Summer 2016

Sri Lanka - Durham Test Review

DAY 1 Friday 27 May

I’m up in Newcastle with my mate, Ray, yet to be inducted into the Addis, for the 2nd Test.

Both sides have a lot to prove. Poor Sri Lanka - two May Tests! After the debacle at Old Trafford where they were beaten by an innings inside three days Ray and I are already making plans for Monday and Tuesday. Jaywardene and Sangakkara, have both retired and their two best quicks, Prasad and Chameera, are injured. They’ve got a lot to learn if they are to do any better here. For us, Stokes injured his left knee at Old Trafford and instead of picking the up and coming Notts quickie, Jake Ball, the selectors played safe and chose 'like for like' Chris Woakes who has yet to impress at Test level. Compton, Vince and Ali all need runs. Hales's 86 at Old Trafford has helped to seal his case as Cook's partner but he could do with another innings here.

It's a nice looking ground. We are in the County Durham Stand and look across to the pleasant triangular contours of the Bannatyne Health Club opposite with the spire of Chester-le-Street parish church rising mistily behind it. Trees and woodland surround the ground and Lumley Castle’s four towers rise out of the trees behind us. When I was a student at Durham in 1968 Lumley Castle was a hall of residence for my college - a hateful experience. Bussing into Durham after breakfast and back again in the evening, meant that for a social life we were cooped up with the over-grown public school boys that dominate Durham, all Oxbridge rejects. Me too, of course, but a year older than most, I didn’t get too much pleasure from water pistol and pillow case fights. I had a room in the stables. The ‘hot’ water came from the castle boiler in overhead pipes that were loosely lagged with hessian. It was so cold that winter and the heating system was so inefficient that the hot water pipes froze! I looked up at the castle today with mixed feelings of nostalgia and loathing.

It was cloudy and very gloomy most of the day. In fact they had the floodlights on all morning. In the frozen wastelands of the Geordiestan, it was bloody cold. I was glad of my raincoat to help keep me warm. I texted Freddie to give him the heads up for his trip here tomorrow. ‘Think Windsor v Scunthorpe away and dress accordingly.’ It brightened up a little late afternoon. Ironically, the best of the sunshine was when we left the ground at 6 o'clock.

Nice looking ground, did I say? Yes: but some of the facilities are dreadful, notably, the scoreboard. There is only one in the whole ground but the County Durham Stand can't see it! We have continuous cricket on the big screen opposite but it doesn't show a proper scorecard. The best you get is the score so far and the scores of the two batsmen. How can you follow the game properly with that? An email to the Chief Exec is in composition.

The bar facilities are also woeful. You would have expected better from the hard drinking North-East but there were not much more than four or five bars in the whole ground and even at 11.30 in the morning there were queues. I texted the bad news to Midnight, who was on his couch in Manchester. ”First time I’ve known you having a problem getting a drink,” he replied. Not much sympathy there.

Sadly the ground was half empty. God knows how you’d get a pint if it was anywhere near full. Everywhere there were expanses of unfilled seats. In our stand there were actually quite a few old codgers with cloth caps and funny accents and in our row we had to push past ten or a dozen if we wanted to get out for a pee or a beer. At the other end of the social spectrum, right behind us, were two Durham University professors, who spent the whole of the morning gossiping in a very clever way about university politics which was rather tedious, though things improved in the afternoon when they started to attend to cricket matters on which they were quite knowledgeable.

Still, it was an enjoyable day. We won the toss and batted on a cloudy day when all the cognoscenti coming into the ground would have bowled. Apparently the pitch is likely to get more difficult. Mathews says he would have batted too. There was a little uneven bounce but really the bowlers had little help and the outfield is very slow. England were always just ahead of the game with a good 83 from Hales and a typical, relaxed 80 from Root, who's a different class from the rest - you can hear it in the mellow sound of the ball off his bat and see it in his perfect balance and wonderful placement of the ball. But the Sri Lankan bowlers were tight and never let the game get away. Lakmal was hostile and Herath was trouble as soon as he came on after about 20 overs. 4 brilliant catches helped their cause.

When Ali came in I remarked to Ray that I liked his wristy stroke play. “Wristy!” he said. “Fuck off.” We had a mild debate and left it at that but I was delighted a little while later when behind me one Durham professor leant over to the other and said, “Wonderfully wristy player, isn’t he?” All the uni gossip was forgiven.

Ali is uncertain and Woakes is constantly playing & missing but they are both there at stumps. 310-6. Rooty was the best on show. England should be pleased with their position at the end of the day but Sri Lanka could think that it might have been worse.

DAY 2 Saturday 28 May

There was a much better crowd today. The ground seemed pretty much full – 87%, so said Ray, who can’t follow the game without a radio plugged into his ear (useful sometimes). It didn’t help the bar situation which was dire, queues snaking round each of the few bars. You could have drunk a couple of pints in the time it took to get one in. They would have trebled their bar takings if they’d laid on a decent number of bars. As I wandered round the ground looking for a bar without a queue I saw a bloke coming out of the Bannatyne Health Centre with a pint in his hand. Obviously not many people had sussed this one: I was second in the queue, albeit for lager.

It was a different Sri Lanka today. Lack lustre in their bowling and their fielding, Woakes and Ali were both dropped within the first 4 overs. That set the pattern for the day. Woakes continued to play and miss but both he and Ali became more confident and more certain as the morning progressed. Woakes finally played and missed once too often but his 39 justified his place in the side. Broad played his usual little cameo. I wondered whether he should have played with more circumspection and give Ali the strike but to be honest, with nearly 400 on the board, why not just go for it? At lunch we were 408-8.

I took a brisk walk up to the very friendly Chester-le-Street golf club where Freddie and his mate, Steve, were gutsing it on ham rolls and had kindly got a pint awaiting my arrival. Nice to see Freddie who had come up from London but he was going easy on the drink because he was driving. Not so Steve, who in good Addis fashion, would have spent the afternoon there. Steve, nice bloke though he is, is not an Addis man. He spent most of our time there with his back to the tele and admitted that his main passion is football. To his credit he does support Somerset, on the grounds that his old man was born there, though he confesses that he doesn’t know the name of a single player, though he had heard of Tres when I mentioned him. The kitchen was next to the bar and Freddie spent the whole time leering, not at the waitress herself, but at the plates of bacon butties and sausage sarnies she was bringing out. “Over here,” he cried. “That’s mine.” It wasn’t, of course, and after an hour or so of this his little joke had worn a bit thin.

Steve and I took advantage of the cheap beer and quick service while play resumed and, with the help of Finn and Jimmy, Ali got his 150. At the next table to us were three Cockneys of uncertain age who were clearly cricket lovers, though love of the booze took priority judging by the state of them. One of them with a gnarled old face and a croaky voice was very witty. He said he was still working but I’m not sure how as he’d been at Old Trafford, is going to Lords, was in South Africa and is off to France for a Who gig in a few weeks’ time! He is a fellow collector of ties. (Yes, my appellation, Five0, only applies when I am on tour. At home I dress sedately and at Taunton will often be seen wearing a tie.) I had bought one of the four reduced Durham ties that were on offer: he’d bought the lot!

Half an hour before tea Cook pulled the plug, 498-9. Freddie and I dragged Steve from the bar and made our way back to the ground for the Jimmy Anderson show. Steve and Freddie were most impressed when I dived into the Bannatyne for another quickly ordered pint of lager. “How did you find that out?” asked an incredulous Freddie.

Jimmy and Broad got stuck in and a beauty from Jimmy which somehow curved round his legs clipped a bemused Karunaratne’s leg stump. 10-1: the rot set in early.

After tea Jimmy, Broady and Woakes were accurate & hostile. Woakes bowled faster and better than he ever has for England. The evening session was a steady and inevitable procession of wickets, with only Mendis showing any application. England’s bowlers are just too good. The Sri Lankan batsmen don’t have the application and their confidence is shot. Some of Cook's fields, though - 3 on the leg side, 3 on the off & only 2 slips - were a bit hard to understand given the massive position of strength we are in.

91-8 at the close, a follow on tomorrow and an early finish look to be the only outcome. Ray and I are firming up on our plans for Monday and Tuesday.

DAY 3 Sunday 29 May

On another cold cloudy morning in front of a decent crowd the last two wickets fell quickly and by 11.25 Karunaratne and Silva were coming out to start their 2nd innings. So far, so predicted. However, they came out with much better intent and by the time Karunaratne was out the score was 38. After 16 overs the shine had gone off the ball. Job done.

When I went out to get my first pint I bumped into a slightly rotund Robbo in a trilby carrying a tray of drinks – strangely, today there are no queues for the bar, despite the fact that the ground’s fairly full. I’d been with Robbo and Higgy in Sharjah in the winter. He was less than gruntled. I asked him if he was going to Old Trafford. “No,” he said. “I’m fed up with 3 day Tests. I’m reviewing my plans. This has cost me a fucking fortune.”

Back in my seat, Silva, fast between the wickets and always looking to score, made a good 60 but the pick of the day was Mathews’s captain's knock, a belligerent 80, much of which was scored off a pretty ordinary Moheen. The bowling lacked penetration on a wicket that was clearly flattening out. Finn, like Moheen, was very ordinary. Chandimal, 54, and Siriwardana, 35, are still there, 309-5 at stumps. At last we have a contest and it was a much more enjoyable day – unless it’s the Convicts, no-one wants to see such a one-sided contest. The new ball is only 4 overs old so we don't expect things to last too long tomorrow but we were wrong yesterday and perhaps we will be again. Plans for tomorrow have had to be shelved till Tuesday.

DAY 4 Monday 30 May

I have moaned about the bar facilities and the scoreboard but one thing they have got right here is the car parking and the traffic flow. Ray had the foresight to by parking permits with the tickets so each day we sail into Chester-le-Street into our allocated car park. And somehow, with a judicious use of bollards and high-viz jacketed attendants directing the traffic, getting to and away from the ground, even on Saturday when it was virtually a full house, has been easy. Ten out ten here.

It was another freezing day, though. The wind was blowing off the North Sea all day and I don't think I was warm until the late afternoon when sun started to spread over the ground and we moved out of the shelter of the stand above us to warm up. Still, huddled in our raincoats and thermals, Ray and I had a certain masochistic pleasure at being such diehard fans.

We were wrong again in our predictions. By the time Siriwardana was out and Herath joined Chandimal it was clear that Sri Lanka weren't going to roll over.

I could see Robbo, looking lonely, sitting impassively on his own in the neighbouring stand. I thought he’d benefit from some company so when I got my first pint I joined him. Actually he wasn’t on his own. I felt a tap on the shoulder behind and it was Chris, whom I’d also met at Sharjah, doing her 17th consecutive Test. Now that is diehard! Robbo was in better humour than yesterday. I stayed with him till the wonderful moment when Chandimal got to his 100. The whole ground was rooting for him and en masse leapt to their feet to cheer him.

Jimmy bowled beautifully but Herath stuck with Chandimal till after lunch and they made us bat again. When Cooky got 5 he became the youngest batsman and first English player to score 10,000 Test runs. He, with Hales & Compton, sealed the win. In the end Sri Lanka learnt how to bat in English conditions but it was too late.

Ray and I debated who would be the man of the match. Ray thought Ali for his 150 and being on the winning side. I went for Chandimal for making us bat again and restoring Sri Lankan pride even though he was on the losing side. And Ali’s bowling had been so poor that I didn’t think he deserved it. But whoever choose the man of the match went one better that either of us: Jimmy for his 10fer. Of course: who else?

Throughout the last few days I had been following the other significant match, Surrey v Somerset at Taunton. In a low scoring game we were set 301 to win but lost wickets steadily. When Ray and I got home we still needed 31 with one wicket left. When I put my head on the pillow for a brief post-prandial snooze I thought it was a hopeless cause. But when I woke, yay, they done it! Somerset now lie 3rd in the Table. I texted Midnight to tell the Lankys to watch out. He didn’t seem worried but told me that I had missed the West Country cheese rolling contest today. Ha! Ha! See you at Old Trafford for Pakistan.

Five 0

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