The Nation - Australia- Paul Radley
March 8, 2011
As the train from Colombo to Kandy, the capital of Sri Lanka's Hill Country, pulled into Peradeniya, the unmistakable voice of cricket announcer David Lloyd could be heard over what seemed to be the station loudspeakers. He and Nasser Hussain were discussing the state of England's game with South Africa.
It turned out the staff just had their television turned up loud, but it was enough to bring a momentary hush to those travelling in the teeming third-class carriage as they tried to catch up on the score.
Just as Hussain was about to reveal all, a passenger who commutes from Galle, on Sri Lanka's southern coast, to Kandy, near its centre, to work on a plantation, shouted across two rows of seats and perhaps 20 people: "It's your country who are playing!"
Cricket, not for the first time in the past two weeks, proved to be the international language.
"How do you find Sri Lanka — it is very comfortable?" asked a student, who makes the three-and-a-half-hour trip from his home in Colombo to Kandy at the start of each week to study English.
Superlatives could abound in answering that particular question, but "comfortable" was probably the least apt at that specific moment.
The day's earlier train had been fully-booked, which begged a question what was this supposed to be - the overflow perhaps?
At one point, the plantation worker was one of six people on a seat made for three.
The third-class cabin differs from second-class on the basis that there are two small ceiling fans per carriage in second. Third relies on open doors and windows for ventilation.
A seat on a first-class viewing deck can be booked in advance for this journey, but why bother? Sitting down in the footwell of an open door provides the best view imaginable of the altering scenery, from the scrub plains outside Colombo rising up to the verdant tea plantations and cotton-wool clouds of the Hill Country. And it is around half the price - 190 rupees (Dh6.3). A bargain.
Playing fixtures in the hills will perhaps mean leaving behind the unseasonal rains which blighted the showpiece fixture between Australia and Sri Lanka, which had been sold out for weeks, in Colombo on Sunday night.
The rainy season on Sri Lanka's south-west coast is between April and June, but torrential showers arrived early. The average rainfall for March in Kandy is 70mm, just under half that of Colombo, so hope springs that the three matches here will be unaffected by weather.
The scenery is not the only divine aspect of this journey. You have to be strong of character not to suffer from name envy in Sri Lanka.
Their cricketers are called gorgeous things like Chamara Kapugedera, Thilan Samaraweera and - a personal favourite from the past which represents the perfect meeting of cultures - Bulathsinghalage Cyril Cooray.
As well as Peradeniya, the 121km journey from Sri Lanka's main city to its so called "other" city takes in stops such as Kaduganawa, Gampatha and Maradana.
The Sinhala script versions (some of the stations do not have English translations on their signs) look just as exquisite as the words sound.
When the snack-sellers who hawk their wares, which they carry along in sacks up and down the packed gangways of the train, recite their sales pitches, they sound lyrical.
The goods on sale were many and varied. On one stretch between stations, passengers were offered deep-fried prawns, with an onion and dried chilly accompaniment, deep-fried potatoes, bags of satsumas (mercifully left au naturel rather than fried), apples and corn on the cob - the most popular seller.
Later, the plantation worker bought a sweet snack, a flat, sugared oatcake for 20 rupees, which is about 60 fils. Despite it being not much larger in size than a cream cracker, he offered it around the cabin, foreigner first.
Etiquette says you must not turn down an offer like this. Perhaps more importantly, once accepted, make sure not to snap off your segment with your left-hand. Left-handed eating is frowned upon in this part of the world.
The World Cup caravan has now settled in the sweetest sounding place on the cricket grand tour, Kandy.
The players made the journey on air-conditioned buses, accompanied for the duration by police outriders.
They do not know what they are missing.
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