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The Voyage of Spectacle Sri Lanka Superfans — Episode III

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 III

 

Sri Lanka Superfans

Episode III – Grenada, Part II

As we were walking into the hotel, four of the biggest stars on the team – Sangakkara, Murali, Vaas and Jayasuriya — were getting ready to leave for dinner.  Instead of racing out the door, they stopped and hung out with us for about 20 minutes.  Jayasuriya was unusually lively, chatting one-on-one with Melissa for about 10 minutes (the first real chat we’d had with him).  Murali, as usual was full of life.  He wanted to make sure (a) that we had tickets for the game and (b) that we were still planning on having dinner at his house when we visit in 2009.  All four began lobbying to get us to go to Jamaica for the semi-final.  Conversation then turned back to our trip, and all four seemed genuinely deeply interested.  After talking about the trip for a while, Melissa asked them if they wanted to see the boat.  Jayasuriya did her one better — he wondered aloud whether we could take them sailing.  All four guys IMMEDIATELY smiled and nodded enthusiastically.  A conversation ensued as to when the best time would be.  They decided that Thursday would be the best.  Could we take them sailing on Thursday?

Melissa and The One-More-Guy -- Whenever Sri Lanka Did Something Good, This Guy Would Jog Around Our Section Chanting Uh, sure … wait, WHAAAAA?

“No problem, guys,” I answered.  “We’ll set you guys up with some lunch, and …”

“Oh, no, no… we’ll bring a picnic,” replied Murali.  O.K. then…

Of course, we were elated … any chance to spend some more time with these wonderful guys.

Before the sailing trip, there were still two more matches to play:  Australia and This Group of Sri Lanka Superfans Wore Caps and Gowns Indicating that Sri Lanka Had Already Graduated to the Semi-FinalsIreland.  But after the New Zealand match, the pressure was off.  Sri Lanka had not only qualified for the semi-finals but had clinched a berth in the 2 versus 3 semi-finals, ensuring that they’d avoid the awesome Aussies until the final.  As a result, Sri Lanka decided to rest their star bowlers for the Australia match, a decision that was treated as a major controversy in the cricket world but which was obviously the right thing to do.

Ireland Cricket Fans Are VERY FUNMurali, Vaas, and Malinga all didn’t play and, predictably, the world’s top team won easily (a terrible lbw call – the first of what would become a disturbing trend — against Sangakkara helped as well).  The only other noteworthy aspect of the game was the behavior of the Australia fans … but more on that later.

Two days later, a completely outclassed Ireland team was bowled out for 77 and the game The Ireland Versus Sri Lanka Match Ended Before the Lunch Break So Andy and I Stayed to Watch the Local Kids Do Their Should-Be Halftime Song and Dance Routinewas wrapped up before the lunch break (!), leaving us feeling sorry for the hundreds of schoolkids performing the half-time show in front of empty stands.  How that Ireland team beat Pakistan is one of sports’ all-time great mysteries – unless Pakistan threw the game.  We had joked that we wanted the Ireland game to be over by 2:00.  We were back at the marina on the boat by 12:30, even after stopping at “Soup Master,” a road-side tent on the main drag in St. George’s.  I love places with names like “Soup Master” or “Dumpling Master.”  Master? Really? I think I’ll be the judge Melissa and the Soup Master after the Sri Lanka Versus Ireland Match in Grenadaof that.  Personally, I’d call it “Purveyor of Better than Average but Hardly Memorable Soup.”  More honest but not as catchy, I suppose.

We were only on the boat for a nap and a change of clothes, as we had been told to be back at the hotel’s private  poolside bar at 7:15.  Why?  For Murali’s 35th birthday party, of course!

In attendance were (1) players, (2) coaches/team officials, (3) wives/kids, (4) Russel Arnold’s cousins, and (5) us.  That’s it.  It was fantastic and went late into the night.  Earlier in the day, Murali and Farveez Maharoof (one of Melissa and Our Sign for the Sri Lanka Versus Australia Match -- With Global Television Coverage, the Announcer Read the Sign and Then Said Something to the Effect of the team’s budding stars and a very, very funny man) had combined to take eight wickets in the demolition of Ireland.  Now, they combined to mix everyone’s drinks from behind the bar.  Naturally, we chatted at length with almost the entire team.  We will have no shortage of lodging in Sri Lanka when we sail through in February of 2009!  As the party wound down, Trevor Penney, Melissa and I talked late into the night with a few stockpiled Caribs and the sound of waves crashing on the hotel’s shoreline.  A great time.

The next day, ever so slightly hungover, we were up early to take out the sailing party.  They actually arrived in waves, with Murali among the first.  He came down to the boat, walked around, and promptly chickened out – he was nearly sprinting for a cab back to the hotel.  To be honest, this was probably for the best — he has just about the least-compatible temperament for sailing one could imagine — he’s a super busy-body and I think all the sitting around would drive him crazy.  Mahela knew better – he didn’t even consider coming.  “I really don’t like the sea” was his explanation.  OK, fair enough…

We ended up with seven guests – Kumar Sangakkara and his wife, Yehali; Chaminda Vaas and his wife, Vasana; Sanath Jayasuriya; Malinga Bandara; and team official Nalin de Alwis.

The conditions were more choppy than average – not rough, but not exactly comfortable.  Melissa was sprinting around the boat, tending to lines and to guests while I was at the helm.  After about an hour, Yehali started looking a little bit uncomfortable.Kumar and Yehali on Spectacle around True Blue Bay, Grenada

“You feeling sick?” I asked.

“Yes, a little bit,” she responded.

“Are you going to be ok?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. I looked at her just to make sure.  I could tell she was going to be fine.

About 15 minutes later, I looked at Jayasuriya.  He hadn’t said a word in about 30 minutes and his eyes were glued to the horizon.

“Sonny,” I said.  “You o.k., man?”

No response.

“Sonny,” I said again.  “You’re not feeling too well, are you?”

“No, I’m not.”

“You need me to turn this boat around?”

“Yeah, please,” he said.  He looked awful.

Immediately, around went the boat and we were headed back.  I wasn’t about to cripple the greatest all-rounder in one-day cricket history.

We made it make to the dock with minimal drama and, in his best Murali imitation, Jayasuriya dashed for terra firma.  By now, Bandara was feeling pretty awful as well.  Indeed, as we reached the dock, he headed below, Melissa tucked him in, and he passed out for a nap.  He was out cold for at least an hour.

This gave us a chance to go to the marina bar and spend an hour or two with the Sangakkaras and the Vaases.  This was the first chance we had had to get to know Yehali and Vasana.  Both women were great – smart, funny, beautiful, engaging – just a treat for us to meet.  We chatted about all sorts of things, ranging from the LTTE to life in various parts of Sri Lanka (Kandy vs. Colombo vs. Galle) to American politics to their respective families.  It was a lovely, relaxing afternoon.

With the games in Grenada now concluded but the semifinal rematch with New Zealand still five days off (and the team flight not for another three days), we made plans to have dinner with the Sangakkaras two nights later.

By now, we’d also made another plan.  Whether it was the Sangakkaras, Murali, Trevor or any number of others, we’d been well beseeched to head to Jamaica for the semifinals, and there was absolutely no way we were going to miss watching our friends play in the semifinal and (hopefully) the final.  Indeed, the Sangakkaras took it upon themselves to try to find a way to get us to Jamaica.  Typical pro athlete behavior, right?

Two nights later, we picked up the Sangakkaras and headed to Rhodes at the Andy, Melissa, Kumar, and Yehali at True Blue Bay Marina, GrenadaCalabash for dinner.  In addition to a delicious meal with the first decent wine we’d had since St. Martin, we had a splendid time getting to know them both, and I think they’ll be friends of ours for a long time to come.  These are two of the nicest and most impressive people you’ll ever meet.

The next night, we were invited out to Chinese food with a big group from the team.  Our party of ten was the Sangakkaras, Jayasuriya, Jayawardene, Murali, Nuwan Kulasekara, Bandara, Chamara Silva (the only member of the team that we hadn’t yet met), Melissa and me.  Just another night in Grenada, right?

As talk turned to politics, it was pretty amazing just to listen to these guys.  Up until this point, I am very embarrassed to admit that I had thought that Sanath Jayasuriya was sort of a typical meat-head jock.  I could not have been any more wrong.  Listening him discuss the finer points of U.S. involvement in Iraq (right down to differences between Gates and Rumsfeld), I had to pick my jaw up out of my food.  Around the table, the average level of understanding regarding U.S. current events was well above what you’d find in a room full of American college graduates.  All in English, of course (just to be polite to us).  Needless to say, their English is just a wee bit better than our Sinhalese.

In the mean time, we (and the Sangakkaras) had gotten to work on trying to get us to Jamaica.  We weren’t having any luck at all.  Our attempts to get to Jamaica involved multiple trips to the airport, which meant further interaction with Australia fans.  Our tournament experience had been mercifully light on Australia fans until the last several days when the Aussies played their final two Super 8 matches in Grenada, resulting in an infestation.

Australia fans are truly the lowest form of sports spectator life found on earth, composed of equal dosages of the worst parts of Ohio State football fans (facially preposterous myopia which quickly reveals a stunning lack of factual knowledge), LSU football fans (alcohol-fueled violence), Kansas City Chiefs fans (utter lack of personal grooming and fashion sense), and Lazio soccer fans (naked racism).

In planning the tournament, the International Cricket Council pretty clearly adopted the following logistical strategy:  make things as easy as possible for Australia and its fans and screw everyone else.  This being the case, hordes of them came to the West Indies, and literally 6-8 daily, short, cheap flights stood waiting to take them to over to St. Lucia for the semi-final against South Africa.

By contrast, for New Zealand and Sri Lanka fans the logistics were a NIGHTMARE.  Although both of the participating teams were in Grenada, there wasn’t a single flight from Grenada to Jamaica in the FOUR days leading up to the semi-final (despite the fact that Air Jamaica flies between the islands).  It’s not that there weren’t any available seats – there weren’t any scheduled flights at all.  Let me repeat myself.  Both of the Jamaica semifinalists were in Grenada, and there was not a single flight from Grenada to Jamaica in the four days before the game.

Other than with respect to Australia, the International Cricket Council did absolutely nothing to assist with the unique logistical problems presented by staging the tournament in the West Indies (i.e. you can’t just rent a car and drive to the next venue).  In fact, they went out of their way to make things worse.  How?  Amazingly, they chartered exactly ONE plane to take the four teams who finished up the Super 8 in Grenada (Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Australia, and Ireland) to their next destination (which was to connect to a flight home in Ireland’s case).  So, I suppose I lied before — there was ONE flight from Grenada to Jamaica in the 96 hours before gametime.  Of course, it looked for a while like there wasn’t even going to be room for the players’ wives.  Just about all the fans of both New Zealand and Sri Lanka gave up and went home.  Not us.

We ended up flying from Grenada to Barbados, staying a night, then continuing to Puerto Rico, then on to Miami and then Jamaica … and back – eight flights in all.  You say, “Wow, that can’t have been cheap.”  It certainly wasn’t.  We could have flown to Sri Lanka for about the same amount of money.  After days of trying to book a trip, it was the best we could do.  And, oh yeah, we didn’t have a hotel room.

But these guys have been so good to both of us that we simply HAD to go — it was the only right decision.  After all, it’s one thing to be a fan.  It’s another thing to be rooting for your personal friends.

So at 6:45 a.m. on Sunday, April 22nd, we headed to the airport to begin our odyssey to the semi-finals.  To see what happened in Part IV of “Sri Lanka Superfans,” click here.


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