POSTPONED: Due to the prevailing Coronavirus outbreak worldwide and with the best interests of both players and spectators in mind, on 13 March 2020 Sri Lanka Cricket and the England Cricket Board regrettably announced the postponement of the England tour of Sri Lanka until further notice.
From the coastal spin-haven of Galle to Colombo’s verdant ovals, it doesn’t get better than Test cricket in the tropics – and the England team clearly agrees: last year’s ODI World Champions will be back in Sri Lanka in March 2020, for two warm-up matches and two Tests.
And with points on offer for the newly inaugurated ICC World Test Championship, you can bet it won’t be a walk in Viharamahadevi Park for the touring side.
Fancy catching the boys as they face the turning ball? Good news for committed fans: the schedule is a condensed one, with the two Tests set to take place within a 12-day period – so catching all the action won’t require a sabbatical.
Many supporters opt to join an organised tour group when they visit Sri Lanka, but it’s perfectly possible to go it alone and arrange your own transport and accommodation – and this will often be a more affordable option. As in previous years, tickets for all matches should be available to buy online through Book My Show closer to the start of the tour (more information below).
The best bit? Arranging your own trip gives you the option to skip the big hotels and book into chic retreats, so you can reflect on the best of the day’s batting and bowling in boutique bliss. Here are some of our favourites – and a few top tips picked up during our own cricketing experiences in the country.
7-9 March – Tour match
England v SLC Board President’s XI
12-15 March – Tour match
England v SLC Board President’s XI
P Sara Oval, Colombo
* Remaining tour matches postponed until further notice due to the prevailing Coronavirus outbreak worldwide *
How to buy tickets
Tickets for international cricket matches in Sri Lanka are normally available to buy through local ticketing website Book My Show. Because it’s the official online vendor, tickets are sold at face value and usually start at rs.500 (around £2.50). You can buy up to 10 tickets per order. Tickets can go on sale anywhere from several months to just a few weeks before matches, so it’s best to check the website regularly.
Using the online system, it’s possible to select your preferred grandstand and, where seating is allocated, which exact pews you’d like – though your choice of seat number may not always be reflected by match day arrangements…
Tickets bought online can be collected at the SLC ticket office on Maitland Place in Colombo 7. Simply take a copy of your receipt and your tickets will be printed right there.
Alternatively, it’s often possible to buy tickets on the door at the ground, though queues tend to be long and grandstand availability more limited.
Things to note
Following the tragic terror attacks of April 2019, security has been stepped up islandwide – and especially in Colombo, where several of the bombings took place. The situation is now calm and Sri Lanka is arguably safer than it was before the terrible blasts. Nevertheless, expect bag searches upon entry to all venues and note that glass bottles will probably not be permitted.
March/April are the hottest months of the year in Sri Lanka, so prepare for soaring temperatures wherever you travel and be smart if you’re sitting in the sun at stadiums all day. That doesn’t mean you won’t get rain, mind: the weather can be very changeable, so expect all eventualities.
Where to stay near the CMCG, Katunayake
Tour match, 7-9 March
Full name Chilaw Marians Cricket Club Ground, the CMCG is situated in a trading zone in Katunayake, directly opposite the island’s main international airport. A provincial venue in every sense, the pared-back ground is certainly a unique place for England to face off against a team hand-picked by the President of the SLC Board – but a limited selection of hotels in the area means those looking to attend the match might have a tricky time finding decent accommodation close by.
As the CMCG is situated just an hour north of Colombo via the expressway – and even closer to the fishing town of Negombo – it’s perfectly feasible to stay in the city and travel by car or Uber to each of the two game days, but if you’re set on staying overnight nearby, the Wallawwa should be top of your list. No ordinary airport hotel, this breathtakingly restored manor house might be just 15 minutes from BIA (and 13 from the CMCG) but it couldn’t feel further from the bustle of the arrivals lounge.
A 200-year-old house set in stunning garden surroundings, each of the Wallawwa’s 18 rooms promises luxury and relaxation in equal measure. Beautifully appointed yet stylishly traditional, between the bijou pool and spa treatments, you shouldn’t have trouble kicking back after a day at the cricket.
Where to stay near the P Sara Oval, Colombo
Tour match, 12-15 March
The second warm-up match takes the action into Colombo’s north-eastern suburbs, to the Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu Stadium – or the somewhat shorter P Sara Oval, as it’s more commonly known. Home to the Tamil Union Cricket and Athletic Club, this old-school ground has heritage in spades – from being the only South Asian venue ever to see the legendary Don Bradman swing a bat (in both 1930 and 1948, when the Australians stopped by en route to England) to hosting Sri Lanka’s first ever Test in 1982 (against England, no less). Surrounded by greenery and steeped in history, it might see less top-tier action today than in its heyday, but the P Sara remains a stellar place to catch a few days of play.
And if you fancy doing exactly that, booking into Aathma Colombo House is no bad bet. Situated a mere 15 minutes from the P Sara by car, Aathma is a quirky boutique oasis on the outskirts of Colombo. Brimming with bright, bold design and a veritable plethora of plants, this unique retreat suffers no shortage of character. It’s also a truly tranquil place to crash out, with a friendly team of staff, delicious food, spa treatments and a gorgeous pool fringed by vibrant flora, all right on the banks of Diyawanna Lake.
Or you could try… Maniumpathy
Where to stay near the Galle International Cricket Stadium, Galle
First Test, 19-23 March
For the first proper Test of the tour, England will face Sri Lanka at one of the home team’s most successful hunting grounds: Galle. Overlooked by the imposing Dutch Fort and bordered by the Indian Ocean, the ground is easily one of the most scenic cricketing spots in the world – and also a ripper for spin bowlers. There are several grandstands – some air-conditioned, some sweaty – as well as grass banks, but one of the most iconic images from the venue has to be the flags of the Barmy Army draped on the ramparts, England’s dedicated fans squeezing in beside Sri Lanka’s own loyal following for a free view of the day’s action. Not only does it promise a unique spectating experience, but watching from the walls also means easier access to the bars and restaurants of the Fort during the day and after play finishes.
There’s no shortage of places to stay in the vicinity of Galle stadium. Within the Fort, The Bungalow is one of the best – a boutique bolthole in the very centre of the Unesco World Heritage Site. As its name suggests, the six-room hotel is in fact a Dutch-era bungalow which recently underwent a painstaking renovation, transforming it from collapsing ruin into a truly stylish stay. Sumptuously comfortable bedrooms, chic interiors and ceaselessly friendly staff combine to make The Bungalow not just a favourite in Galle Fort, but one of our top picks islandwide.
Alternatively, if you feel like dipping your toes in the Indian Ocean after a long day of sitting at the cricket, you’ll find all manner of beach retreats close to Galle. Unawatuna is a buzzing tourist bay just a 10-minute drive from the stadium, packed with bars, restaurants and guest houses – ideal if you’re looking to revel with fellow supporters. Or keep going further along the coast to find a trendy stay away from the crowds: tucked down a little lane off the main road, Owl & The Pussycat is a true south-coast gem. Situated right by the sea, take a stroll along the strip of golden sand in front of the hotel, before sipping sundowners on the terrace, watching the waves roll in as palm trees rustle overhead. The menu blends Sri Lankan cuisine with western fare, with plenty for seafood lovers and veggies alike – and the bar is equally well-stocked (don’t miss the signature cocktails). Rooms are bold, bright and stylish, partnered with stunning polished concrete bathrooms, while the turquoise pool provides the perfect way too cool off after a long day’s spectating. The hotel staff will be only too happy to arrange your transport to Galle, and you’ll find them equally helpful with other requests, too – whether you want to organise a trip to one of the many nearby surfing spots or simply order another piña colada.
Or you could try… Fort Bazaar
Things to note
If you’re planning to spend the whole day on the Fort walls, bring plenty of water, sunblock and possibly even an umbrella – not for the rain, but for shade. There’s no cover up there and the sun can be pretty intense.
Getting to Galle (and back again)
Because the tour is short, matches are only taking place in Galle & Colombo – which means it should be really straightforward to make your own travel arrangements. Galle is just 120km south of Colombo and 150km from Bandaranaike International Airport.
New highway connections mean the route down south is a simple one by road. In a private car or Uber, it should take two hours and cost around rs.8000 (~£35) from Colombo. Alternatively, take an Uber to the highway bus stand in Kottawa, then hop on an A/C bus to Galle. This will take a little longer, but the total cost will be much lower (bus tickets will set you back roughly rs.500).
Want to make your journey south a real part of the experience? Squeeze on to the train from Colombo Fort station. Red, rickety and invariably crammed full of commuters, with carriage doors open to the ocean the two-and-a-bit-hour ride is something truly special. Wave and watch as you trundle through coastal towns, sun on your face and sea breeze blowing, before arriving right in the heart of Galle – and mere meters from the cricket stadium. You’ll find train timetables here.
Naturally, all of the above can be done in reverse for the return leg to Colombo. For more advice and suggestions for getting around, check out our travel tips page.
Where to stay near the SSC, Colombo
Second Test, 27-31 March
The second and final encounter of the two-match series was originally set to take place at the R Premadasa, a 40-000-seat cauldron in Colombo’s northern suburbs. In January, however, the powers that be announced a switch back to the city’s more established Test venue: the Sinhalese Sports Club. Conveniently situated in the heart of leafy Cinnamon Gardens – one of the commercial capital’s most affluent neighbourhoods and home to a disproportionately large number of cricket grounds – the SSC hosted its first Test in 1984 and has welcomed countless touring sides since.
Now the official home of Sri Lankan cricket, the SSC has seen its fair share of seminal moments. While the grass banks of the Maitland Place ground are frequently used by foreign fans for sunbathing, Muttiah Muralitharan – the island’s most famous off-spinner – instead harnessed its pitch to claim a world-record 166 Test wickets there over the course of his playing career, while pacer Chaminda Vaas took a similarly unbeaten 8 for 19 in an ODI against Zimbabwe in 2001. Alas, the hosts didn’t enjoy such successful form on England’s last visit in 2018, when the visitors sealed victory by 42 runs.
Keen to catch the next instalment? Colombo is home to a whole host of boutique hotels – as you can see here – but for the perfect blend of proximity and luxury, Paradise Road Tintagel is tough to beat. A mere 15-minute walk from the SSC (or 5 minutes by trishaw), this grand residence was once the private home of one of Sri Lanka’s most famous political families. Since restored by Shanth Fernando of local design dynasty Paradise Road, it’s now one of the city’s most luxurious boutique hotels. All polished wooden floors, four-poster beds and chic monochrome style, this is the stuff of interior design magazines. Fantastically located and well-equipped with a courtyard pool, spa, gym and bar, Tintagel really does have it all. Just don’t crawl in singing I Don’t Like Cricket at 2am – this is one for the grown-ups…
Or you could try… Residence by Uga Escapes
Things to note
Because it’s tightly nestled amongst the many schools and sports pitches of Colombo 7, the roads around the SSC will often jam up on match days – and Maitland Place, on which it’s located, will usually be closed to vehicles. Several of the gates open directly onto this avenue, so you might well find yourself queuing along it.
Rather than compete with the 10,000 or so fans trying to find an Uber or a trishaw after play finishes, why not capitalise on the SSC’s central location and go on foot? Countless hotels, bars and cafés are situated within a 20-minute radius, including Kava, which overlooks the neighbouring Colombo Cricket Club, and the fabled Cricket Club Café – a must for fans of merchandise and pun-packed menus. Grab a beer and some bites and, if you still need a ride when you’re done, the rush should have died down enough for you to find one.
If do you need transport directly from the ground, it’s best to pre-arrange a car or trishaw to collect you nearby (either by asking your hotel or contacting a driver you’ve used previously) – otherwise you might be in for a lengthy wait, especially if rain’s stopped play.
Inside the SSC, seating is a mix of tiered grandstands and grass banks. Touring groups will usually buy up the most expensive seats in the former. These don’t necessarily offer the best views, but the price hike means you’re likely to be surrounded almost exclusively by fellow travelling fans. For a more authentic atmosphere – Sri Lankan fans will routinely be happy to celebrate with you, whoever wins – try one of the open areas. Tickets for these usually go on sale online closer to the match and shouldn’t cost more than a few hundred rupees. The SSC is compact and the banks sloped, so you should get a good, close view of the action – just bear in mind that there’s no cover from the hot March sun, so do the needful with sun cream and water.
Want a view of the scoreboard? Pick seating on the west side of the oval.
Beer is generally in plentiful supply at the SSC. Served in plastic cups, you’ll usually get five or six Lion lagers for the price of a single pint at a stadium in England. Queues aren’t generally too bad, but the ready flow of inebriant can lead to rowdy crowds from both continents – or sleepy ones, depending on the quality of play.
Look out for food vendors touting spicy pineapple, wade and more. These are generally safe to eat and delicious, too! You can also bring in outside snacks, which is a surefire way to make friends, or pick up cooked treats from the stalls around the perimeter.