It was supposed to be the cricketing trip of a lifetime for two Whanganui teenagers and one of the boy's fathers, instead it became an up close and personal look at how eastern Asia-Pacific is battling the Covid-19 pandemic.
Wanganui Under 15 reps Matthew Hocquard and Henry Blackley, along with Matthew's father Tim Hocquard, faced armed soldiers, spray downs with chemicals, and the very real prospect of being stranded in a closed-border country on their 10 day tour of Sri Lanka with the Ontario Cricket Academy Under 19's.
The three are now back home and all self-quarantined for the next two weeks at the Hocquard household, with Tim Hocquard's wife and daughter staying with other friends for that duration.
On the playing side of the tour, the Sri Lankan Government initially closed all schools in their large capital of Columbo, as first the Kiwis and then their Canadian team mates arrived, meaning they played only four of 11 scheduled matches.
But in just a few days, the entire country was under curfew and a reality that hadn't quite caught up to the teenagers became clear when they were barred from tourist resorts, initially denied a return trip to their hotel by armed soldiers, saw food outlets run out of stock, and then had their scheduled connecting flights to Singapore be cancelled without further explanation or promises of support.
The contingent had left of March 12, two days before New Zealand began to introduce travel restrictions as the coronvirus spread, and Tim Hocquard said the first indication of how serious things had gotten was when they landed in Colombo 30 hours later.
"On the way out [of New Zealand], you just got on your plane as normal - used the hand sanitisers, and off you went.
"Singapore, we went through narrow isles with heat sensors - they wanted to check you temperature.
"Colombo, the heat sensors were out...you come off the plane very slowly.
"Armed soldiers. They wanted to know where you were staying. I remember you looked up at the TV and you saw, 'global pandemic declared'.
"Seriously, it happened in the 30 hours that we left [New Zealand]."
In a part of the world that was notably affected by the SARS epedemic in the mid-2000's, the cricket team would soon see how seriously the country was taking the outbreak, as they left Colombo to base themselves in Matara, and ultimately played two games each against White Ball Academy Under 19's of Wadduwa and the Sappers Cricket Club, which is part of the army.
"[Afterwards], the government announced closure of everything - grounds, schools, gatherings, you name it," said Tim Hocquard.
The team had another culture shock in Matara, when local monks set up a gazeebo with microphones and big speakers.
"They had a 24 hour praying session to rid the area of the virus, hopefully it worked."
While the public remained orderly, Hocquard said they saw giant queques for markets and money machines, while a planned bus trip to a well-know village tourist resort had to turn back in the face of signs saying the town was shut to outsiders.
"Soldiers came to the hotel, took everyone's passport to confirm where they were, and then confined us to the hotel and the beach," said Tim Hocquard.
He said when you talked to the team, especially the young Canadians, there was still no real concern, as the hotel was luxurious and their main complaint was slow wi-fi.
But a bus trip out to the local KFC after the food at the hotel had run out showed the teenagers how serious matters were, as they were blocked by armed soldiers from travelling back over a road bridge at 10pm, as only a quick phonecall from their local contact resolved the situation.
Hocquard said what was normally a four-and-a-half hour bus drive back to Colombo the following day became a cruise as the highway usually packed with trucks and mopeds was totally empty.
At the international airport, the Kiwis discovered Singapore Airlines had cancelled their return flights through that country, leading to a frantic search to find another airline, with Hocquard calling his wife and Blackley's mother back in Whanganui.
"Even now, I still haven't heard back from Singapore Airlines."
In addition, while at the airport they were doused with disinfectant, while even walking around the building meant avoiding soldiers on golf carts who carried spray bottles.
"They got your whole body, and you stand there with your feet, and they just covered you."
Finally, after paying an extra $2500, the Kiwis managed to secure a flight on an Emirates airline, which would take them to Dubai from where they could resume their regular flight schedule, adding on another 8-9 hours.
"This was almost like the last way home. On the flight was people wearing masks, helmets, plastic bags on feet, you name it.
"Dubai was silent, just people miserable, it was a strange sensation."
The return flight to the country saw the trio joined by fellow Kiwis coming back from Europe, with the paranoia now setting in as Hocquard heard that some of them had been in Italy – the worst hit country in terms of official fatalities.
"We had no choice [to sit with them]. Got on the plane, and got home, you douse yourself in sanitiser."
Back at Auckland Airport, after everything they had been through in Asia, Hocquard was "astonished" the process through the international to domestic terminals was a quick interview and checklist.
"They just asked, 'how are you feeling? Sore throat? No, ok, you can go'.
"In Colombo, every time they saw you, someone would stick a themomater in your face, then they would come back and check to see if there was a temperature change.
"They wanted to know, and that made you feel better."
Feeling "very happy" to be home, Hocquard said the boys still wanted to thank former Cricket Wanganui Cricket Wanganui general manager Dilan Rajfor arranging their chance to go on the big overseas tour, even if their life-long memories were not the ones they were expecting.
"Now, if the boys don't kill each other in the next two weeks, there'll be lots of cricket on the front lawn."
* * * * *
The Wanganui Under 15 cricketers were not the only local sportsman who have managed to make it home after a long journey.
Former Steelform Wanganui loose forward and 2017 Meads Cup winner Cade Robinson has made it back after a three day journey from England.
Robinson has been playing for the Scarborough club in the United Kingdom, where the 2019-20 English season was ended early on March 20.
Robinson will now self isolate for 14 days.