If you’ve ever been to Sri Lanka you’ll know that cricket is no small matter. Any open space big enough to be a pitch is an opportunity for a game; from open parks, to dusty streets or cobbled alleyways, both young and old will gather for a game. All that’s needed is any old bat and ball – a  tree, bin, or chair is good enough for wickets, and the game is on.

In South Africa our game is soccer, but you won’t find a more proud cricket nation around. We are born winners and a one game ‘losing streak’ is met with national uproar. As far as cricket goes, South Africa has never been a happy hunting ground for Sri Lanka. They’ve always battled against our fast bowlers, and haven’t won a series here in ages. And I mean ages.

That’s precisely why when our Sri Lankan friends from Leopard Trails were visiting at Vuyatela and a cricket game was discussed, we knew the stakes were high. The idea was formed around a fire as we sat comparing Asian and African leopards and their many differences. A few drinks down and we had moved away from the subject of wildlife and onto our general day to day activities in the bush. Cricket was mentioned and before we knew it a match was on.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the ‘gentleman’s game’, it’s basically two teams trying to score the most runs, which is done by hitting a ball around a large oval field. Hence, you have a bowling/fielding team and then a batting team. If you’d like to know more just read this.

Two days later, and we were rushing out of morning meeting all clad in our cricket gear. With the afternoon safari looming we settled at six overs a side. In the midday heat Quarantine clearing was scorching, and the Sri Lankans  won the toss and put us in to field first. The pitch was a bit bumpy, our groundsmen, the impala and wildebeest, clearly hadn’t quite got the memo for a flat pacey wicket. No one on the Sri Lankan team looked overly athletic and we could see no visible threat. Ralph bowled with good pace up front before Conrad took a hat-trick, and we were well on our a way. Dawie, Senzo, Craig and Stevovo followed up well, but after some good hitting towards the end our opponents had clawed their way back into the game.

They managed 39, a sizable target on Quarantine, but nothing we couldn’t chase down. Our opening partnership was solid but a bit slow, and after a good bowling performance, Senzo seemed unsure if he was left or right handed. Conrad couldn’t follow up his form with the ball and went out for a golden duck. Three overs in and we were against the ropes.

Stevovo, turned umpire, was quite generous to the visitors as we began to fall further behind the scoreboard. Ferg and I formed a good partnership towards the end, but after all his gyming I was not quite as strong as him and couldn’t find the boundary with as much ease. Tayla was sadly sick, and not around for some last gasp match fixing. Meanwhile our Kenyan, David, was as confused as the impala, having never witnessed a game of cricket. Unable to call on our international recruits the score proved too big to chase down. We’d just lost on home soil.

A first victory for a travelling Sri Lankan team in South Africa in years, some took it better than others, as the Sri Lankans celebrated in great cheer. Ferg was our definite stand out, and we’ve scheduled a rematch be it here or in the equally beautiful Sri Lanka.

In the post match presentation Conrad, our captain for the day, was still very upbeat. I have a theory that around the fire two days prior a beautiful lady amongst the visitors, who was also half Dutch, managed to eek our tactics out of him as they stood conversing in broken Dutch and Afrikaans around the warmth of the flickering flames.

Nonetheless, we couldn’t think of better friends to lose to, and we’re excited for round two. Ideally this can be an annual event. We’ve learnt valuable lessons and have vowed to come back stronger. Most importantly we’ve organised a new groundsman Darryl the elephant, the heavy roller, so hopefully he’ll produce a flatter wicket and one with a lot less turn.

Written by Luke MacDonald