Colombo: On a day off from cricket, players enjoy travelling around the city. Some look forward to shopping, while others prefer to eat at some of the best restaurants. Only someone who is familiar with this city can guide you to the right places. Cricketers have found the most unexpected person to help them out in this regard: Dav Whatmore.
The Pakistan coach is the most sought-after man in question, not only by the Pakistanis but also by the Australians.
Whatmore, who was born in Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon in 1954, knows Colombo like the back of his hand. His family emigrated to Australia in 1962 and he then returned to his place of birth to become the Sri Lanka coach, guiding them to victory in the 1996 World Cup.
He was a student at the Royal Preparatory College in Colombo, also known as the Royal Primary School, an institution which is always proud to mention him whenever staff mention their old boys. Ranil Wickremasinghe, the former Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, was also a student there.
Many Australians love Sri Lanka, and in fact, an Australian couple who settled in Sri Lanka even set up a bar in the name of the legendary batsman Don Bradman.
Victor Gunaratne, a man in his 80s who runs a grocery shop near the hotel where I’m staying, is full of cricket tales. He is happy that Australia made it to the semi-finals of the T20 World Cup. He said his hero was Bradman.
“Just like you, I now adore Chris Gayle and Sachin Tendulkar, who is my idol. I will never forget the day on March 31, 1948. That was the day I met Bradman for the first time and that moment will remain with me forever.”
Gunaratne was among the many fans who were present at P Sara Oval, the only ground in Sri Lanka where Bradman played. In fact, inside the pavilion there is a huge picture of Bradman walking out to bat.
Gunaratne also recalled an incident during the match. “Australians were finding it tough to bat and Bradman asked them to measure the pitch, only to find that it was a 20 yards long instead of the usual 22. They then had a huge laugh,” he said.
“Nearly 20,000 people turned up to watch Bradman play. We sat on the grass close to the boundary. Spectators today should he happy that everyone gets a seat. Those were the days when we used to wave the visiting country’s flag instead of our own like most spectators do now,” he said, adding that he had also watched West Indies legend Gary Sobers play here in 1967.
“I tell my children who enjoy cricket that the big advantage I have over them is having seen these two greats in action,” he added.