Wanganui Under 15 cricketers Matthew Hocquard and Henry Blackley found a much wider world than even they had imagined as they linked up with the Ontario Cricket Academy Under 19's for their 10-day tour of Sri Lanka this week.
Accompanied by Hocquard's father Tim, the boys had joined the Canadian side as part of a reciprocal exchange which has seen multiple Canadian-Indian players join Cricket Wanganui's ranks with the Tech Old Boys club in the past four seasons.
The Ontario touring side - which includes Tech players Harkaran Mann, Siddh Ladd and Canada's ICC U19 World Cup star Akhil Kumar – had planned 11 matches in Colombo, Matara and Negombo for their development tour.
The Whanganui contingent departed from Palmerston North airport on March 12, two days before the New Zealand Government instituted the first in a series of travel restrictions in the wake of the spread of COVID-19.
"The boys got off the plane in Colombo only to find the world has changed whilst they were in mid air," said Tim Hocquard by email.
"Walking through the airports they encountered infra-red health monitoring stations and compulsory hand sanitising stations.
"Colombo, capital of Sri Lanka, acted swiftly and closed schools.
"Meaning games against the two most prestigious colleges were cancelled."
Despite missing out on games against Ananda College and St Benedict's, the tour has continued as starting on Monday, NZ time, Ontario played their two scheduled Twenty20 games against the local White Ball Academy Under 19's of Wadduwa.
Playing on a sunbaked pitch, which was actually woven with a coconut hair mat, as well as an extremely dusty outfield, both Blackley and Matthew Hocquard were affected by heat exhaustion.
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As temperatures climbed to 39 degrees by mid-match, the abilities of the Wadduwa locals added to the challenge.
"The competition in Sri Lanka is fierce and extremely skilful," said Tim Hocquard.
"Youth cricket is huge with some games having a following of up to ten thousand fans at a match."
There were no spectators for this match, held at the academy's sports pavilion.
Because of the woven coconut hair mat, Tim Hocquard said the ball could "turn a mile".
In the first match, Ontario batted first and made 165, which the home side chased down with two overs to spare.
March 2 saw the Wadduwa side bat first and raise an imposing 180, with Ontario finishing 39 runs short.
Matthew Hocquard made scores of 44 and 28, while he featured in the bowling with 2-37 in the high-scoring second match.
"Blackley made 28 and 16, which included a towering six onto the roof of the neighbouring school," said Tim Hocquard.
Also in the second match, Lad scored a half century, while the skipper in Mann reached a skilful 35.
"Two losses but plenty of games to come," said Tim Hocquard.
The next match was to be against the Sri Lanka Army Under 23 B side.
Tim Hocquard said the teenagers teaming with the likes of Mann, who has just spent four months at Ravichandran Ashwin's Gen-Next academy in India, and Kumar, who was named 12th man of the Under 19 World Cup tournament XI, was invaluable.
"Playing alongside players with this experience is providing an ideal learning environment for our two Whanganui cricketers.
"Both Henry Blackley and Matthew Hocquard are holding their heads high, putting on show some superb displays and contributions so far."
This is the 15th international tour the Ontario academy has undertaken, which is treated as an opportunity to develop players outside of their comfort zones in difficult conditions against tough opponents.