All the mistakes are mine, the opinions are mine and are not associated with any organisation I am currently involved with!
All the mistakes are mine, the opinions are mine and are not associated with any organisation I am currently involved with!
The day dawns after a chill if not slightly-bordering-on-cold night to a spectacular start to a new day. Whilst everything has already been more than expected, there’s only so much tourist stuff one can take on a cricket tour and I’m probably reaching that point soon. But with the 2nd test starting tomorrow, we start the journey to Kandy.
It’s a relatively short hop so a morning resting is most welcome before venturing out on the train from Hatton to Kandy across even more tea plantations, uplands and greenery. The distance is c60km but will take just under three hours, and alight at the station before Kandy as parking for the tour bus is a challenge at Kandy station. A brief city tour awaits – assuming the travel arrangements all work – before we are despatched to our hotels. But that’s in the future.
The group is travelling light as our luggage is being taken on the coach…and hopefully the logistics will work, if not someone else will get all my newly and neatly laundered clothes (if Mrs Agnew is reading this..,please note!).
Any train journey is a voyage of discovery even on Network Rail so Sri Lanka railways should be no different, and I’m not disappointed. The carriages are adequate, the rolling and rocking a little heavy but we are also climbing for most of the time, as well as doubling back on ourselves as the shortest way is also on the railway equivalent of a hair pin bend. We are on time – or thereabouts bearing in mind that this train started its journey only just after breakfast and we’re well past lunch time. Numerous officials in very smart dress are in attendance on and off the train (in fact every official is always smartly dressed as our school students come to that – not something seen every day in the UK).
One different aspect is that trespassing on the track is a normal activity and I took the opportunity to do just that…not crossing by the footbridge! I have evidence! Another difference is the at-seat buffet service- street hawkers (duly authorised) – sell their wares on a regular and frequent basis but at significantly lower prices! On board wash rooms are cleaner than on Southern or Greater Abellio or whatever but are of a slightly different style. Photo available on request!
The outside views continue to be spectacular as the train rolls along stopping for the occasional station. There are only a few trains each day on this route (from deep in the hill country to Kandy and then Colombo) but train is still busy – tourists, back packers, locals et al – but not the extreme overcrowding elsewhere in Asia; and no, I’m not hobnobbing in first class!
There’s no TV crew or retired politician in sight presumably as there is little of interest on this line or didn’t Bradshaw reach this part of the Empire but how difficult can it be to sit on a train and chat…and no I’m not wearing garish clothes!
We arrive at the station one stop before the main Kandy station – a sort of Clapham Junction but much smaller – to take our journey into the city centre. Platforms here tend to be at ground level whereas the carriage floor is a few feet higher. Hence embarking and disembarkation is not as swift requiring passengers to step down or up. This means that the group takes longer than an allotted time to disembark and the train moves off with someone in mid flow! Fortunately messages got to the driver and no damage was done but that’s not the sort of thing on Network Rail.
Arriving at the hotel, am glad to report that Sri Lanka cricket are true to their word regards compensation- fruit and wine on arrival are excellent and the suite they’ve upgraded me to is probably bigger than my first property in the UK.
But there is news of the cricket in that Buttler could well move to #3 and swap with Ali but it seems that the compensation package offered by the Sri Lankan board could be enhanced even more by the ECB and if so, I may spontaneously combust with excitement! But more later, if it happens!
To start a small technical point. The photos may not be to the usual quality as I’m unable at the moment to recharge my cell phone to upload photos from my camera. Therefore for the moment please bear with me and all else being equal I’m hoping to back fully functioning soon. If not, I’m going to bore you rigid with my holiday snaps when I’m back in the UK! I think all my friends will be too busy to see me for months!
Today dawns at the Strathmore Mandria bungalow in Hatton to the smell on the breeze of tea dust and the dulcet tones of someone practicing Fur Elise on their recorder. The whole scene is idyllic.
I need to point out at this stage that I am one of the few people in the world who doesn’t drink tea – the smell is all it needs to send me running for cover! So a visit to a tea plantation in the tea growing area of Sri Lanka would seem incongruous but it will add to the sum of knowledge!
But first, a couple of stops at viewpoints for two of Sri Lanka’s largest waterfalls.
To grow tea bushes (originally Sri Lanka was earmarked for coffee production in the 19th century but that failed when parasites affected the crop) you need warmth (here in abundance), water (ditto) and labour (ditto too). The advantages that tea bushes have is that they will or even prefer to grow on hillsides – I don’t know who asked them or how they know but they do and there’s loads of steep hillsides, rolling landscapes, sharp bends, steep gradients, nooks and crannies and every square inch of land covered in tea bushes.
The visit to the tea factory was a little disappointing as their working patterns mean that they pick today and process today/tomorrow and as yesterday was Sunday, there was little to see except some idle equipment and a few maintenance men and builders- everyone else was out on the hillside. The equipment did seem a little pristine and lacking in evidence of any recent tea leaves but interestingly the pickers – as it reached lunch time or even the end of their shift – had all their bags collected by another team who then proceeded to carry all the bags up the mountainside in the opposite direction to the factory.
The option to sample the output was politely declined without causing an international or diplomatic incident and a few photos snapped.
Lunch in Nurawa Eliya – the local commercial centre – at the Grand Hotel was fine and a wander around the gardens aided digestion after a pleasant coffee! And a spell outside the post office emphasised how cooler it was in the uplands compared to the incessant humidity of the coast where even paper almost disintegrated in front of your eyes.
By way of light relief, I’ve seen a Naandos, the option to buy Kodak Flim, a school called the Terminal Education Academy and at Galle cricket ground, the ‘right wing stand’ as it was on the right as you looked from one end of the ground.
I’ve checked my tickets for the Test in Kandy and it seems I’m not allowed to take a juke box, food, back pack, camera, weapons, short sticks (presumably long ones are ok?), selfie stick, sharp objects (presumably my sharp edged wit and repartee will allowed?), bottles, umbrellas, crash helmets or coins into the ground. Doesn’t say anything about trumpets, trombones, picnic set, cuddly toy, fondue set etc….
Today sees the journey from Galle to Hatton in the central highland areas of Sri Lanka but not before a slightly delayed departure to join the hundreds of English fans who gathered at the Clock Tower in the old Fort in Galle to commemorate Remembrance Sunday and the centenary.
The journey starts heading back towards Colombo on the E1 expressway built with Chinese investment into the Sri Lankan economy. The route then heads east through towns large and small with a lunch stop at a restaurant where like Barkis, everyone was willing but service was closer to a well known fictional hotel in Torquay- but who cares? The group were all fed and watered eventually and a convivial time was had.
As we proceed upwards and eastwards, through Avissellawa the incline becomes noticeable as the roads twist and turn. The greenery across Sri Lanka is something to behold and the vegetation becomes thicker and thicker; this is starting to sound as if we’re trekking through jungle but no…rubber plantations, tea plantations and coconut palms in abundance.
Today being Sunday the use of the horn seems to be more subdued but it may be due to lighter traffic. If you’ve been to Asia you will know what appears to the visitor to be chaos and driving ‘at the edge’ but no one seems to mind if you travel three abreast in one lane of a two lane road – a tuk tuk, a bike or scooter, and a bus/coach all side by side. It all works because this is the norm. Lane dodging on the M25 would appear equally strange to others! All you need to survive in both is skill and judgement!
Following on from comments from readers regarding my audacious question to Mrs Aggers yesterday and the laundry process in the Agnew suite, she spotted me in the hotel lobby before we all departed and I advised her of the level of disquiet expressed. She assured me that she blogged about the laundry first and I should not take the comments of others to heart!
Gradually and almost imperceptibly the gradient increases, the bends become hairpins and the ascent to over 650m (3,000+ feet) in traffic which allows overtaking on two lane road! The views are increasingly stunning and as the sun sets increasingly beautiful but as we are behind the original schedule, the light fades too much and too quickly for what I had hoped would be some picturesque sunset snaps but as I write this we are at a stop for an off-licence (or what Brits would understand as such) cum liquor store as the hotels the group is booked in does not have its own licence and guests need to provide their own. A couple of dry days will help me restore an equilibrium and give my liver a chance to ‘rest’.
After much searching in the darkness, the hotel – or rather the bungalow – was located. An exquisite Empire style tea plantation managers bungalow operating as a boutique hotel. There are only four rooms for five of us staying here so we are outnumbered by the most welcoming and helpful staff. The best way to describe everything is to recall the TV series Jewel in the Crown. If Rules restaurant (the oldest in London and one of the most opulent) ran hotels…this would be it!
The process seems to be that the guests form a ‘house party’ in that we all eat together and eat the same. This is wonderful as it gives everyone the chance to properly meet each other and discuss the meaning of life, the universe and everything in very convivial company.
There is only one aspect I’ve found to fault…the bath is very deep so if anyone has issues with their hips or knees, they may not be able to get their leg over.
It has not quite fully upgraded itself to life in the 21st century as the Wi-fi is spasmodic and I cannot recharge my phone at the moment but the power will recharge my iPad? Odd but I suppose I’ve come here for relaxing and sightseeing so being ‘off the grid’ is not the end of the world! After all the human race managed for centuries without the technology of today but it does show me how reliant I have become on such technology so perhaps it’s time for me to rethink.
And at least we would be none the wiser about others laundry arrangements which prompts me to…
With the first test ending almost on the close of the 4th day, today was ‘cricket free’ and time to be a tourist.
So today there are few words other than the captions for a few of the better photos I have selected.
However, events cannot pass without mentioning meeting the delightful Mrs Agnew in the hotel lift and just sufficient time to ask her why, in her blog, she was concerned about the number of pairs of underpants Aggers had left for her to collect in preparation for the laundry service; she adamantly stood by her claim which was disputed by the editor of her blog (presumably J P Agnew, Leicestershire and England). It’s probably best that we don’t know the accurate answer!
Day 4 dawned after a night of torrential storms and rain as prospects of play looked slim. However as the sun broke through and dried things out, play started on time and with it Sri Lanka’s hopes of delaying what is probably the inevitable. Moisture in this part of the world doesn’t stay around for long once the mercury rises!
The crowd is larger today after some needed a rest yesterday and the heat of the day before but strangely and eerily play has proceeded in almost total silence- I’ve heard more noise in church! Sri Lanka progress with few alarms until drinks and 50 on the board. However, the break brings a break in concentration and Silva leaves.
What is muddling is some of Roots field placing for his spinners- at one stage four on the boundary and close field looking a bit sparse. Gone are the days of not worrying about the runs and attacking and attacking but we shall see.
Debates continue about the declaration yesterday and the illogical decision to have Curran batting for one ball for no runs. The consensus is coming to a conclusion of muddled thinking.
However, what can’t be denied is the sheer excitement of watching England playing test cricket overseas. I am extremely fortunate to be able to do it and my emotions run from almost wetting myself with excitement at one end to feeling ready to spontaneously combust at the other! I suppose the former will help with the latter should either happen!
Sri Lanka lunch at 98/3 with the first falling straight after the drinks break and the last in what was the last over before lunch as Stokes worked up a head of steam as, after an appeal was overturned on review, there was a hint of copybook blotting but who knows?
I haven’t spoken much about the ground and facilities as there is little to say; a lot of the facilities are temporary or basic or both. None more so than the scoreboard which is just that – a board with minimal scoring information; the PA system seems only able to play music and no announcer at all and the video screen is somewhere in the distance but we survive!
Sri Lanka progress slowly as do England with the score zooming in on 190/5 as tea approaches. So as things move forward the more infrequent or unusual sightings start to be noticed – for example Stokes put his second slip back on the boundary for a couple of overs. I suppose I could be generous and call it a very fine third man and the other third man a square one but that’s all. With one/two others on the boundary, short pitched bowling was to be expected but then the double bluff of only the occasional ball got that high!
Another unusual sight is to see the keeper standing up to Jimmy- not a sight seen everyday and, be it far from me to criticise one of England’s finest ever players, but is Jimmy reverting to the action of his youth when he never actually looked at the batsman as he bowled ? There’s nothing here to excite the quicks!
Which leads me into one of my favourite topics – team dynamics! The team seem to have jelled as a unit quickly after Cooks retirement with new players coming in but also the dropping of Broad and one less challenging character to manage, Root has visibly grown into the captaincy role in this game. Admittedly not everything has gone according to plan and there were times when more attack could have been useful but other than the first two sessions on the first day, it’s been all England.
Looking ahead even though this game still has some life left in it, there are no obvious changes needed for Kandy (Bairstow is unlikely to be fully fit); and no place for Broad unless he and Anderson are rotated to extend their shelf life? But that’s getting ahead. I’ve been hatching a theory that Sri Lanka can find enough spirit and determination to take this into Day 5 but famous last words…
And following on from yesterday and the reception where Mike Gatting spoke, readers can rest assured that his skill at the buffet has not faded with time. The group I was in was being very British and polite and declining to take the last canapé on offer; that was until an arm shot past my right hand side, grabbed the canapé and ran off (well not quite as fast as he used to be between the wickets) but you can imagine the scene. The whole movement was as fast and as graceful as one of David Attenborough’s slow motion films of a lizard catching a fly! Gatting the Great Trencherman!
By the time is takes to read the above Sri Lanka collapse to 249ao just after 4pm, Mathews showed the best resistance with a fine 50 but no one was able to stay with him. Sri Lanka are a team in transition with the stars of recent times retiring as did another Sri Lanka hero today.
England win overseas for the first time in a while and for the first time ever at Galle. We have been exceptionally lucky with the weather based on every forecast seen. And give credit to Sri Lanka for a fine game- they are no pushover.
The celebrations including Heraths retirement were overshadowed by an attempt at streaking by a spectator. It needed over 30 police and security staff to detain him but he was clearly trying out the new guidelines for streaking negotiated as part of the Brexit deal…in that you keep some clothes on! Nonetheless the culprit was duly led away to await his fate under Sri Lankan law; and quite right too.
Tourist trail starts tomorrow!
And finally…the new hairstyle of the England team is also revealed!
Day three in Galle dawns a little (!) cooler than yesterday but more overcast with a threat of rain later this morning and to last all day. But play starts on time in front of a slightly smaller crowd as the heat and excitement have clearly overcome some of the Brits.
After a locally inspired breakfast- woodapple juice and hootas – the scene was enhanced in the hotel with the start of a Kandyian style wedding, with groom, best man, pages, bridesmaids and bride all ready by 7.30am for the first photos and by 8am all changed into the next set of wedding outfits for the second photo shoot. This is normal practice I’m told! But it’s only day one!
The Barmy Army are surprisingly quiet so far (thankfully) as, in the main, they continue their protest about ticket prices; the prices for the best seats, or any seats really are closed to the immediate means of the local populous at 25,000 rupees per day – as a guide a Magnum ice cream costs the equivalent of 45p; my consumption of which has been entirely for economic research purposes! So the BA are residents of the Fort ramparts for a while as they protest at the differential pricing for England supporters! But some battalions have jumped ship and infiltrated the ground! May I suggest that they consider themselves extremely fortunate to be able to afford to make the trip!
To the cricket…England resume on 39/0 and progress initially like a small ship on calm waters until Burns tries for a sharp single and fails, the experiment of Ali at #3 has yet to produce results and Root fails to take root and so arrive at lunch on 111/3 a lead of 250 with Jennings showing some stickiness as he sails to his 50 – well deserved and forcing some words back down the throats of the odd critic/expert – I’m not quite sure which category I fit into – odd or expert. So lunch is reached with the ship intact, if only slightly off course.
Despite a long opening spell by Lakmal, Sri Lanka bowl 30 overs in the session and it was a joy to watch. Not least the appealing of the wicket keeper (Dickwella) who whilst short in stature crouches so low his eyes are lower than the bails but manages to spring like a jack in the box into a style of appealing not seen for many a year; how he doesn’t lose his balance is beyond me!
One poor aspect of the Sri Lanka team is their use of reviews…they have lost so many that they missed one which the umpire got wrong! I suppose you can appeal too much?
At tea the ship sails regally to a lead of 350 with England 212/4 and Jennings approaching his hundred on 98no, accompanied by Buttler; Stokes made a fine 80 but got himself out and blotted an extremely overcrowded copybook by displaying his frustration as he threw his kit down on the outfield to dry in a manner more akin to Harry Enfield’s teenage alter ego than an international sportsman of high renown. He should keep these frustrations behind the dressing team’s door. He needs guidance.
The debate over tea descended on the declaration figure, time left and weather forecasts which are increasingly unreliable. Over 400 should suffice but the pitch is not showing signs of deterioration but, if anything, getting better for batting. The Sri Lankan fielding and bowling was excellent – 32 overs in the session – but marred by evident time wasting in the last few minutes before the break. England could bat to the end of the day, but the perceived wisdom is for a period of hitting out after Jennings’ century and give Sri Lanka an awkward half hour or so…but we shall see.
In terms of adding a little local tinge…health and safety issues don’t seem to worry this school party as they jump over a large gap in the Fort ramparts!
England eventually declared with a lead of 461 with 20 mins or so left in the day after Jennings was out for 148. The thinking appeared to be muddled as Root still sent Curran in to bat but for one ball? Perhaps time of day (4.30pm) or the prospect of bad light against the quicks came into the thinking? Anyway, England used five bowlers for the seven overs they needed to bowl and Jimmy didn’t open the bowling (remember both those quiz fans!) as Sri Lanka reached 15/0 even with two openers who gave a good impression of never having met before, let alone played together! It’s England’s to win by tea time tomorrow- monsoon notwithstanding.
The day was topped by an evening session of stories and a Q and A with Mike Gatting and since he was a ballroom dancing medalist in his younger days, had he been asked to do Strictly was the question I posed? You needed to be there to hear the answer!
Finally I ask…what other sport can cover the topics of weddings, the economics of ice cream, the frustration of teenagers, time wasting, health and safety, critics eating humble pie, the issue of strategic timing, quiz questions and was he offered Strictly or not…all in the space of 6 hours?
And…does that appeal?
A few sunset photos down by the Indian Ocean
Day 2 dawns with Foakes poised on 87no and with only Leach and Anderson for company.
By way of background and atmospherics, it’s worth pointing out that the weather forecast for regular rain is as accurate here in Sri Lanka as in the UK! ‘Warm and sultry’ would be the essential English understatement but to repeat a phrase I’ve used before ‘it ain’t ‘arf ‘ ot mum!’ In fact I don’t think I’ve ever been this hot with clothes on before other than on a BR train in an English heatwave! It’s a cliche but it’s like sitting in a sauna fully clothed! Even perspiration has perspiration! So, to do any form of physical activity in this must bring one’s sanity into question but then ‘mad dogs and Englishmen…’ but if you’re born and grew up here then it’s ‘normal’
So the efforts by Foakes yesterday and today are phenomenally monumental as he strokes and glides his way to a century on test debut- rumours have it that Bairstow is more injured than first thought so the keeping question can be deferred for a while.
England strike early and deep, Sri Lanka waste another review (3 out of 3) as the openers are dispatched quickly and the middle order looks as fragile as England’s this time yesterday. Lunch is reached at 42/4…300 behind with wickets shared equally between Anderson,Curran, Ali and Leach. Will Sri Lanka be all out by tea?
Tea…136/5 Mathews 52no but tea taken a shade early as Burns was injured/hit but made it off the field ok. Sri Lanka’s session as the batsmen looked increasingly settled and the heat rose!
Once Mathews went, it was all a bit of a procession other than a bit of last wicket robust hitting as Sri Lanka made 203 leaving England a tricky half hour or so but with a lead of 139, it’s England’s to lose from here! Not that I expected to write that at 1030 yesterday! Ali bowled with purpose and intent taking four wickets, Leach two and Rashid two. But we’ve seen both top orders look a bit brittle so far but this is a chance for Burns and Jennings to cement their places.
But the star of the show remains Ben Foakes (Stokes of that ilk was poor today…what had he done since getting back in the side in August? Other than manfully hobbling on one leg in the ODIs). Foakes kept very well, took catches, a stumping and also stood that little bit nearer for the quicks than Bairstow and hence the slips.
So far that’s all Foakes!
Apart from…someone who thought it was too hot for clothes and streaked across the ground in the interval between innings and was welcomed with open arms into the bosom of the Barmies; and Burns and Jennings adding 38 by the close of play for a lead of 177 at the end of Day 2.
Watching test cricket overseas is not like anything else and certainly not like cricket in England. But definitely different in Sri Lanka! My first impression is that you ‘go with the flow’ and things eventually happen as planned but you need to be patient and understanding (and before any of my readers who know me scream otherwise that these are traits I don’t possess, well I’m learning!).
There’s more to come over the next 26 days on tourist things but for the moment it’s cricket. England seem to have dispensed with the pre-play football knockabout having learnt the lesson that injuries will happen even in kickabouts and so Bairstow misses out even though he’s able to join in the lunch time running on the outfield.
Broad is dropped to allow for three spinners to play and Foakes gets his chance behind the timbers. Burns opens and with Curran S the other fast bowler (with Anderson), that makes three Surrey men in the side. If Pope can squeeze in and these three succeed Surrey will need to look to their reserve squad for next summers Championship defence!
Sri Lanka wish farewell to Herath after this test and on the evidence seen so far, he will be missed! England won the toss and decided to bat with Jennings and Burns opening in the post-Cook era.
In overcast and humid conditions and on a ground underprepared due to the monsoon Sri Lanka open with a mix of fast swing from one end (Lakmal) and spin the other. Burns looks confident but a little underprepared as he strikes a couple of fine boundaries before succumbing for 9 to a quick delivery which from afar seemed to do a bit. Ali follows next ball completely beaten for pace; so at 19/2 not a great start.
Root and Jennings try to restore some order as they take the score along to 60-odd but by then it’s spin at both ends with Herath making an entrance with two wickets amid much rejoicing and accompanying fireworks! Today is dewali so this is not unexpected.
England’s way of playing spin is either to sweep having plonked a leg down the pitch or to dance down the pitch to hit over the top. Neither is effective as Jennings goes for a 40-odd, Root tried to dance and lost his timing and footwork, Stokes fails to impress so England reach 113/5 at lunch. Foakes making an entrance just before the break.
The only downside is that Sri Lanka have wasted both their reviews but they would take the lunch score with both hands! Will England still be batting at tea, is a mystery to be revealed as the humidity rises but the temperature stays on the ‘warm’ side!
The afternoon was England’s session reaching 199/6 with Foakes manfully striking 49no and Curran 14no – the latter playing with an excellent and exceptional straight bat – significantly more than I’ve seen him in the past and definitely better than his peers. Play could almost end on time (shock horror!) with 29 overs before lunch and another 29 before tea! England…learn from this!
Interestingly, playing patiently and playing spin properly (ie the dancing is stopped and the sweeping replaced with skill in hands and arms), then wickets stop falling regularly! Sri Lanka also went a bit off the boil after lunch so the game swung!
The Galle Ground occupies one huge roundabout at the entrance to the Old Fort – a UN World Heritage site which could lose that status as it has a sports ground inside it! The fact that Galle bus station and rail station are opposite and the rest of the area is (today) a massive coach park seems irrelevant in that possible decision?
The game is being played in front of essentially an England home side – there are a few and I mean only a few locals present; the ticket prices are low but it seems that all have been sold to English tourists today! There are thousands upon thousands here! But tomorrow…rain is forecast.
My forecast (as live) for close of play is England 270/8 but we shall see!
Well, I got the wickets right but missed the final total by 51 runs! Curran S was undone by the drinks break for 49 but he will learn, Rashid made a comfortable 30 and Leach looked like a number 11 playing at no 10. However the star of the day has to be Ben Foakes for a fine 87no. He played with style, class and patience something we see regularly for Surrey. What this does do is give England a selection problem and a nice one to have! When Bairstow is fit, who makes way from the current team and who keeps wicket?
You can go round and round that one…just like the roundabouts here in Galle!
A few basic photos for my tourism followers….for the cricket followers, let’s hope the light improves, the rain holds off and England perform!