan at the thought of another wave of administration-related news. Johri and the SLC president Thilanga Sumathipala hold a press conference where they announce a tri-series in Sri Lanka next year. Within the next hour, BCB president Hassan also holds one of his own, and after speaking of some ICC-related matters, he drops a bombshell - it was he who had Mahmudullah dropped for the second Test.

I meet Jeeshan Mirza, a fellow Bangladeshi, and his wife Shabina, who take me to dinner and then for ice cream to Carnival, a Colombo favourite. Jeeshan and I find we have an almost shared childhood growing up in Dhaka's Dhanmondi residential area, including a few cricket coaches in common.

March 16
Normal Test cricket: Sri Lanka are bowled out and Bangladesh begin well in their reply. Until the final half hour, when it turns into a comedy act. Bangladesh lose wickets in a cluster, while Sri Lanka misfield and drop catches. Bangladesh keep offering chances right till the end, Shakib contributing two in the space of eight balls but somehow managing to stay unbeaten at stumps.

Samaraweera looks and speaks like a man whose patience has been tested to the limit, which makes for a refreshing change from many other press conferences.

After work, we go to Hotel de Pilawoos to experience an all-night Colombo joint. We get the cheese kottu, which is stir-fried vegetables with cheese and roti. There's also a bit of godhamba roti, which is similar to the Mughlai porota in Bangladesh. Both are consumed quickly, but the spicy mutton curry takes a bit of time to go down.

The right sort of breakfast before a day of Test cricket Mohammad Isam / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

March 17
In a passing remark in our video analysis on the previous evening, I had said that Bangladesh would do well to follow Chandimal's example because of how he curbed his natural instinct to play shots and still remained successful in the game. The Bangladesh batsmen, especially Shakib, do a Chandimal, and later acknowledge the same.

March 18
Mustafizur takes three wickets to open up the game in the afternoon session, and then Dilruwan Perera tries to close it down with his forward press for the rest of the day. Time and again Bangladesh are frustrated, resulting in some heated exchanges between Sabbir Rahman, a reputed sledger, and Suranga Lakmal, who is moved away by Mushfiqur.

While heading home, our Uber is slammed from the left by another car. It is a sobering experience, but it is not the first time Fidel and I have been in an accident in Sri Lanka. Both cars suffer damage, though none of the five occupants are injured.

My plans for dinner at the Old Dutch Hospital don't change, although I see the irony of the name. The place is not a hospital these days but a shopping precinct. We run into Bangladesh trainer Mario Villavarayan and Walsh as they head out of the Ministry of Crab, the restaurant owned by Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. Walsh has a look at the empty plate in front of me and smiles. No raised eyebrows this time.

The ride back to the Fernando residence is unspectacular, almost disappointing me.

March 19
Lakmal continues to bat more attractively than Perera, with a carefully orchestrated front-foot, all-in defence. Bangladesh look alarmed as leg-before appeals are denied and edges sneak between the wicketkeeper and slips; heads start to drop and dirt gets kicked. Sri Lanka are eventually stopped with a 190-run lead, and the tension rises at the P Sara Oval. A few hours of jostling between Rangana Herath, Tamim Iqbal and Sabbir finish with Mushfiqur raising his arms in triumph even before Mehedi Hasan's sweep goes past the short fine leg.

Shakib heads back to the dressing room, where the cheers from within and their rendition of "Amra Korbo Joy" (We Shall Overcome), their official victory song, are the loudest thing in the ground. A beaming Tamim, his voice hoarse from all the shouting and singing, says that he is off somewhere that night. Mumbai, it turns out, to see a renowned dentist. Well, when it is a matter of a tooth, celebrating a career-defining innings can wait.

Fidel and I head back home, and on the way stop to get some boxes of tea, chocolate, and kalo dodol, a Sri Lankan specialty sweet that is creamy, black and beautiful. The shopkeeper gives us a sample, which I reluctantly break into two to share with my colleague. When we get home, I stare at the 965g block of dodol with longing for a second; then it goes into my suitcase for the flight back home.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • razoon7261087 on March 30, 2017, 5:23 GMT

    good read, remember reading diaries from Sportstar magazine those days, they are more lovable than the match reports them selves. feel to taste the Dodol myself

  • anurag3854783 on March 29, 2017, 19:57 GMT

    Beautiful article.would love to be in sri lanka.beautiful hospitality sincere request to cricinfo to publish these kinds of signifies relationship,tourism,brotherhood and above all humanity.thank you isam for making us a part of this.respect and namaste from india.

  • Ranil on March 28, 2017, 20:49 GMT

    Andrew looks a fine cook & out of all the dishes on display what I strangely long to taste is Pippinjna ( Sinhala name for cucumber) sambol, remembering how tasty it is. The cucumber available in this part of the world is rubbish, a small green cylindrical one as opposed to the roundish big yellow fruit in Sri Lanka which is very tasty. As a tip Mohammad I would advise you to do some snorkelling in Trincomalee, a popular tourist spot which I enjoyed very much in the recent holiday.

  • hussyy on March 25, 2017, 21:03 GMT

    Cool article it shows cricket isn't just a sport it's a lot more than that

  • hrishi2201 on March 25, 2017, 11:53 GMT

    Great article, we need more of these :)

  • on March 24, 2017, 17:40 GMT

    Aww this makes me wanna visit Sri Lanka now! You're an amazing write :)

  • Wafi on March 24, 2017, 9:27 GMT

    This short travelogue makes me want to visit beautiful Sri Lanka, and as a foodie, I want to taste all their delicacies now. Wonderful write up by the author.

  • Fahmi Ebrahim on March 24, 2017, 0:14 GMT

    To claim a node in this game of "Six Degrees of Separation", I used to go the same tutor as Jeeshan (Mirza, who Mr. Isam had ice cream with) during our higher secondary. I hope him and his young family are doing well.

    As for the writing, this is perfectly pitched as a travelogue. I have read others, on this very site, that can seem rather judgemental and lacking in grace.

  • Chatty on March 23, 2017, 14:21 GMT

    Nice article. It is always great to read about the personal experience of visiting journalists. It is also good to see Andrew's cooking. He is not much of a cook is he? Ha, ha!!

  • azeem-6059075 on March 23, 2017, 14:03 GMT

    Beautiful write up Isam.

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