8.33am. It’s Saturday morning. But not just any Saturday morning … no, it’s the morning of Gecko Sixes. So just like a child on Christmas Day, I leap out of bed with giddy excitement and immediately look outside the window, only this time praying for sun and not snow.
As we pull up to the Victoria Recreation Ground at Surbiton, the excitement builds. The sight of the vast open space and the smell of freshly cut grass bring into focus what we’re here for: a fun-filled day of soft-ball cricket played out on the backdrop of friendly banter and good-spirited competition, all in the name of charity. This is our eighth edition of Gecko Sixes, and it’s due to be bigger and better than ever.
And so we start setting up, plotting the boundaries that will provide the barriers to success and the gazebo that will shelter the delicious food that will soon line our stomachs. A quick look up to the sky – the magic of the Sixes continues to defy the poor forecast. Perfect.
The first teams begin to arrive, and not even train delays can prevent them making their way to the ground. The windballs are out and the bats are picked up from the pavilion with gusto as men, women, boys and girls stride out purposefully simply for a relaxing warm up. With Yasath – one of two vice-presidents of Gecko – leading the troops, the groups are drawn up and the format of the tournament is explained to the eagerly awaiting crowd. 13 teams this year, I see … a magnificent turn out, especially considering the numerous spectators present. I look around the ground to see familiar faces combined with new friends that are experiencing the tournament for the first time. It’s lovely to see the event branching out to new audiences and raising the awareness of the charity.
Okay, it’s time the talking stopped. It’s down to business now. The teams set out to the five pitches around the ground and the scene is set for something special. And then it begins – orange windballs raining down from the sky, the sound of clattering wickets and joyous celebrations. How pleasant to see cricket being played in the spirit of the recent England-New Zealand series rather than what promises to be a spiky Ashes series to come. It’s amazing to see people of different abilities combining in unison to create cricketing magic. The highlight of the group stage surely must be the tied match between teams F and I: the last ball top-edged but spinning beyond the keeper’s grasp to the boundary to send team F into hysterics as they progress as group winners.
So there we have it, four teams progress to the semi-finals. And two unlucky runner-ups led by brothers Wikum and Madu respectively play out an eventful plate final, with the latter coming out on top. Time for a break – and the aunties are doing an incredible job serving the mutton rolls and patties, sandwiches and cake, keeping the crowds happy and well-fed. Oh, someone’s got the frisbee out for a little fun on the side, and the picnic blankets are out with people lounging in the sun that has finally begun to peek out from behind the clouds. Excellent.
Unfortunately this is where my team meets its end, with an exciting low-scoring game deservedly swaying in Team Manthi’s favour. In the other semi final, Team Sam beats Team Ham, despite the batting efforts of the excellently nicknamed Joe “School of Hard” Knox. Two first-time finalists, a brilliant advert for the tournament. Terrific.
And there we have it. It all comes down to this – the sun timing its entrance perfectly as it floods the grounds in glorious sunshine. And the tone for the final is set from the very first ball, a magnificent one-handed catch on the boundary by Heshan sending the crowd into raptures and leaving Jonny deflated, having batted exquisitely throughout the tournament. With a score of 28 to chase, captain Manthi and the stylish Shiraz set about their task with ruthless efficiency, carrying their team to victory. Handshakes all round, with gracious winners and sporting runners-up – what more could you ask for?
And that’s all folks – the medals are presented to the victors and special thanks to Yasath, who was the organiser-in-chief, as well as Madu, president of Gecko. And of course the final word belongs to Unity in Health, the charity organisation to which we are donating all proceeds from this year’s event. They are setting up a diploma for community psychiatric nursing in rural Sri Lanka, targeting an area of health that is often overlooked and poorly funded in the country. A wonderful project to match a wonderful event.
So as the crowds disperse, I look up to the sky – and it starts to pour it down. I could not have timed it better myself. The magic of Gecko Sixes lives on …