Galle’s International Cricket Stadium is one of the most picturesque venues in the world which is just a few meters away from the Indian Ocean and adjacent to the historic Dutch Fort in the background. The ground has become a stronghold for Sri Lanka since 3rd June 1998 becoming an International Cricket venue. So far it has been considered as a Test venue by Sri Lanka Cricket and every time Sri Lanka has a home series one of the two or three Test matches, one match is hosted at Galle for sure, if not the first match of the series, which has been almost customary for the past decade and half.
There is a reason for that I guess. Judging by the Muttiah Muralitharan factor claiming 87 wickets in 11 matches he played at Galle, hosting the first match of the series at Galle, Sri Lanka more often than not, spin out the opposition and gain an early lead of the series as dry pitch favors the spin. This is a similar tactic used by Australians against visiting teams that they use to host the first match of the series at Perth, which is considered the fastest pitch in the world and gain an early lead and scare the opposition out with hostile fast bowling. Sri Lanka’s record at Galle, which is 13 wins, 5 losses and 6 draws out of 24 Tests at Galle, proves my point.
I live in Galle. Galle International Cricket Stadium is just a few hundred meters walk from home. I played Cricket for my college, which was situated in the middle, and for the Province at age group levels and had go to the grounds almost daily for the Stadium for the practices during the Cricket season, where few colleges were used to consume ground facilities permitted by Southern Province Cricket Association, where more than half of the matches I played on its turf.
Although the stadium is very familiar to me, I have watched a handful of Test matches live there. It’s about 7 or 8 in count. I was there when Muttiah Muralitharan claiming his 400th Test wicket against Zimbabwe. When we were playing U-13s, college teams were invited to be boundary boys and I was one of them in two matches against India in 2002 which Sri Lanka won within half an hour of our scheduled day and against England in 2003 which was drawn where no offense but Mr. Daryl Harper was not so kind with Sri Lanka team, where I was able to enjoy the full day at one of the best seats in the house. Also I remember I went to watch another 2 or 3 matches where basically junior players were allowed to watch Test matched free for whole five days in college uniforms where even lunch and tea were provided. I used to watch full days’ play during weekends or vacation seizing the opportunity, although I didn’t understand much of the Cricket going in the middle apart from shots played, balls bowled and wickets taken. That gave our team and me an exposure to watch International Cricket at very early stages of our cricketing days and see how players go about their business and it was a huge learning experience.
As time passed by and when I was playing senior Cricket and was beginning to take Cricket seriously, I felt that I was not comfortable watching matches live at the venues. What happened was that I wanted to have a more exposure to the action in the middle than off of it. Even today I prefer to watch matches on TV. It is not that I want to watch International Cricket live, but I want to have a closer look at it, so that even though there is a match going at my home town, I tend to watch it on TV.
I closely look at how the ball swings it in the air, how it deviates of the pitch, how it bounces off the pitch, how the ball reverse swings, how it spins viciously of a crack or foot marks, how the ball gets revolutions off the fingers of the spinner, how the wrong’un goes off the hand, how a flipper dips and bounces, how a slip fielder makes his movements and grabs the ball and their footwork, how a close-in fielder attacks the ball, picks up and throws the ball in one movement, how a batsman lines up a delivery and scores off it, how batsman’s footwork is comprised of, particularly technique, how a batsman uses his wrists to place the ball, etc. Especially I am more interested in watching certain situations of the match and to see how captains react and batsmen and bowlers react and how players adjust and exploit the conditions.
For some people I might sound crazy. But I am so obsessed with Cricket that I am enjoying seeing these little things that I won’t be able to come across watching a match live at the venue. More often than not I like to hear the commentary, which I find too much mainstream at times these days. Some insightful commentators still are there so that they analyze and put together their independent thoughts and ideas in to commentary and it’s a treat at times. Thus by watching on TV, I prefer to study and learn something out of a Cricket match.
Watching any match in any format live, at a venue in Sri Lanka is almost like attending a feast. No matter what happens in the middle, spectators enjoy quality of the Cricket being played and enjoy themselves off the field to the fullest to the Papare music and soak in the excitement and electric atmosphere. It’s a wonderful place to watch a match, no doubt about it. One would argue that I can study and learn in the ground itself, but I’d say I could observe and get a more exposure to the action in the middle by watching it on TV, without distractions.