Sri Lanka is a teardrop-shaped island just east of the southern tip of India. Sadly, it is most famous for its vicious civil war that stretched over 25 years and cost the lives of nearly 100,000 people. The war ended in 2009 when the government finally defeated the rebels and since then, Sri Lanka has begun to see new opportunities, both economically and as a tourist destination.
For those of us who travel for sports, there is only one reason to visit this beautiful island and that is cricket. Like much of South Asia, Sri Lanka is mad about this fascinating sport and there are cricket grounds scattered about the country. The most famous of these is likely the R. Premadasa Cricket Ground in Colombo, the capital and largest city in the nation.
Built in 1986 on swampland next to the Khettarama temple, Premadasa is named after the Prime Minister who pursued the idea of creating a world-class cricket facility. After completion, the stadium held just 14,000 fans, but recent renovations have increased capacity to 35,000, making the stadium a suitable host for the 2011 Cricket World Cup.
As well, the newly formed Sri Lanka Premier League holds matches at Premadasa Cricket Ground. Most recently, the stadium was showcased during the 2012 ICC World Twenty20 Championship with the semi-finals and finals the highlights of the event. This review is based on this tournament although it is expected that a Sri Lankan international test match would be similar in terms of atmosphere and amenities. As well, ratings are given in the context of watching a match in Sri Lanka and are not to be compared to a stadium in the United States.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There wasn't a huge variety of food here, with KFC providing a few chicken choices such as 5 hot drumlets for 260 LKR (LKR is the symbol for Sri Lankan Rupee, 130 LKR = $1 US). There were also chicken hot dogs (pork and beef are generally not served here) that seemed quite popular.
Bags of Lay's potato chips were available at 80 LKR for small or 170 LKR for large, with Magic Masala my recommendation. There were even ice cream sandwiches in a few select spots.
Soft drinks and bottled water were easily available and equally affordable, but the reason that I give such high marks here was the beer. Lion, the local brew, was on tap at just 120 LKR per cup (that's less than one US dollar!), and you could buy 6 at a time using a fancy carrying case that held the cups in holes and folded up with a handle for carrying. Given the packed crowds, this method of transporting beer from the concession to your seat was much more practical than the cardboard holders that you get in U.S. stadiums as you don't have to worry about having the cup knocked over. Yes, the cups weren't that big, but with the heat and humidity beating down during the afternoon matches, having plenty of cheap beer made the event much more bearable.
One of the matches I saw was India vs. Pakistan. This is the most-heated rivalry in cricket and perhaps all of sport. These two nations are ostensibly at war and it is no different on the cricket ground. For three solid hours fans of both squads chanted, cheered, screamed, swore, and sang as the match moved along. Unlike U.S. arenas where fans are exhorted to "Make Noise", everything here was based purely on emotion. Add on songs blaring after every 4, 6, or wicket, dancers, and a stadium emcee, and there wasn't a moment of quiet. This may sound unbearable, but it was truly incredible to be part of it. It wasn't until it became apparent that India would win that the Pakistani fans began to leave. Even then, the celebrating Indians kept up the racket until well after the final ball had been bowled. This was like a Stanley Cup, World Series and Super Bowl rolled into one, an unforgettable combination that needs to be seen to be believed.
For the other matches, the atmosphere was more subdued, mostly due to the fact that those began at 3:30 pm when it was still oppressively hot. There were fewer fans in the stadium as well. Still, sitting in the shade watching world-class cricket while having cheap beer is better than many of the experiences I have endured back home. In other words, regardless of the event or squads playing, you will find that watching a cricket match here will come with an atmosphere that cannot be duplicated elsewhere.
As mentioned, the stadium is in a non-descript area of the city, far from where the tourists congregate. There is little else around here so most likely you will be returning to the Fort or Cinnamon Gardens area right after the match where you can have a relaxing dinner at one of many spots. If you want to go upscale, try the Lagoon, an upscale restaurant where you can choose your own seafood and how it is cooked.
Although the immediate vicinity may not be particularly impressive, do take the time to walk along Khettarama Temple Road to see the actual temple for which it is named. It is certainly incongruous to see this beautiful white structure next to such a large sports venue. The back of the stadium is bordered by the Sebastian Canal across which you can see some true local neighborhoods, along with the occasional cow chewing on the grass.
Cricket fans are unique in the world of sport. When it comes to supporting their nation, they are without equal in finding innovative ways of dressing up in team colors, making noise for the entirety of the match, and generally having a good time. Despite some fierce rivalries between India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka among others (the Sri Lankan cricket team was attacked by terrorists in Lahore, Pakistan in 2009), fans from each country were well behaved and friendly with their opposites, taking pictures with each other and engaging in a bit of good-natured trash talk. It is worth noting how U.S. sports fans take their loyalties to local teams so seriously, leading to fistfights and even murder, yet these fans from countries considered to be unsafe understand that sports is about having a good time rather than establishing self-esteem.
Of course, with beer so affordable, it was natural that a couple of minor scuffles broke out but the security staff responded quickly and the offenders were quickly removed.
Premadasa Cricket Ground is located northeast of the main tourist area in Colombo, about 30 minutes from Galle Road by tuk-tuk, the small 3-wheeled taxis that dominate local traffic. Make sure to ask for the meter to be turned on when you board, or negotiate a set rate (about 250-300 LKR). You will be dropped off at the corner of Sri Saddharma Mawatha and Khettarama Temple Road, about 150 meters from the stadium.
From there, you have to clear two separate security checks, before walking to one of 11 gates. Don't bother trying to enter through a gate other than that printed on your ticket; the seating sections are distinct and separated by fences to prevent fans wandering where they don't belong.
The best place to sit is in the Grandstand, which is roomier, has fewer fans and far less waiting at the concessions. It also gives a straight-on view of the scoreboard, which is important in a game as complicated as cricket. As you move around, you will obviously get different angles of the pitch and prices drop accordingly. These other areas are known as blocks, separated into A, B, C, and D with upper and lower sections in each.
The lower sections contain long concrete blocks and should be avoided, as the views are not the best. The upper seats are typical and comfortable enough. Be aware that outside the grandstand, a full stadium makes it difficult to move around in and that the concessions can be chaotic. As well, the sun shines into the upper seats opposite the grandstand and can make the first couple of hours of an afternoon match rather uncomfortable. It is therefore recommend that you purchase a grandstand seat. The atmosphere might not be quite the same, but the ease of access coupled with the shade here makes it a worthwhile investment.
I attended the Super 8 matches, essentially the quarterfinals where the best eight teams were divided into two groups of four. Grandstand seats at Premadasa were the most expensive at $18, while those in the C block cost only $3. Ticket prices were kept low to encourage the locals to attend, since their national team was playing in the other group, whose matches were in Pallekele, about 3 hours to the east. Even if you consider the price in LKR, it was a bargain, especially when you realize that two matches could be enjoyed at such a reasonable cost. Add in the atmosphere, cheap beer, and the incredible overall experience and this category would get even more points were it possible.
The huge scoreboard is hand-operated and it is a beauty. All the info you need to know is tracked without a single electronic intruder to spoil the effect. Look for the various operators sticking their heads out to monitor the action on the pitch.
The seats are alternately colored yellow and blue between sections, representing the colors on the Sri Lankan national team uniform. It makes for a beautiful sight on a bright sunny day.
After every four, six, or wicket, dancers clad in bright outfits would appear to perform a brief jig. They may not have been quite as talented as NFL cheerleaders, but full marks for effort.
When you enter the stadium, you are given a placard with 4 on one side and 6 on the other. When the team you are supporting scores one or the other, you can jump up and celebrate along with everyone else. Just make sure that you are holding the placard the right side up; there are no 9's in cricket.
Did I mention beer was less than a dollar?
Although I witnessed three matches in the Twenty20 World Cup, I can imagine that attending a Sri Lankan test or ODI here would be equally exciting if not more so. Watching 35,000 crazy cricket fans is just as entertaining as following the actual event in front of you. No doubt that the majority of the Stadium Journey audience will not consider a trip to Sri Lanka to be feasible, but should you be looking for a new destination that has yet to be spoiled by tourism, consider this beautiful island nation. And if you go, make sure to visit at least one cricket ground, you will not be disappointed.
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77, Galle Road
Colombo, Sri Lanka
+94 (11) 2 437437
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