Lincolnshire Cricket on Tour – Week 1

Day 1

Stanstead – Dubai, first day in Dubai

The Lincs touring party arrived safe and sound in Dubai yesterday early yesterday morning.  Tired but excited we made our way to our hotel where we had breakfast and took the opportunity to shower and freshen up before heading off to the ICC Academy on the outskirts of Dubai.

There we were met by coaches from the ICCA and were shown around the fantastic indoor training facility that they have.  The players were put through there paces by Matt and Martin and were able to take advantage of one of the best training facilities in the world before being given a guided tour of the facility by Kazeem Ali, Head of development for the ICCA. Seeing all the different types of surfaces that international players have the opportunity to practise on was a real eye-opener for our players and parents and the attention to detail was certainly impressive to see (an outdoor netting area with 43 grass practise wickets, in the middle of the desert isn’t something you find at most cricket facilities!) Everyone left looking forward to our return to the venue in a couple of days where our players will have the chance to play on one of the two cricket ovals at the ICC, one of which has recently been granted international status.

The remainder of the day was spent on a tour of the city where the players got the chance to take in the sights, sounds and smells of Dubai.

First up was a visit to the old part of the city and the famous souks (market area). Following a short boat trip on a traditional water taxi, we visited the souks where a vast array of gold, herbs and spices were being sold. Camel chocolate was one of the more interesting items that the players got to sample.

On the way back the bus stopped at the Dubai Mall, which amongst other things is home to a giant fish tank!  before stopping at the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa.  Our timing turned out to be spot on and we arrived just in time for the players to take in the world famous fountain display.

From there it was a quick trip back to the hotel for our evening meal before heading to bed for some much-needed rest ahead of tomorrows visit to the water park and desert safari.

Day 2

After some much-needed rest, the teams awoke to a cloudy but humid Dubai morning.  Today would be the only cricket free day in Dubai and with an action-packed itinerary the players fuelled up on breakfast before heading to the Wadi Wadi water park.  After a few hours of fun making full use of the water slides and wave machines, it was a quick pit stop back at the hotel before heading out for the Desert Safari.

We were met at the hotel reception by a number of 4×4 vehicles and the squad split into small groups for the 1-hour drive out of Dubai into the desert.  When we arrived at the sand dunes the air was let out of the tyres and the jeep style vehicles headed out into the dune wilderness. En route around the dunes we were treated to some local wildlife in the shape of what we think were impalas (not unicorns as was suggested by an unnamed Lincs  U15 player). After that, it was a hair-raising journey up and down the dunes as we were treated to the full ‘off road’ experience.  Whilst the drivers were unquestionable highly skilled at navigating the terrain, they did so with a certain amount of flair.  It seems that one-handed driving with no seat belt and a casual approach to the use of a mobile phone whilst behind the wheel is very much the norm for sand dune driving!  Whilst one car carrying a group of parents got stuck, that was to be the only hiccup in an otherwise truly memorable experience and one that I am sure will stay with the players and parents for a long time.

We were dropped off at a circular enclosure of small, semi-permanent, hut-like buildings which was to be our base for the next few hours.  We were provided with a great meal that had been cooked over BBQ’s and some entertainment in the shape of a juggler/dancer (who managed to convince a couple of our playing squad to join him up on stage) and later a Belly dancer, who again managed to convince some of the group to join in (Helen’s attempt was particularly memorable!).  All of this was done to a backdrop of local music and in all a fantastic time was had by everyone.  It really did feel like a once in a lifetime experience and we arrived back at the hotel in good spirits and looking forward to our first match of the tour tomorrow against an ICC Academy side.

Day 3

Matchday had arrived in Dubai and again we were met with cloudy but humid conditions as the teams made their way down to breakfast. Another morning of ‘interesting’ breakfast combinations was selected by our playing squad from the wide variety of offerings available, before the majority of the playing squad headed to the pool for a morning of rest ahead of the 2 x T20 matches scheduled for this afternoon.

Departure time arrived and we headed again out to the ICC Academy HQ where we were provided with our lunch.  Rumours began to circulate about the quality of the opposition for our girls team in particular and once lunch had been polished off the players headed to the cricket ovals to change and prepare for the games.

The fears about the girl’s opposition became a reality as we were informed we would be taking on the majority of the UAE national side and after a ‘semi-staged’ toss our girls found themselves in the field.

The boys were taking on an ICC Academy team made up from players from within the ICC Academy whose ages ranged from a questionable 13 to a more likely 16/17.  Following a lost toss, our boys followed the girls lead and found themselves in the field.

From the girls perspective, it was a tough 20 overs and some quality UAE batters compiled a healthy score of 182  for 2.  Carly Rush and Phoebe Spicer took the only wickets to fall, but the team held together as a unit and fielded admirably in the hot, humid conditions.

On the boys oval the Lincolnshire team stuck to there task well and restricted the ICC Academy to a score of 152 for 5.  Dan Knapton got the first wicket on tour in just the 4th ball of the game, excellently caught by Drew Sylvester up to the wicket.  All of our bowlers performed well with Josh Joy, Henry Park and Matthew Barry all returning tidy figures against a talented batting line up.  At the halfway point Lincolnshire left the field confident that the score was in reach.

The run chases began …… The girls found life equally tough in the second half and again it’s worth stressing the fact that they were competing against much older players, many of whom had featured for the full international UAE team.  AT 13 for 4 the girls were reeling but pride was restored as the girls batted out the 18 of the 20 overs reaching a total of 76. Carly Rush impressed with the bat with a score of 30 and it was a credit to the team that they got stuck in against a side who clearly had much more experience than ourselves.

On the boys oval, it was a similar start and our run chase couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start as we lost our first wicket form the very first ball and 2 in the first over.  A rebuild was beginning to take shape before a run out occurred, Will Wright the unfortunate victim, caught short attempting an ambitious second run.  Ultimately 152 proved too stiff a chase and we fell 27 short, eventually reaching 125 for the loss of 6 wickets.

The outstanding contribution of the day came from the boy’s captain Aayush Patel who played with great maturity for his innings of 98.  Whilst it was disappointing for Aayush to fall two short of what would have been a magnificent hundred, to score 98 in those conditions against a talented ICC Academy team was a superb achievement.

The tour was up and running and despite two losses, there were positives to be drawn from both fixtures. The team headed back to the hotel for our evening meal before heading to the airport for a 2 am flight to Sri Lanka!

Day 4

Day four was a transition day for the touring party as we headed from Dubai to Sri Lanka.  The journey began with an 11 am pick up from the two season apartments, which had been our home for the Dubai leg.  After a short journey from the hotel to the airport, we boarded our flight to Columbo.  We arrived at 8.30am and were met by our Sri Lankan welcome party (and 27-degree temperatures!).  We were promptly provided with flowers around our necks and were escorted from the arrivals lounge to our buses by a group of local performers who treated players and supporters to local music and dance which featured a number of backflips, drums and general Sri Lankan flair.

From Columbo, it was a three and a half hour journey to the Pinnawala Elephant sanctuary.  Most of the players took advantage of the downtime and caught up on some much-needed sleep.  Once at the Elephant sanctuary we were provided with lunch against the picturesque backdrop of elephants bathing in the water hole below.  By now the heat was kicking in and a number of players were beginning to rue their clothing choices, Aayush, in particular, was regretting the decision to go with tracksuit bottoms as opposed to shorts.

After lunch, we witnessed the arrival of the elephants and then headed into the sanctuary.  Everyone was cooled down by the arrival of a tropical rain shower and after getting up close and personal to some more elephants we loaded back on the coaches to complete the final leg of the journey to the Habarana Village near Dambulla.

Players were fed and watered with some fine Sri Lankan and international cuisine before heading to bed to get some rest ahead of our 6 am departure tomorrow to the Sygiriya Rock Fortress.

Day 5

Early start today as the playing squad headed off before breakfast to the Sigiriya Rock Fortress.  As the buses approached what can only be described as a giant rock, a mixture of excitement, at the prospect of the fantastic views that inevitably awaited us at the top and a growing nervousness at the scale of the challenge that the climb presented started to filter through the tour party.

Despite being 7 am the temperature was climbing and at the start of our climb, it was already a sultry 27 degrees and no sign that this wasn’t going to continue to rise.  Off we headed up the 1800 steps towards the top.  Everyone made it safely intact to the platform just below the summit and the vast majority managed the final 2/300 steps to reach the very top.  We were greeted with amazing views of the tropical landscape of Sri Lanka stretching as far as the eye could see in every direction.  The obligatory group photo was promptly organised before we headed back down the steps towards our awaiting coaches.

Back for breakfast and some downtime.  Today was the Buddhist New Years day and locals invited us to join them in their New Years celebrations.  This consisted of a number of games that included pillow fighting, Sari dancing, tug of war and coconut shaving.  Throw in some backyard cricket, a swimming pool and rugby ball and our players (and coaches) thoroughly enjoyed the few hours we spent mixing with locals and the Lions Sport team.

After the festivities, we headed to the Rock temple in Dambulla.  After another climb, we reached our destination which was essentially a temple carved into the rock face.  The group had to remove our shoes as we entered the temple as a mark of respect and we headed to the steps of the temple for the inevitable group photo which took place on the steps of the temple entrance.  All of this was great, however the temple steps had been baking in the afternoon heat and by the time we got there and attempted to pose for the photo it was literally like standing on the surface of the sun and once the click of the camera had finished everyone dashed on tiptoes to the safety of the shade.

The temple, as the rock fortress has been was a great experience. The giant buddhas and statues were certainly impressive and I know ill remember the monkeys swinging around on the trees as we made our way back down to the coaches, stopping for the inevitable Josh Joy pit stop on en route!

All in all a great day.  Columbo and Mt Lavinia tomorrow!

Day 6

Another early start for the troops as we headed from our base for the last couple of days in Dambulla to Mt Lavinia in Columbo.

The 6-hour bus journey was split into two parts by a visit to a local wood carving factory, where we were shown how furniture and ornaments from locally sourced wood is carved and coloured.  Our second stop off was for lunch at a midway point between Dambulla and Columbo.

The buses were loaded again and we set off for what would be our final destination on tour, Mt Lavinia hotel in Columbo.  On arrival we were greeted with a welcome drink and players, coaches and parents headed to their rooms, all of which feature spectacular ocean views.  The next few hours were filled with time in and around the pool lazing on the sun loungers and generally relaxing in the late afternoon sun.

Our evening meal was another fantastic buffet featuring some fantastic food form Sri Lanka and around the globe.  The night was rounded off with a rendition of happy birthday for today’s birthday girl Hania Obaid.  A great first day in Columbo!

Cricket tomorrow with the boys and girls first matches in Sri Lanka.  Match reports following tomorrow

Day 7 – First Games In Columbo

The teams awoke early for today’s games.  The boys were the first to depart as they headed for the outskirts of Columbo and the Aarron Country Club.  They were to take on a local XI made up from several local schools on the area.  The girls enjoyed a little more of a lie in as they were due to play at the Columbo based Moors cricket club against a local district XI.

The Aarran club is situated about an hour and a half drive north of Columbo and its no exaggeration to say that the ground is situated in what feels like the middle of the jungle.  After turning off the main road the bus began a half hour drive down a dirt track into dense rainforest.  After navigating our way down the winding dirt track, navigating our way past sleeping dogs and the odd bewildered local who seemed surprised to see a 46 seater bus attempting to navigate the narrow track, we eventually arrived at a clearing and Aarron cricket ground.

The temperature was rising and after a chat with the local umpires, who feared rain may be on the way in the afternoon a 30 over match and a 10 am start time was agreed.  The players warmed up, cows were shooed off the square and Lincs took to the field after having lost the toss.

Our bowlers started well in the shape of Dan Knapton and Ben Conroy and the home side were pinned back by some accurate seam bowling. Dan Knapton had some early success, eventually finishing with figures of 2/38.  After our seamers on came our plethora of spinners and all stuck to the task well in sweltering temperatures against some talented Sri Lankan batsman.  Savraj NIjjar was the stand out performer taking 4/41 (including 2 wickets in 2 balls at one stage – the hat-trick ball was unfortunately not one of Savraj’s finest and the hattrick, alas was not to be).

Eventually, the home side was bowled out for 218, which was a competitive total but one we felt was not beyond us.  Our chase started well and by the midway point, we were well placed.  Aayush continued his good form from Dubai with a stylish 27 and then it all went a bit ‘Messingham’ as Drew Sylvester and Josh Joy started to build a partnership that eventually yielded 65 runs.  With 10 to go, we were still in the game and Drew found a new partner in Saif (boom boom) Khan who lived up to his newly acquired nickname by dumping the young Sri Lankan spinner over his head for our second six of the innings.  In the end, 218 proved out of reach and our innings finished on 177.  Drew Sylvester was outstanding for his 67 not out, to bat for that length of time on those conditions, in the style that he did was a credit to him and a great sign for our next three games on tour. Lots of positives to take form the game and everyone left excited for the tomorrows match at the international stadium in Columbo.

Over at the girls game at Moors CC, the girls again followed the trend of the tour so far and took to the field.  Again a 30 over game was agreed due to the weather that had been forecast.  The visitors set about setting a total and it’s fair to say that our girls found life tough in the hot conditions in Columbo.  In the end, we managed to take 8 Sri Lankan wickets in the 30 overs with the home team amassing an intimidating total of 287.  Highlights from the first half included captain Caitlin Phillips, taking two wickets and Pheobe Spicer completing a runout and being awarded the newly created award of ‘Matt Fowler’, fielder of the match.

The girls headed to the sanctuary of the pavilion to cool off, apply more sun cream and get ready for the run chase.  As in Dubai, the innings got off to a stuttering start, but again, as in the first game the girls dug in and showed spirit to bat out 28 overs for a total of 118 all out.  Highlights, as in Dubai featured Carly Rush who impressed with her innings of 32.  Carly found support in the shape of Pheobe spicer, who backed up her first innings fielding display with a hard-fought 18 and special mention needs to go to Megan Quinlan.  Megan batted for over 80 minutes in sweltering conditions for her 23 which in the context of the game and the conditions took a great amount of courage and determination.

Both teams headed back to our HQ at Mount Lavinia for a quick dip in the pool before the standard amazing buffet was provided by our Mt Lavinia hosts.  A tempory sunburn A and E clinic was set up in the bar area, as a number of players form both teams received treatment form our resident Aloe Vera queen Kathy before players and coaches headed to bed for some rest ahead of tomorrows fixtures.