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The Voyage of Spectacle Sri Lanka Superfans — Episode II

The Voyage

Spectacles

Andy and Melissa are sailing around the world on their 48-foot sailboat, Spectacle.

The Position

Bali, Indonesia

The Pictures

The Voyage of Spectacle

Sri Lanka Superfans — Episode II

 

Sri Lanka Superfans

Episode II – Grenada, Part I

We had a nice trip with Will down through Bequia to Grenada and arrived on April 6.  We didn’t know where the Sri Lankan team was staying, nor how we were going to get in contact with them.

The first night, we had ourselves a quiet one in the marina.  But there was nothing quiet about the next night, one of the true classics of our trip so far.

The first part of the evening involved me winning a speed beer-chugging competition of more than a dozen contestants, in front of an audience of mostly elementary school students.

I’m sorry — what?

The Grenada Regatta (those words don’t rhyme) was going on at the time, and we’d been invited to their party over at Prickly Bay Marina.  It proved to be a pretty fun, pretty large and highly boozy affair, culminating in a drinking contest (sponsored by Carib!).

Although I’m not the Michael Jordan of speed-drinking, I cannot tell a lie — I’m pretty much pro-caliber.  I take no pride in this fact – it just happens to be the case.  As soon as this contest was announced, Melissa looked at me and said, “You are entering this, of course.”Andy and Will in the Finals of the Grenada Regatta Beer Drinking Contest (Notice Andy's Patented Two-Handed Technique -- The Mark of a True Pro)

“Of course.”

“There’s no way you’ll lose, is there?”

“No chance.”

As the contest was about to begin, a large (20?) group of pre-teens sat down right in front.  Needless to say, I crushed everyone in both my preliminary round and the finals and won the coveted grand prize of a Carib cooler bag.  Will came in second.  None of this was surprising — when you’re battling against a former officer of a large Midwestern state-university fraternity and a late-twenties Australian male, you’re pretty much playing for third.

Melissa, naturally, had quite a laugh and took some pictures.

Later in the evening, I headed to the restroom.  I was stopped by a kid who couldn’t have been older than 10.  “You were great in that beer-drinking contest,” he said.

“Uh… thanks?” I replied.  Good to know that I’m a role model for Grenada’s up-and-coming speed drinkers.

Moments later, I was then challenged to a rematch by a mid-20s American sore loser who had complained that the shape of the glass was why he lost.  Apparently, this whole issue was quite a matter of pride for him.  Whatever.  I soundly kicked his butt again – this time from different-shaped glasses.

Pleasantly full of Carib, we headed out for a nightclub called Bananas, which was hosting an “all you can drink” get-together for cricket fans.  The name of the bar alone prompted plenty of jokes and Gwen Stefani imitations.  This place was PACKED – I’m not sure that many people live in Grenada.  As we were not wearing long pants, we were relegated to the outside bar (and, accordingly, managed to miss this incident).  Shortly thereafter, someone caught the corner of my eye.

“Is that…?”

Yep.  Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene had just spotted me.  He was out with the team trainer, Tommy Simsek.  They dashed over, “Hey! What’s up?!?!” screamed Mahela, grinning from ear to ear.

“We, you remember when Tom asked us to come for more games?  We decided to come.  We re-routed the trip to come watch you guys.”

“Do you have tickets?” Jayawardene immediately asked.

“Actually, no,” I responded.

“We’ll leave them for you — no problem,” he said. “Just come by the hotel the night before the game.  We’re over at the Rex.  It’s so great that you are here to watch us.”  He was visibly very happy to see us.

As the night went on, I got to talking at length with Tommy.  To make a long story short, we planned to attend practice and possibly take some swings against Murali.  “There’s nothing he likes more than bowling balls at people,” Tommy said.  “No promises, but if you are there, I’m pretty sure I can make it happen, especially for you.”

Thankfully, Will is a bowler for his club cricket team in Australia, so we also made a plan to spend some time working on my cricket batting.  Murali is only the best bowler in the world – I’m sure a couple hours out in a Grenadian cow patch will be enough practice for a guy who has never swung a cricket bat.

Indeed, we spent the next couple of days tracking down bats, balls, pads, gloves (all of which we now have on the boat) and practicing some cricket.  By the 11th, I had Andy Outfit in our Newly Attained Cricket Gearabout five hours of practice under my belt.  I am afraid to say that my cricket batting is not very impressive.  The cricket swing and the baseball swing are almost totally unrelated.  I can hit the ball fine, even on a bounce — this isn’t the problem.  The problem is that I can’t play the right shots and I hit too many balls in the air.  The proper grip is more like for a golf club than a baseball bat.  I understand why, but my wrists are simply not trained to bat this way.  It’s also important to maintain a high, bent lead elbow and nearly vertical (i.e. pointing at the ground) bat most of the time.  In baseball, we try to extend our arms and swing horizontally.  The cricket swing is nearly vertical, hence the classic Tommy Lasorda comments about a certain famous Dodgers first baseman and his cricket-playing potential.  Suffice it to say, I’m going to need at least … a couple more … days … weeks …months … of practice before taking on Murali.

Discouraged by my poor batting, I accompanied Melissa over to the Rex Grenadian to pick up our tickets for the match with New Zealand the following day.  Looking back on it, and to borrow from Malcolm Gladwell, this was the “tipping point” in our relationship with the Sri Lanka team – the point where our relationship with these guys fundamentally changed.

We ran into Tom Moody and Trevor Penney, both of whom were totally shocked to see us, so much so that it took both a few moments to piece it all together.  We also saw Tommy and Mahela, who were expecting us.

But in the lobby we ran into Murali, Vaas, Jayasuriya, and Kumar Sangakkara (he’s sort of the Johnny Bench of cricket for his world-class batting while also being one of the best defensive players at the “catcher” position, wicket-keeper).  Sangakkara was the one big star that we hadn’t yet met, and, wow, was he an impressive guy.  In addition to being matinee-idol handsome, he’s educated and articulate (he had to postpone finishing his law degree to join the national team) and infectiously charming.  I think he could be president of Sri Lanka by the time he’s 50 if he wanted the job (sadly, that’s a big “if” for a lot of intelligent Sri Lankans these days).  We talked with all these guys a little bit about the game but mostly about our sailing trip.  Murali (speaking of infectiously charming) invited us to stay at his house in Sri Lanka when we sail through in early 2009, giving us all four of his phone numbers (including his mother’s house, “just in case”).  He is worried that our sailing trip is dangerous.

The New Zealand game was Sri Lanka’s biggest game yet.  The winner was almost sure to avoid Australia in the semi-finals, whereas the loser would probably have to face Hayden, Ponting, McGrath and company.  New Zealand was undefeated so far, but they hadn’t yet faced another top team.  With the deadly and hard-throwing Shane Bond bowling (who had been the best bowler of the tournament to date), as well as the clever, glasses-wearing, off-speed lefty junkballer Daniel Vettori, they have a tough bowling attack.  They also have a few impressive and experienced batsmen, including captain Stephen Fleming, Craig McMillan and Scott Styris.  Just before the World Cup, they hosted Australia to a three-game series and pounded them in all three.  They are no slouches.  Worst of all, Lasith Malinga was to be held out of the game with an ankle problem.

Although New Zealand is one of the world’s best teams, they’ve had a terrible time against Sri Lanka in recent years.  Nothing exemplifies this more than Stephen Fleming’s troubles against Chaminda Vaas.  In N.Z.’s three previous matches against Sri Lanka, Fleming had been out “lbw” (leg before wicket, the single most complex rule in cricket) against Vaas for a score of zero – the same result in all three games.

The morning of the match, there was actually considerable traffic and congestion as we tried to reach the ground.  We found ourselves entering the stadium at around 9:40 a.m., 10 minutes after the game was scheduled to start.  Incidentally, Grenada National Stadium is by far the nicest of all the stadiums we visited – beautiful grounds, helpful staff, functioning concessions, edible food, (usually) cold beer.  It was head-and-shoulders above the other venues, which were pretty much terrible (especially Jamaica).

As we were being checked by security, a roar went up from the crowd.

“It’s probably Fleming lbw Vaas for a duck,” I joked.

Five minutes later, we reached our seats, looked at the scoreboard and couldn’t believe it.  Here (at the beginning of the clip), is what we missed.

Sure enough, Fleming was once again out for a duck, lbw to Chaminda Vaas – the fourth New Zealand versus Sri Lanka match in a row in which it had happened.  Sadly, we’d missed it.  Before the shock of Fleming’s dismissal had worn off (indeed, before we even sat down), wicket-keeper extraordinaire Kumar Sangakkara dove to his right and spectacularly caught a ball off the outside edge of Ross Taylor’s bat (same clip, right after the Fleming dismissal).  New Zealand had lost two batsman for ducks and posted only four runs.

Here we were five minutes into the match, and already the body language told you who was going to win.  The Sri Lankan were pumped up, bouncing around in the field.  The New Zealand batsmen looked deflated.

This brought in Scott Styris (who had almost single-handedly destroyed England in the New Zealand versus England match back in St. Lucia) to bat.  Styris did everything he could to prevent a complete collapse of the New Zealand innings.  Indeed, he batted for the rest of the morning.  However, he was forced by the circumstances to play conservatively, and although he posted a seemingly impressive 111 not out, he took 157 balls to do it and New Zealand ended up with only 219, a score that was pretty unlikely to hold up on the batter-friendly track in Grenada.

And, indeed, the Sri Lankan batsmen left no doubt.  Although Upul Tharanga was dismissed for a fairly quick 14, Jayasuriya and Sangakkara combined to push Sri Lanka’s score to 130 by the middle of the Lions’ innings.  It was a mere formality thereafter, with Sangakkara batting out the innings on his way to 69 not out and Sri Lanka reaching the target with 29 balls and six wickets to spare.  It was a comprehensive thrashing.

After the game, we drove to the team hotel to greet the team bus.  There were high-fives aplenty, but we only stuck around for about five minutes.  To be honest, we were getting a little bit worried that they might be beginning to think we’re crazy/annoying stalkers.

Of course, these concerns did not stop us from returning to the hotel the following night because (a) the Asian restaurant there is quite delicious, and (b) we thought it might be the best chance to connect with the team/management in advance of the Australia match.

Suffice it to say, it’s pretty safe to say any concerns we have about annoying them were highly misplaced.  To see why, click here for Part III of “Sri Lanka Superfans.”


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