England will play Sri Lanka in a Test match from Thursday in an empty stadium in Galle, 72 miles (112 kilometres) south of the capital Colombo, and Rob Lewis‘s only hope is that he can watch from atop a local landmark.
The 37-year-old member of the Barmy Army fan group was on a plane to Sri Lanka last March when Joe Root’s team abruptly ended a practice match ahead of the two Tests against Sri Lanka and left the country as the coronavirus was declared a global pandemic.
Lewis stayed in Sri Lanka through its virus curfews, working remotely as a web designer 8,700 kilometres (5,400 miles) from his Surrey home, waiting for England to return and play the two Tests.
He even landed a part-time gig as a DJ at a bar in Colombo, calling himself “DJ Randy Caddick”, in homage to England fast bowler Andy Caddick.
“I’ve been in Sri Lanka the whole time on blind faith, on a wing and a prayer,” Lewis told AFP at the Galle Fort, which overlooks the cricket stadium.
He had hoped he would get into the ground but, amid a surge in infections, no fans will be allowed in for the matches.
At one point, he had jokingly asked Sri Lanka’s coach Mickey Arthur — with whom he has struck a friendship — if he could be the water boy for the Sri Lankan side, just to get near the action.
However, he may not miss out completely.
“Lucky enough, because it is Galle, we have the beautiful fort to watch (from),” he said on the ramparts of the 16th-century fort.
(Rob Lewis at the Galle fort, which is just beside the cricket stadium in the Sri Lankan city – AFP Photo)
The imposing fortifications, founded and developed by Portuguese and Dutch colonisers, have become a popular viewing spot for locals who do not want to pay for tickets to matches at Galle.
Lewis hoped to keep up Barmy Army standards by hanging a banner that the players could see from the pitch.
He also planned on “yelling ‘Jerusalem’ out as loud as I can to support the players”, referring to the popular English hymn regularly chanted at the team’s matches.
“I’m going to print a few hymn sheets out and try and get as many people to help me sing ‘Jerusalem’ as possible,” he said.
After England left Sri Lanka on March 13, the side’s fans scrambled to catch flights home, paying several times the usual fare. Lewis thought the pandemic would be quickly dealt with, and decided to stay.
“I thought, ‘Oh, this coronavirus will be a month. I’ll stay in for that month and then see what happens.’ But it rumbled on… there’s never been a point where I thought I should go home.”
He said he could work remotely and support his stay in Sri Lanka comfortably. “I could get annoyed about the money I spend on rent back home… but it’s offset by the cheaper cost of living here.”
“There are not many tourists around, so things are cheaper. I’m able to stay at nicer villas for half the price… it’s been great. I’ve gone on tours that normally may be not affordable.”
Sri Lanka is facing a surge in infections with the number of cases rising to nearly 50,000 from 3,300 in early October. The number of fatalities has risen from 13 in October to 240 on Tuesday.
With London under another strict virus lockdown, Lewis says he is not sure when he will return, but he misses his friends and family.
“It will be great to see them again,” he said. “It’s been a long time.”