Today is a return to cricket but not until saying farewell after one night at the Queens Hotel. I say one night as I’m one of the 100 or so tourists to be thrown out of the planned hotel by Sri Lanka cricket board and the powers that be! The Queens Hotel dates from 1840 in honour of Victoria although I’m told Elizabeth stayed there too. The hotel has lost its grandeur and has a USP of its colonial past. It would suggest that little has changed in the 175 years…charm, colonial past, wooden floors (and a party of elephants in the room above me added to the ambiance) and the noise of the rush hour after the early dawn calls to prayer just added to the experience. My feedback form asked if I would stay again…hmmm, not sure.
The Test is played at Pakalelle – a suburb of Kandy. The Ground is in an industrial and business park, an attempt by local and national governments to move the commercial centre away from the city centre but even if the locals did want to attend the match they would have to travel distance! But as they tend not to support the tests in person…
England win the toss and elect to bat at the start of the second test. The team is unchanged except for Stokes moving to #3, and Moeen moving down the order. Sri Lanka have a number of changes due injury, retirement and non-selection via suspension for various reasons. Nonetheless they have the best of the first session taking four wickets for about 100. Only Burns showed some permanence with 43 but Buttler is still there batting well. Jennings fell to his favourite failing, Stokes made a start, Root didn’t and played down the wrong line…foot work against spin needs attention.
Lunch and….Sorry didn’t have the chance to write something at lunch in more depth but I had to accept the continuing hospitality of the Sri Lanka cricket board as I’d been booked into the hotel they wanted the players to stay in but as they hadn’t confirmed the tour operators booked the rooms for people like me. As a result and a bit of a carry on last week and this, all of the affected tourists have been bumped out of their rooms and into already crowded hotels and since they had picked a premium hotel, the alternatives were not necessarily available or desirable. But we’ve all been sorted and offered compensation including lunch at the ground each day, free tea/coffee etc through the day. It’s a bit churlish I know but I’ve come to watch cricket and not be force fed like a turkey in the run up to Christmas so I’ll use the ‘compensation’ sparingly. But there’s supposed to be something ‘special’ tomorrow!
The ‘special’ today on offer in the crowded lunch room (which probably would not have passed UK Health and Safety laws – the room that is) was ‘chicken in garvy’ – that well known misspelt lunch option. The humour in the room was not helped by England’s position but also that one whole tour group had been displaced to Dambulla – some 90 minutes drive each way to the north so in reality one night in the Queens was nothing in comparison.
Tea (England 212/7 off 59 overs) is reached with a number of alarms during the afternoon but Buttler gave his wicket away for 63 when he should have stuck around for a century but no one stayed with him. Curran and Rashid steer the ship to calmer waters towards tea. No one bowler has dominated with the wickets being shared around. Spin from one end all day, if not both, is England’s undoing as the skill and aptitude against spin is clearly lacking but then if we don’t play the county game in summer on dry pitches – and this is a dry pitch as can be seen from afar- we shall suffer here and elsewhere but then I’ve been going on about that for ages.
The considered view at tea is that 250 here in these conditions will be a good score although we need to see Sri Lanka bat too!
Some robust hitting but I should really call it class batting by Curran who makes 64 see England to 285 having been 225/9. It was poor cricket from Sri Lanka and a loss of control by the spinners as Curran took charge with several boundaries and sixes. The Sri Lankan outcricket faltered as well but they eventually took all the wickets. A difficult spell of 12 overs at the end of the day was not welcome for Sri Lanka who ended on 26/1.
But one feature of the series so far is the standard and class of wicket keeping – Foakes in the last game and again today and Dickwella are both excellent exponents. Foakes for me has been the best gloveman in England and probably now across Test cricket. Dickwella can appeal in true Hollywood/Bollywood style and is certainly a ‘character’ – what is it about that role in the game that shows off such ‘eccentrics’? Perhaps a blog for another time?
I think this will be a low scoring game with no side making 300: England should achieve a first innings lead so the third innings of the game will, as often happens, be crucial. The game is too close to call after day 1 but England just have the edge. Curran could be the difference between the teams but we all carry on in Kandy tomorrow and wonder which side Garvy plays for!