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?

Scratching around…looking for Sooty as England can only sweep! Kandy 2nd Test 3rd day

I awake to find that I’ve been bitten even with mosquito spray and I want to give it a good scratch. There’s time this morning for a quick recce of the hotel in daylight and the views are stunning.

The people in the distance are dredging the river to remove the sand…all by hand!

At the ground, I met Percy the professional cheerleader for Sri Lankan cricket- he’s paid by the cricket authorities to wave the flag for Sri Lanka at home and abroad and has been doing so for years…he’s quite a character. What hasn’t been going for years is England’s latest opening pair of Burns and Leach. As expected Leach leaves early as does Jennings and Stokes (after Burns make 59) but by lunch England have reached 131/4 off 30 overs a lead 86 at lunch. All reviews by both sides were used in one session. When did that last Happen?

Overall the morning session is a bit scratchy but some determination shown. Root taking root; overall playing the sweep – orthodox or reverse – to 40% plus deliveries is not always the best way to play spin. Only one Sri Lankan batsman did that yesterday. Everyone else used their wrists and hands. So it’s no surprise that all reviews used. Poor shot selection by England batsmen here but they have been let off by some sloppy SL outcricket. No one in real control! Buttler seems to be playing it straighter than most so the afternoon looks promising.

The lunch entertainment is provided by a magnificent local dance troupe who certainly knew how to entertain and keep going especially in this heat! Classes in this traditional form are a compulsory part of the curriculum at school.

The England team offered a Q&A session for those displaced tourists (the photo of whom has been entitled the ‘Barmy Army’ in some media…which we are NOT!). It was postponed as too many wickets had fallen, and the team need to revisit the game plan. It’s nice to know they had one! Other than just sweeping!

Local forecast for rain has now changed, England may need something else to save them!

There are fewer people in the ground as the heat and tourism take its toll so an afternoon session stroll finds me with the most vociferous Sri Lankan fans who are clearly not happy. The New England game plan seems to work whilst Sri Lanka hit the buffers. Tea is taken at 259/6.

Shortly after tea Root leaves for a fine 124 – good effort, will help his confidence in leading the side but with too much sweeping for my liking. Curran departs first ball and England are 301/8 leading by 255.

Hour and a bit after tea…bad light and England reach 324/9 and a lead of 278 – 15 overs still to go. Some delaying tactics by Sri Lankan were not liked but with lightning nearby play was called off for bad light. The rains duly arrived with the thunder and I have reached the 8th day of planned cricket and first rain with less than 45 mins play due. Foakes 51no…another fine knock, no fuss no fancy stuff, good old fashioned batting.

Over 100 ground staff needed for the covers!

England should have enough to win tomorrow or Sunday weather permitting. The drive back to the hotel was interesting as road sense has its own meaning here and as I write this, it’s monsoon time at the hotel as water starts trickling through the ceiling! The reception staff sent two maintenance men to look at the leak and hurriedly left. So I had to trounce to reception to get a bucket to catch the water and the room was serviced. What happens when it rains again…possibly during the night remains to be seen.

We are going to turn right here!
And there is a policeman on point duty there…somewhere

But the whole experience- except the excessive sweeping – is the most tremendous fun!

‘Getting down with the lads’ – penalty runs and an opening night watchman…2nd Test Day 2 Kandy

The additional aspect of the compensation package for the hotel affected tourists was a group photo with the England team at the end of lunch – the morning session being Sri Lanka’s until the last 20 mins or so. My personal letter from Joe Root apologising for taking my room has yet to arrive (the ECB at work with the paying spectator in the forefront of their mind for once!) but we shall see.

The team were rolled out, had the picture taken and walked away without a word to any of the spectators- a ‘thank you’ or ‘hello’ cost nothing but nowadays people and organisations seem to think that manners don’t matter! They cost nothing and are repaid many times over in hard cash as customers feel valued and wanted. Oh well…perhaps I’m too much of an old f**t.

So, a copy of the group photo will wing its way to me sometime but in the meantime I though I’d take the opportunity for a personal pic of my own as they prepare for the afternoon session with only Ben F really preparing!

Let’s hope England are not on all fours by the end of this game?

Tea arrives – decided a perambulation as much security will allow around the ground – – sees Sri Lanka 7 down for 244 off 78 overs and 66 overs so far…see it can be done!

A rare event occurs with the granting of five penalty runs to England as the Sri Lankan batsman deliberately did not ground his bat as he turned for a second run. Dead ball called and what Sri Lanka thought was four, cost them five – Englands score is moved to 290. This is a rare event in indeed!

But Sri Lanka continue to flourish and achieve a lead of 46 with the excellent Roshen on 85. England let them off the hook, just as we did yesterday as perhaps the humidity begins to sap strength. The interminable additional odd drinks for players – one just taken one over before drinks were due – needs to be addressed. If you want a drink…go off, retire not out, just stop messing about!

This will be close game…and the first innings lead could be invaluable. It all hinges on the first session tomorrow.

Away from the action, the Barmies were very quiet and needed to be cajoled into action by the SL cheerleaders. I don’t think the army is here in great numbers.

Wandering around the ground as much as security will allow, there was an inordinate amount of English flesh on display almost akin to the turkey counter at Sainsbury’s on Christmas Eve! But away from the stands there is a party atmosphere with cricket watchers and sunbathers in equal measure and they all seem to get along. There was an unseemly incident with an Australian yesterday but nothing else to report.

It’s probably a blessing in disguise that you don’t have better quality photos of the other parts of the ground (yet!) and looking around it does look like it’s been created in the middle of a jungle clearing!

Mike Gatting too enthralled in the play to get to the food available!

Back to the play, 90 overs for the day were completed with 20 mins to spare but Sri Lanka were all out for 336. England to face 4 mins of batting or one over and open with Jack Leach as night watchman- when did that last happen?

So, the first session tomorrow will be key – England at 45/0 would be happier, at 45/4 SL would be on top…but who knows.

I got my letter from JR personally signed, and hopes to see me at the match and I play a part in a memorable game. I wonder what he wants me to do? I need to get down with the lads!

Chicken in garvy…or Carry on in Kandy – 2nd Test

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.

Not sure if this is a zebra crossing, traffic lights or what…but everyone goes wherever they like, when they like!

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!

The scoreboard here tells you almost everything-except the mode of dismal but interesting use of first and last names

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?

My ‘work view’ for the next five days

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!

Great Sri Lankan railway journeys – and not an ex-Cabinet minister in sight!

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.

An early morning train to Kandy

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!

Clear pride taken!

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!