19th December 2014 Colombo, Sri Lanka
Harrow School’s Return to Sri Lanka
Our third blog in the series tells the story of the Harrow School First XI; how their cricket tour was caught up in the tsunami, their subsequent partnership with Vidyaloka School, and the experience of their return last year. Former Master-in-Charge of Cricket, Mr Simon Halliday, reflects on the experience.
Back in 2004, two-thirds of the way through the tour, I remember sitting in our hotel on a hillside above Kandy, watching the rain teem down in straight grey lines. We had started in the dehydrating heat of Colombo, becoming the first-ever touring team to defeat Royal College, before climbing to Kandy’s cosy splendour. It was a thrill to play at the historic Asgiriya Stadium but it was there that rain arrived halfway through the day. The heart sank to see the great ground at St Anthony’s College deep under water and then the boggy outfield at Dambulla International Stadium. Play was cancelled but at least we had the glorious fish curries to keep us going, together with rich cultural experiences at Kandy and Sigiriya. And now, at last, we were down at Galle on Christmas Day, the skies clear, the weather and setting idyllic.
Surely there was nothing that could stop us playing – apart from a wall of water hurtling towards us from a plate boundary off the coast of Sumatra.
It is amazing to think that the first reaction of many was disappointment that another match looked like being washed out; a feeling that paled into insignificance when the scale of the tragedy truly hit home. As we struggled to make sense of it all and to make the decisions that would best serve our group in our small corner of the chaos, lives and livelihoods were at stake across the continent. Our story of survival and how we made it back to Colombo with just our cricket bags for company is a mini epic when compared to the cosy routine of our normal lives.
But we were all part of a much bigger story.
On our return to the country in 2013 for another cricket tour, it was difficult to escape the shadow of 2004. For the School’s Cricket Professional, Stephen Jones, and me, the days spent in and around Galle were particularly poignant. The Galle International Stadium and the bus station behind it had been redeveloped, improvements typical of a rapidly developing Sri Lanka, but it was still possible to mentally piece together the locations and scenes of that incredible day. It was important for us to have a quiet beer in the Galle Fort Hotel – the place of refuge for the squad on that fateful night – and it was good to travel to Colombo after the Galle match to honour the Hirdaramani family – the rescuers and guardians of us all in the days that followed the tsunami – at a reception at the family home.
Perhaps the most amazing event of the 2013 tour was the visit to Vidyaloka School in Galle. This was the school that had benefitted from our huge fundraising effort after the tsunami. The idea was that we would just pop in for a quick hello before the long road trip east to Hambantota but, the moment that we were met by the school brass band on the main road outside the school, it was clear that the occasion warranted much more than that. There was a slow-paced march into the school grounds holding banana leaves in cupped offering, followed by a raising of the school flags, all accompanied by the band, who then performed a medley of their greatest hits. There were formal speeches and presentations, and then a guided tour around the new gym (with a demonstration of local skills) and the classroom blocks that Harrow had helped to construct. All in all, it was quite overwhelming.
Read the first blog in our series: How will we remember?
Second blog: The Sri Lanka Women’s Swimming Project