Umpiring omnishambles? Colombo third test Day 4

A haze over the city or is it smog welcomes the fourth day of the 3rd test and probably the end of my live cricket watching for this calendar year. A year which began in Sydney at the bridge side, the debacle of the pink test (for England), strode across the English summer and ends here in SL.

England need 6 wickets and SL oodles of runs so the betting is on a lunch time or early afternoon finish. A tense opening 40 minutes sees Sandakan as night watchman persevere but ultimately perishes for 7 and SL 82/5. Only one interruption so far but that was chivvied along by the umpires – at least they’re doing that right. It seems that there were six decisions changed on review yesterday and they’ve allowed one bowler to bowl 40% of his deliveries as no balls. Not good as we expect high standards.

The weather today is noticeably cooler with the strongest breeze of the whole trip billowing through the stands and across the ground. SL progress to 164/5 at lunch – more than half way to their target but there’s a sense of impermanence about the SL batting, one wicket will bring two and so forth. Mendis is 77no and Silva 37 have doubled the score since they came together.

The umpires seem to have taken the feedback on board and are noticeably helping bowlers with no balls (Stokes was called for a no ball for height which then went for four byes…he was not best pleased). The number of interruptions is also noticeably fewer and players are now asking umpires if someone can be called onto the field of play. Well done.

Well…that session had everything other than the kitchen sink. SL reach 284/9 after an extended session by 30 minutes as wickets fell. The lead now is only 42. Pushpakumara 42 no Lakmal 11 no. Previously regarded as rabbits they can hold their own! Mendis ran himself out for 86 after completing a century stand with Silva.

At that point 184/6 it looked like the wheels would come off on the omnishambles omnibus but no! Dickwella came and went for a breezy 19 in his style. Others made contributions so,that at 226/9 it was all over bar the shouting. But England again failed to deliver the killer blow; Roots captaincy slipping in playing the man rather than the game- namely trying to get Ali his fifth. Even an over from the Trent Bridge thunderbolt only succeeding in hitting Pushpakumara on the helmet with the first ball with the new ball. After five minutes and various ministrations he recovered and is still there at tea. Perhaps Broad was striving too much to get one wicket to go with the one run and one catch – his contribution to the match.

The umpiring is a spectacular debate all by itself. Refusing to give any dismissals today after giving everything yesterday strikes me as trying to redress the balance but it just makes things worse.

It takes just four balls after the tea break for England to take the final wicket and the celebrations begin. The PA system is partial at best, the presentation ceremony incoherent and only the England team and the man of the series and captain appear for Sri Lanka.

Today over rates were not a problem as it was cooler and the game less intense perhaps. The umpires were getting tougher too. I’ll talk about umpires in another blog, along with a revised review system idea I have but for the moment, enjoy the win, the series win and beating SL in Sri Lanka and having the more effective spinners.

I’ll also blog about the series as a whole and how England didn’t really dominate…but that’s for another time. It’s back to the hotel for a sundowner and to watch the sun set.

On the tourist trail tomorrow and Wednesday

What a load of no balls …Colombo test Day 3

Another overnight set of storms did nothing to delay the start or the condition of the ground for Day 3 of the test.

England resumed on 3/0 which became 4/1 with Jennings back in the cool of the Pavilion before the pensioners brigade of the Barmies had reached the end of the first verse of their tune-like rendition of Jerusalem. Bairstow emerged mid-second verse. Burns followed shorty afterwards to have England 20/2 and needing a Yorkshire rescue! Both wickets fell to Perara.

One thing hasn’t changed overnight is the over rate – we’ve had eight overs in 45 minutes; three of which were from the quick bowler but it seems there’s no urgency in this heat.

Drinks are called after 11 overs in the hour and England succumbing in the heat to 42/4…and no Yorkshire rescue as Root and Bairstow are back in the hutch. And all this before the first ice cream of the day!

The lead is 138 and the general consensus is that 250 should be enough particularly as the pitch is either doing something unexpectedly in this session and late yesterday but nothing is obvious from afar or the batting has deteriorated badly. It could be dead rubber syndrome by both sides who want an extra day off?

The torture by spin continues… (sounds better in that voice on The Apprentice).

Lunch sees England reach 110/4 Stokes 32no, Buttler 37no. Stokes has been out twice but both were reviewed by the 3rd umpire for no balls by Sandakan. He had been bowling no balls throughout this match and has not been called until these reviews. One trusts by accident.

Although there was one obvious one earlier on which was called…the first of the match and even the series. This whole topic brings the role of the umpire into question. In olden times, the umpire would have a quiet word with the bowler and tell him to adjust his run, before calling him. The bowler could also do the same as Stokes asked yesterday and was given the guidance.

So…what are umpires for? To count to six…yes, judge run outs, lbws, catches, stumpings…probably not. The prophecy of Dickie Harold Bird seems to have come true. Umpires are not needed? They don’t even encourage the speed of the game. That session managed 24 overs in the end – 13 in the second hour and nowhere near the 30 they should be achieving.

One solution to over rates is to insist on 30 per session and delay the interval accordingly but to start the next on time. If it means players and officials have less time for lunch and tea, then so be it. I reckon they’d only do this once before hunger set in!

Deciding who’s at fault is academic as everyone is in the business of entertaining the paying public…so get on with it! i feel like shouting ‘get on with it, I’ve got a plane to catch in four days time’ but I’m too much of a gentleman to do so…although others in the tour group have thought otherwise for sometime.

The pressure is now on the on field umpires to call the no balls. Admittedly they did have a word with the SL captain as they left the field for lunch but let’s see. For one thing the crowd is now on their case!

The lead is 206 and the good news is that the blue Wonder ice creams are back in stock and our tour leader is happy (as well as most of the other seven dwarves too!).

One pleasing aspect of being in a tour group is knowing that others are doing what you’re doing…namely raiding the hotel breakfast buffet of portable food for lunch or emptying the free minibar of its contents for sharing amongst the group. Team spirit prevails.

Drinks 168/5 off 43 overs Buttler 64 and Ali 21. Stokes departing for 42 on his third time ‘out’. Lead 264. This little session went well as the contest reaches the halfway stage in terms of time. I think I’ll have a chunk of tomorrow and all day Tuesday to fill!

Tea and 210/7 Foakes 20 and Rashid 21 as the lead extends beyond 300 and probably SL. The session yields 31 overs so it can be done but we haven’t seen any fast bowling for hours! There are 35 overs left in the day but I suspect we shall not see them all as clouds build and then retreat. The crowd has built during the afternoon as more local people come along and adds to the atmosphere. Forecast for the ideal scenario would be for England take three SL wickets before the close but its a funny old game…we shall see.

England fold eventually for 230 on the stroke of 4pm leaving SL 22 overs this afternoon (nominal) and a target of 327 to win the match with over two days still to play. Foakes made 36 – the third highest score on the card – he has shown his worth in this tour leaving England with a delicious problem. The most exciting thing towards the end of the innings was the collapse – accidentally and then deliberately- of one of the sight panels not in use in this match. Brought some amusement to the crowd.

Am not quite sure what the last few overs showed as runs dried up and review after review was taken. The quality of the umpiring here has not been great but at least it’s consistently poor. Ok…it’s not an easy job in any circumstances and in the extreme heat it just gets worse. These umpires are not as experienced as others on the panel but they have to learn somewhere, sometime etc.

Within minutes of the start of the SL innings the light starts to fade and the massed ranks of the ground staff appear as if they know something is going to happen and when. They’re 10 minutes later than yesterday. Playing in the knowledge that the light is going to fade makes a mockery of the number of overs etc. Within seconds, the wind had started to gush and it’s getting darker and darker.

But then within seconds, the sun breaks through, the clouds still assemble and the approaching rainbow suggests that rain is imminent. Meanwhile, SL lose their first wicket at 15 and second at 24. The latter on review. The umpires are having a shocker!

The number of reviews being overturned today must be approaching a dozen as SL lose their third wicket at 34 having had the review two balls before overturned. Thunder rumbles in bright sun light and the rainbows pot of gold gets nearer and nearer. SL must be hoping for lots of bad weather.

SL end the day at 55/4 with a night watchman in place. The end of the day seemed quite arbitrary as the clock hadn’t clicked round to 5.30pm for the additional time allowed to complete the 90 overs. Six were left unbowed it seems and with three lost at the change of innings, even with hardly any fast bowlers on show, professional cricketers can’t meet the standard advertised. So, can I have a refund please?

Ok…the cricket was exciting, both sides played well in their own way but one worries about SL. There’s no heart or determination seen in their batting and to be outspun by England in their own backyard is concerning. Nonetheless England have momentum; and you can’t detract from that.

And missing clear no balls on a continuous basis as well as the other umpiring howlers is another concern for others too!

Driving and slow over rates. Something has to be done or test cricket will die!Colombo test day 2

Day 2 dawns bright and dry, sunny, hot and with high fluffy ‘Simpson’ clouds. The ground is dry, green and ready to play after the most spectacular of thunder and lightning storms last night. Words cannot describe the intensity of the rainfall or how flashes and bangs follow almost instantaneously during one of these storms. You really need to experience one…another for the bucket list?

Cloud formations are spectacular

England continue their ‘pack of cards’ approach but with some fine cover drives from Ali who perished caught in the deep for 33 as England fold for 336, Sandakan taking 5/95. This is a decent score overall but let’s see how SL fare.

The ‘Japanese buffalo’ as the little all purpose machines are known can be seen mowing the outfield (bottom left hand corner)

Lunch sees SL at 74/1 with both De Silva and Karunarathne on 28. Gunathilake fell for 18 dancing down the wicket to Leach only to mistime a hook into the hands of the waiting short leg. Presumably Jennings under the helmet but the one thing the massive scoreboard doesn’t show is the mode of dismissal for each batsman. The SL batsmen are not letting the spinners settle into any rhythm and are moving the score along nicely. The left/right combination is also helping.

One other aspect to the fore today has been driving – cover driving by England and a mix of straight and cover by SL.

It seems that there’s more sense of purpose today from both sides. Drinks interruptions are much fewer but then it’s not as ferociously hot. It’s still steaming and I feel like a turkey ready to come out of the Xmas oven but there’s a breeze building up which can take the edge off as well as aid or abet the bowlers, we shall see.

Tea is taken at 183/2 Karunarathne 81no Mendis 6 no. Gunsthilake went for 73 in a partnership of 140+ the best of the series. England toiled manfully but a chance put down by Root in the third Broad over after lunch looked costly and was proven to be so. With one session to go, SL could get close to England’s score this evening and if they can preserve a few wickets on the way, England could well be chasing 100 or so just to get back even. The restart after the break will be key. The weather looks set fine but we shall see. Bairstow had significant physio during the drinks break but made it back after tea.

There’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow..but not for Sri Lankan batsmen!

It seems that my hope of fewer interruptions was false or premature- as the day progresses the running on for the odd drink, gloves, and so forth is getting annoying. I’ve come to watch cricket not other things!

In the 35 minutes since tea we’ve had five overs but three wickets have fallen and the wheels on the SL bus look like coming off as they slump from 170/1 to 205/5 in the blink of an eye. This is where they need to dig deep. The number of interruptions is getting close to yesterday’s.

The over rate is now in the region of 10 an hour and that’s with one spinner bowling. Wickets keep falling with Rashid doing the damage taking four of the seven to fall as SL slump to 222/7 with a nominal 22 overs left today. Dark clouds gather to one side of the ground (leeward to the wind) as the ground staff appear en masse as if they know something no one else does. What I forgot was my A level Geography in that clouds and storms in the tropics can bubble up from nowhere and don’t need wind to blow them in or away.

Just to slow things down…drinks are taken! This is exasperating and a slight to the paying public by both sides! I’m not happy!

Well…I got that cricket session completely wrong. A collapse of 9/67 in just about two hours play see SL all out for 240 in 65 overs, Rashid taking 5/49. There’s a nominal 16 overs tonight in 40 minutes but the clouds are bubbling up and I suspect we shall be all done and dusted within 30 mins.

Whilst an excellent team performance by England, an abject one by SL after the second wicket fell, the over rate and interruptions, ill-prepared batsmen (not wearing an arm guard but called for one on the way out), and general malaise means the game degenerates into exceptionally slow play. Customers will stay away…test cricket will wither on the vine and pass into oblivion whilst no one does anything about it!

England see out the final session with few alarms as bad light and the threat of lightning bring an early close to the day. Early in that it finished on time but with a nominal 12 overs not bowled. The average over rate all day including at least one spinner in operation is 12. Last seen when the WI were in their pomp in the 1980s. The lead is close to 100 with three days to play. I can’t see anything other than 3-0 win for England.

In other news, the lack of blue Wonder ice creams dampened the mood of our tour manager whilst overloading the lift at the end of the day also brought some light relief. The journey this morning was traffic free and driving a pleasure, but this evening was have hit rush hour.

Overall a pleasant day, good for England, good in parts and then very poor by SL, succulent and delicious driving on the field and a few calories less for those who missed their blue Wonders!

The effort is monumental – Colombo 3rd test day 1

Today dawns with a warning from the hotel of hot fogging at 6am. The noise apparently could wake guests. Hot fogging is a process to remove or reduce mosquito infestation in garden areas. Must have passed me by as I hear nothing.

The day therefore dawns with anticipation and excitement as I reach the first day of the last test and a new ground to experience. Colombo in the rush hour is the same as any large city and with a one way system to rival every gyratory system known to man, the journey is uneventful. The SSC or Sinhalese Sports Club is more than just a test ground. It’s a sporting complex in the middle of Colombo and clearly where the SL elite come to play. Colombo seems to be being rebuilt or developed depending on your viewpoint and millions of whatever being invested from overseas sources.

The test ground – there’s another ground next door – holds c 5000 people and is about the size of a UK county ground. It’s in need of a bit of renovation and a lot of organising as our premium seats turn out to be at the top of a stand with a view of half of the ground and out of sight of the scoreboard.

Anyway, as with most things here, improvisation is the order of the day so everyone moves around the ground for a better view. One such was beside a generator which was quickly disregarded and for once a seat with the Barmy was a possibility. As before the BA here is down on numbers and as the average age of the current contingent is increasing I think I’ve come across the pensioners brigade of the BA.

Full order is restored on the hour as other premium seats are procured for the rest of the day and the rest of the test. On the field England win the toss, bat and lose both openers in that time for 36. The first hour belongs to SL. The Yorkshire pairing of Bairstow at 3 and Root at 4 restore order with a patient partnership unbroken at lunch on 102/2 26 Bairstow 42 Root 28.

Temperatures and humidity are the most intense experienced to date, with fingers wilting in the same way as when you spend too long in the bath. Heaven fofrend what else is happening but hydration is the order of the day. And all that perspiration from just sitting in the shade! The effort in the middle for all – including umpires – is monumental.

At drinks and after what could have been a large lunch by both teams since the pace was considerably slower…or more likely heat sapping all strength, England reach 136/3 Root having made 46, finely crafted and with one late cut so late it was out s9 late that it was almost coming home tomorrow morning! It was worth the gate money alone if not the shot of the tour. Class is permanent. Root is really blossoming as a captain- long may it flower as he no longer has his immediate predecessor on the field even though AC was asked for input from time to time. He also has only one of Broad and Anderson to manage at the moment!

Tea 197/3 Bairstow 81 Stokes 38. England’s session even though the pace of both sides is slow. Overs bowled 55 but I suspect as do others that we may have seen the end of play for today as the clouds loom over, the ground staff on the pitch even before the players leave and the towers in the distance increasingly start to disappear into the encroaching bad weather.

Surprisingly over tea the clouds passed over and even though the 100plus ground staff covered the ground they were able to uncover it in time for play to restart on time. Stokes went to his fifty having added 99 with Bairstow who had gone on to make his century with somewhat excitable celebration. The runs themselves were scored with elegance and grace and dare one say it, this could be the answer to the number three challenge.

Stokes went to a false shot and did himself no favours in remonstrating with himself as he was dismissed. His already full copy book possibly gaining another mark? So from 235/3 England succumbed to 312/7 at the close. After Stokes and Bairstow it was a bit like the Lord Mayors Show with batsmen making a start but no more.

Generally one does not notice umpires and the decisions they make and invariably they are spot on. However they too can have an off day and in the heat etc it’s not a massive surprise that five mistakes were made. Admittedly SL wasted their reviews and they’ve had a poor series when it comes to reviews but all the mistakes took place after they left them.

Appeals against Bairstow and Stokes were both declined but were mistakes by the umpires. They really must be suffering too in the heat and humidity…so I feel for them. I reckon England had the rub of the green today and are probably 50 or 60 runs better off then they could have been. But that’s life! And a monumental effort by all concerned, players, officials, spectators and the catering staff cooking food all day.

I’ve said before I’ve never been so hot with all my clothes on as here in SL but today surpassed even that.

As I write, an almighty thunderstorm is rolling in but play finished 90 minutes ago as the light faded, the final review took forever and the day was an over short. But well done all round, and it all happens again tomorrow!

Diplomacy wins through and I bet you didn’t know…

Today is a quiet day as we make the transfer from Dambulla to Colombo in readiness for the test starting tomorrow. There’s only so much tourist information you can take on board and a visit to a gem company replete with video, mock up of a mine, gem cutters and polishers for our benefit and a wander around the showroom brought the owners no sales.

Things you didn’t know about elephants! They have a running speed of 55 mph over short distance but in straight line. Seems best course of action if being charged by an elephant is to run in a zig zag pattern as elephants can’t do this and to remove your clothing as you do so! Visions of half naked people being chased by elephants is an image I’m trying to erase from my mind. Seemingly no one has thought about the turning circle of an elephant when it runs. So they would be great at the 100m but no good on the bends for any other athletic events. There were many more facts revealed by our tour guide this morning about elephants dwelling on a number of bodily functions, which seems to be a fascination among Sri Lankan’s! So all I can say, if you’re caught by a charging elephant is ‘brace yourself’!

This team of tourists is constant changing and makes for interesting team dynamics. The numbers for the Galle and Kandy test were significant but the lure of other tourist things to do in SL and other nearby exotic locations has its attraction to non cricket mad partners and friends, whilst work commitments or other calls on ones time mean that not everyone can be as fortunate as I in staying for every test. Expectations for tomorrow at the test are for lower numbers and given the state of the series, local interest will possibly diminish even though its a long holiday weekend for some.

The dynamics of the team in the tour group have gone through the forming, norming, storming phases as some are ‘habitual’ tour followers and have met up with ‘old friends’ from previous tours, others join for a while and leave whilst others are staying longer and so forth. It’s all quite fascinating. The group discussions over dinner or breakfast have also changed from the initial pleasantries, past experiences of cricket and life in general, families and friends to the more base type discussion and comments one could have been close friends and family.

For example, I was shocked over dinner last night when a refined lady from the Home Counties (or so I thought) boldly announced that when another diner was having blue cheese for dessert that she could not since her ‘farts in the morning would smell of blue cheese’ – fellow diners collapsed in hysterics. She later informed others in the bar that she and a friend (who had been on the tour and seemed to be similarly refined Home Counties lady) had undertaken a survey of ‘Southern Asian endowments’. I do have the lady’s permission to recount the conversations here! I shall never look at blue cheese the same way ever again!

This shows how the group has turned from a number of disparate individuals and couples into a team where seemingly anything can be discussed and shared in public

Arrival mid afternoon in Colombo confirms all the previous thinking…large city, congestion, noise etc. Quite a change after the peace of Dambulla (if you ignore the elephant safari, rock climbing, and tourist throngs around the temples).

One of THE things to do in Colombo is to have afternoon tea at the Galle Face hotel and to watch the sun set as the piper parades around. The hotel also has a professional bird scarer as the sun sets. He scares away the birds so as not to spoil the view.

As a non-tea drinker, this posed an additional challenge. It seems that afternoon tea (cakes, sandwiches, scones) is served with tea to drink. When I asked for afternoon tea with coffee to drink, this caused a bit of a funk. Coffee is served with cookies, tea with afternoon tea and no crossing over! So the suggestion of afternoon tea but I don’t drink the tea and coffee with no cookies added to the mass hubbub building.

The last organisation I came across with such rigid rules was the Bank of England…so they’re in good company! Eventually my diplomatic skills came to the fore and a negotiated settlement was reached. Afternoon tea with coffee to drink…simples.

In other news…cow dung is antiseptic (not sure about any other animal excreta) and is used for floors and the traffic stops for lizards/water monitors on motorways.

Tomorrow sanity returns at the Test!

How can you tell the sex of an elephant you’re following through the jungle? Or…

Or…cricket tourists off the beaten track day three

The last day of being a tourist before we hit Colombo tomorrow was a visit to Sirigaya and a climb up to the top of one of the most iconic rocks in Sri Lanka. It required an early start as climbing in temperatures of 30C plus and high humidity is not ideal.

There is a fascinating history behind the rock/palace. It was built by an early Sri Lankan king to rule over his people. He ruled for 18 years but the palace on top of the mountain took seven years to build. It would take twice that long for planning permission in the UK. And took just 1000 men to build it.

The climb at some stages is vertical! So the construction and later living support issues must have been immense. The king came down from the mountain from time to time to meet the odd commoner but generally everyone important went to see him. It’s an amazing place in an amazing country! The palace on the top included ballrooms, throne rooms, dance rooms as well as living quarters for the king and his 500 concubines!

Views from the top….and if you expect me to take photos whilst climbing the 1268 steps then think again. I have taken loads of others to be published in due course.

We reached back down on the ground by mid-morning so after replenishing lost liquid and a visit to the ‘happy room’, we headed back to Harbarana to experience a boat trip across a 1000 year old reservoir (built by one of the kings to irrigate the rice fields) and then lunch in a traditional Sri Lankan village and a demonstration of a few traditional crafts.

Lunch was traditionally cooked, eaten off coconut leaves with the right hand only.

I suppose the best way to describe or compare the village to what we see/have in the UK would be Beamish, the Black Country Village or working NT houses and estates. An interesting experience culminated in the answer to the question of how to tell the gender of an elephant you’re tracking? Well it seems that for lady elephants the dung and urine are on top of each other but for boy elephants it’s side by side! I bet you didn’t know that when you got up this morning!

Seemingly there’s a test match starting in two days – we are Colombo bound tomorrow and one change in the England team – Broad for Jimmy who’s rested. Makes sense with the Ashes next summer.

I wonder what fact I’ll learn tomorrow as the journey across this amazing country continues?

Dwarves, temples, elephants, Asian sunset, open top jeeps and the worst of monkeys…or

Or what cricket tourists do between tests…day 2.

I started the day with the offer of Strawberry muffing at breakfast. I never knew fruit could be muffed but it soon became clear that it was one of those endearing Sri Lankan spelling mistakes!

Anyway, today’s a tourist day…so more photos than words?

Inside the royal palace

The group set out to visit the temples at Polonnaruwa – a world heritage site- and the place where the first kings/rulers of Sri Lanka set up their capital. The site is huge so only a short glimpse into the archeology here. What is current are the hawkers trying to see you stuff you know you don’t need. They haggle over prices even when you say ‘no’: I feel at one stage of entering the Life of Brian when one of them argues that I won’t haggle!

It seems that there was a grand procession across Sri Lanka when the first King was installed and he was carried across country by a team of dwarves. It’s estimated that there were up to 12 of them. Well, from what I’ve seen so far, there are very few dwarves in Sri Lanka nowadays, so where have they all gone? Their efforts are commemorated in many carvings around the site. And it seems that Buddhism featured dwarves a lot too! Well, you learn something every day! And dwarves is only one of three words in the English language beginning with ‘dw’

More of the Royal Palace

The site also includes a number of temples to both the Hindu and Buddhist faiths. Each has is own purpose and a serenity perhaps not felt or experienced in Western faiths but there seemed to be more spiritualism in these artefacts and locations. It may just be me and my first Asian experience of religions but who knows. And is there such a thing as reincarnation?

The sculptures and carvings are exquisite in their design and execution as the next few photos hopefully show. The size of each is immense and people have been included to give a scale of perspective.

After a pleasant lunch of rice and curry or was it curry and rice (boy, do I crave fish and chips), the group visited Minneriya National Park and a safari jeep tour to see the elephants in the wild. The shock comes later but let’s say this now, the grace of these animals cannot be described; they appear and disappear into the surrounding undergrowth with such ease and stealth. How any one can mistreat or poach such an animal is beyond reproach. Anyway, enough of the thoughts…here’s a few photos…

Vanishing into the undergrowth almost unseen

Now…the philosophy question…which group of the following apes were the least well behaved?

At the Royal Palace
Elephant safari

Ok…Im as guilty as everyone else but I would not go on a safari again. The impression one had is of a lone jeep trudging across the plains. But no! There were at least 100 other jeeps and paying tourists all craving for a sight of the animals, the language shouted between groups was appalling (guess which nation came out on top of the boorish league), the driving and chaos was more akin to a busy city motorway or freeway on a Friday evening rush hour. The noise for the wild animals…and these elephants are wild…must have been unbearable but they seem to accept it. Access to these animals needs to be restricted and they cannot be used as a commodity in the free market economy. I know…it’s a vicious circle. The money to support conservation comes from tourists who come to see the elephants who need to be conserved….and so it goes round.

If this were a National Trust type operation, numbers would be controlled but how do you control a national park of several hundred square miles and thousands of elephants? I hope someone can provide an answer but until then the behaviour of Homo sapiens will be outshone by all other primates.

It was an amazing experience but also a sad one. I’m not inclined to repeat it. Just leave them alone.

The day was topped off by watching the sunset from one of the peaks in the park, the views and colours were special. Sorry, when my phone works again and I can upload my camera photos, you’ll see what I mean.

And finally, standing up in the jeep as it sped along the road back to Habarana was another experience never to forget. Watching the driving in SL is bad enough but to do so from on top of a jeep travelling at 50mph plus was unbelievable and exhilarating- one to add to the bucket list but one I didn’t know I wanted to do or could do. My mother if she were alive and I admitted to what I had done would be having kittens…but then it’s best not to know or does she?

Tour guide with a constipation, diarrhoea and flatulence fetish and a massage parlour or…

Or…what cricket tourists get up to between tests, and it’s all proper and above board!

Bird of paradise flowers

Today started with breakfast being chicken curry and beetroot juice. The former had to be tried on a ‘when in Rome’ basis and the other to see if juiced beetroot would cure my aversion to all other cooking methods. The former was locally spiced to say the least and the latter equally vile as all other types!

Anyway, today left Kandy, the most polluted city in Sri Lanka (bottom of valley location, little through breeze etc) and headed eventually to Dambulla and the most amazing hotel. Perhaps more later.

The group stopped off at a spice plantation where the general expectation was to see and learn about spices, have a spot of lunch and then venture forth.

We stopped at Palapathwela where we entered what looked like an innocuous location. Immediately it became clear that it was a jungle clearing and full expectations of Dec and whoever appearing as if by magic to set some task or other. But not, it got even more surreal!

The excellent guide appeared and started explaining about the various spice plants and other plants being grown at this indigenous Ayurvedic medicine centre. Every spice, plant, herb etc had remedial qualities for virtually every known and unknown affliction to the human body and mind ranging from adenoids to xenophobia (I know xenophobia is not a disease etc but I couldn’t think of any which began with x, y or z).

Spice plantation aka jungle clearing!

However, it became clear that a cup of tea in the morning is the cure for all ills especially constipation, diarrhoea and flatulence. Cloves were recommended to stop people snoring (not sure if they were applied up each nostril or however), and each plant or herb helped. What soon became a running theme was that most of the herbs etc cured constipation, diarrhoea and flatulence. He enjoyed repeating this too much for my liking!

At this point a cup of tea was presented for tasting and given my dislike of tea I politely declined.

Then the tour of the spices became a cookery lesson as we entered a cabin in the jungle where the guide prepared a curry which we could enjoy for lunch later! He promised and delivered copies of the recipe later.

We then move to another hut/cabin where the effects on the skin, veins, blood vessels and brain – and probably most organs in between – were extolled. Having been rubbed on the hand with aloe vera and turmeric earlier, I was loath to advise that my hand was itching and declined every offer. Various ointments made from herbs, spices, etc were then proffered and the offer of having sandalwood and something else was offered and accepted by another member of the tour party as an aid to providing relief after shaving.

The next thing I know is that the hut had turned into a makeshift massage parlour with tops being removed (men only) for head and neck massages and similarly for the ladies (tops firmly kept in place) and massages provided by a small team of women who suddenly appeared from nowhere.

The guide then advised at length and more than once, the benefits of these herbs and spices and unguents for ladies in his style of English (which is much better than my Tamil!) but it left the dads in the group with too much detail to imagine- no man should ever have to endure those mental images!

This was the oddest collection of events/things that I have ever come across but more was to follow. The denouement was reached as we were offered the opportunity to buy a range of supplies etc in the well stocked shop (MasterCard preferred) before being escorted to lunch where the choice was curry supplemented by the curry made fresh by our guide! So far today I’ve had curry for breakfast and lunch…I need something else!

Our main tour guide had advised that Sri Lanka has 48 types of banana and when quizzed over lunch related the fact that one type can bring temporary impotence and Sri Lankan wives are known to use it to help keep the population under control and the government limit of two children per couple observed.

By this time surrealism had taken over…this visit was just odd in the extreme, even for Monty Python or perhaps it was all a dream but at least I’ve paid for a colour licence so I can dream in colour…but no, this was real life!

Reality then returned as we headed for Dambulla, the base for the next three days, and witnessed (I’m told) a rare sight of water buffaloes being used to pull the ploughs in the paddy field so we stopped and admired the scene. It also seems that by talking to the newly planted rice in its field that the harvest increases significantly- now I know I’m back to reality!

Water buffaloes and talking to plants!

I’m a self employed cricket watcher…get me out of here!

Short but sweet…Day 5 Kandy but news on my bucket and police escort!

For those concerned about my bucket question…last nights rain ran down the walls! Seems that the main leak has been fixed but a new one found.

There is little to add to what has already been written about the win at Pallekelle. The difference between the two sides mathematically was the last wicket partnership by England on the first day. At 225/9 SL should have gone in for the kill but let England get away to 290. Now that would really have made yesterday and today very tense.

Looking ahead it seems that Curran has a side strain and may not be fit for Colombo on Friday so Woakes probably has a good chance. So it could be Woakes, Foakes and Stokes all in the same side as I blogged in the English summer season!

The added bonus to the day was the police escort part way back to the hotel. Those who have been bumped into hotels far away have had a police escort there and back every day and it just so happened to pass us. So, it seems the thing in Sri Lanka when driving a coach is to tailgate a police escort and put your hazards on. What started as a fun journey anyway, got even more exciting for a change!

Rain is forecast for later so I wonder where the leak will be. Time today for resting, getting some gym exercise (I feel as if I’ve been sitting down for a fortnight) and wondering where the leak will be (if any) and chilling after all the excitement.

Hit the tourist trail again tomorrow so less cricket and more other stuff.

The story of my bucket or Second test, day 4 Kandy

Firstly the good news is that there was no rain overnight so the bucket in my room was empty; whether the roof repair will be completed today remains to be seen but I suspect not. Let’s hope there’s no rain between now and Monday when the next stage of the odyssey continues on the tourist trail before the sights, smells and sounds of Colombo next week in readiness for the last test.

Talking of cricket…Play starts 15 mins early today to make up some of the time lost yesterday. Whilst the forecast has been for rain to save SL, the day dawns bright with a small breeze and less rain today. Tomorrow could be different but the match should be over by then.

England add useful runs to extend the lead to over 300 before SL take the new ball, mid-over, and strike with the first ball. Foakes makes 65…he is really maturing into a class batsman and currently best keeper in world cricket.

SL need a mammoth score and have two days to get there or alternatively bat until the rains come. There’s only one winner from here it seems.

And losing three wickets quickly to be 26/3 looks like the wheels are falling off already and one wonders how much play there will be after lunch but the clouds are gathering in a non-threatening way at present as Dimuth and Mathews start a rebuilding exercise. Leach opens the bowling with Jimmy and one wonders when the last time was that England opening bowlers first names started with J or the same initial…some one somewhere will probably know.

The crowd is similar in number to yesterday but with a larger and more vociferous local level of support which all adds colour to the day.

At lunch SL reach 93/3 with Dimuth on 54no. Another 208 needed to win or seven wickets to take. Odds still favour England but who knows? Rashid was brought on just before the break and thought he had a last minute success which was turned down on review. Nothing special with that but rushing towards the umpire whilst giving voice to a second act to his appeal was not appropriate. I expect to hear of some kind of censure- after all Root has been penalised for petulance but to me this was worse.

Have taken advantage of the compensation package of free lunches and drinks everyday, my decision to tarry over the trifle meant that I missed the first wicket after the break when Dimuth was brilliantly caught (reaction catch) by Stokes leaving SL at 103/4 and looking at staring at defeat. That was despite cutting short a lady from Lancashire retelling her adventure on a local safari between tests and rats devouring all the toilet paper; swapping stories of our travels with others is one of the joys of this tour – and probably others as well – but she was in such paroxysms of laughter at my bucket adventure I thought she was in urgent need of it!

At this point, the tour manager for the group I’m in leans over to tell me to write how wonderful he’s been (so far)…but those stories are for another day and another blog. Mathews and Roshen strive to steady the ship as drinks approach and the feeling of rain in the air intensifies which could mean we’re back tomorrow but…?

Drinks mid afternoon and 151/4 Mathews 55no. England need a plan other than spin at both ends and wait. Another 50 or so from this pair…Mathews and Roshen and things get interesting. Wind has picked up to cool the air but perhaps speed up any rain? The atmosphere from the locals is enhanced by the SL cheerleaders who out-Barmy the Barmy by taking one of their tunes and lyrics and become the Barmy Lankans – much more tuneful and rhythmic than the English version who have yet to acknowledge let alone respond! The Lankans are making the most noise of any group so far this series!

Just before tea when things looked well set, Roshen goes for 37 and a partnership of 73 with Mathews and brings England back into the game at 176/5. Both batsmen playing spin without the need for any sweeping just wrist, hands and timing. The damage here being done by Ali who so far today has had little to do.

Tea is taken – each session being 2h15 to make up for lost time – at 219/5. Another 82 needed or five wickets and 21 overs to go (if overs counted is an issue today) makes things interesting. Local knowledge is that there’s another hour of play before the rains come or light goes pre-thunder. But who knows? Forecast for tomorrow is for considerable rain but again, then too was today. With possibly 135 minutes to go today, a result is possible- either way.

Overall England aren’t making as much progress as perhaps the planners would have liked. The opening positions are still not completely resolved, the number three position as vague as ever, the added dilemma of Foakes or Bairstow, which is the number one spinner, when can we blood new players to give a better picture regarding the Ashes and beyond…and so forth. All will be revealed – or not – at some point.

An ominous sight at tea is the gathering of the ground staff…they must know something?

Shortly afterwards Mathews goes for 88, a fine knock in the circumstances but the umpires soon stop the game as lightning and rain are looming. SL are 226/7 – need 75 more with poor weather forecast for after lunch! Many tourists are not planning to come along and witness the finale but I shall.

One interesting point is that yesterday it was too dangerous for players to be outside in the lightning but ok for the 100 or so ground staff to be risked as they were soaking wet, walking on wet covers with lightning about!

I wonder by the time I get back to my hotel, will the clouds and rain have gathered there and will the need for my bucket follow?