Sri Lanka Tour 2018
The Addis is gradually massing. Tom and Tractor have been here a few days, staying in the posh Galle Face Hotel on the seafront in Colombo. I got here on Wednesday and stayed with my Sri Lankan friend, Ranjith, in Colombo but didn’t make it to the Galle Face.
Welsh Jack and his mates, Barry and Steve, are in Sri Lanka too but missed the bus to Hikkaduwa and went instead to Talalla, the other side of Matara, where Jack reports some nice bars on a pretty, deserted beach. I wasn’t tempted and went to Hikkaduwa, that straggle of beach bars along the Galle Road that look out on the foaming surf. I got here on Friday afternoon. Later that evening core Addis arrived, Skip with his gammy leg, Saint, Freddie and Tremmers. At Budde’s Beach Bar with lightening flashing over the Indian Ocean we quaffed a few beers, ate curries, well not Skip who had a fillet steak and Freddie chicken and chips, and picked our England team.
We’re generally agreed that Jennings and Burns will open. But then we differ. Freddie and Tremmers have Denly at three, on the grounds that without Bairstow we need to strengthen the batting. I can’t see that because at the end of the summer England were quite clearly looking to establish Mo at three. Why upset that excellent idea? Denly only started batting up the order this summer when he was being talked up for England so if we need an extra batter, which we do, put him in, say, at six.
The other big debate was over the bowlers. Most of us see three spinners in the side, Mo, orthodox finger, Rashid the leggie and Jack Leach the lefty. For seamers we’d have Jimmy, Curran because he’s a left-armer and Stokes, leaving Broad out. Skip on the basis, I think, of a pitch report from Tom, reckons that Galle is a green seamer!
That was news to the rest of us. As Freddie said, “Do you really think that Herath will play his last Test on a seamer’s wicket?” Skip would leave Leach out and keep Broad in. Actually, the next day Freddie reported that Skip had denied ever saying it would be a seaming pitch. We have witnesses. Anyway, time will tell.
By Saturday Herbie’s lad, Jack, and some mates had arrived and news came through the Tufty’s in Colombo. The party gets bigger.
On Sunday Freddie, Tremmers and I got down to Unawatuna. Still no sign of Welsh Jack whose command of social media and even basic texting and phoning belongs to an earlier century. On Monday he finally made contact. He'd messed up the dates. I got a call when they arrived in Unawatuna and walked up to theirs. Barry, his mate, is a lovely bloke, quiet spoken with a hint of Welsh in his accent. He’s more refined than Jack who is uncouth in comparison – well, let’s just say Jack is uncouth. They’ve known each other for years. Jack kicks of effing and blinding at the slightest provocation while Barry, an artist in this, gently takes the piss.
On the way to their place I passed a laundry that was advertising rooms. I've organised a very basic room with a fan and an en suite shower and toilet ... less than a tenner a night. I forgot to check if they had wi-fi but I'll be surprised if they do.
We joined a large gang of assembled Addis at Hot Rocks Beach Bar where we spent the evening chatting, drinking and eating. Tom is more heavily bearded than ever, a wispy straggle of red down to his chest. I’m not quite sure how the Met reconciles that but I suppose that when you’re kicking shit out of London ruffians it doesn’t really matter. He’s as assertive as ever. He took me to task for alleged slanderous remarks about him in my Oval 2017 blog. I checked it up when I got home. He was awfully wasted then and by the end of this evening he was again. His views on Theresa May then were trenchant and expletive and they still are. Nothing’s changed. I tell it how I see it.
And my comrade in arms, Tufty, was there too. After fiery Corbynista chat, we reminisced about Tufty’s one time stay with me in Cornwall with a poor unfortunate girl who had to put up with him puking and shitting all night in my toilet. She was very candid in the morning, when I told her that I had seen the evidence, that actually she didn’t really like him. Tufty needs a Tractor. Needless to say that relationship ended pretty soon after. Tufty assures me that his latest is better suited.
DAY 1 Tuesday 6 November: FOAKES TO THE RESCUE
Unusually, setting off to the cricket today, I'm not really looking forward to it. The ticket situation is dire. When Skip, that master organiser, tried to get tickets there earlier this week all the stand seats were sold out! So we have standing tickets on the grass bank which I fear won't be much fun, either when the sun is beating down or if it's raining. It rained all night so there seemed to be a good chance that the game will be delayed. The grass bank could be like Glastonbury in the mud!
Actually, my fears weren’t justified. This ground is built on sand. I saw that when I visited in 2005 a few months after the tsunami when it was a sad sight with bits of crumpled metal and enough sand thrown up by the wave and deposited all over the ground to make it look like a builder’s yard. Therefore, it drains in no time. Even so, the ground staff must have worked heroically to get the pitch ready for play on time for the ten o’clock start. In the event, it was overcast all day but narry a drop of rain.
I went in with the two Welshmen and Jack’s other mate, Steve, who turned up late yesterday evening. Steve lives in Cornwall in the next village from Jack and me, generally considered to be the rough end of town – they think we’re hippies. He’s pretty travel savvy having spent a lot of time in the Windies sorting out the electrics for Sandals Hotels. We were blowed if we were going to sit on the grass all day, even though my Glastonbury fears were unfounded. So we blagged an exit from the ground from a policeman on the gate – they hadn’t sorted out exit passes that early in the day - and found a tuctuc driver who took us to a place that sold little fold up seats. We bought the guy’s stock, all three, for about a tenner a piece – he knew that he had the market cornered so wasn’t in a mood to haggle. We set them up in a row, taking it in turns to be the one to sit on the grass. Tasty!
As Vic Marks said in the Guardian, the only certainty in selection was that Bairstow is injured, as he has been since the ODIs when he’d injured himself playing football. Ben Foakes, the Surrey keeper, had been summoned from a jolly with his mates in Portugal as cover. The word is that Buttler is not as effective standing up to the stumps so it was no surprise that Foakes got his first cap and Buttler played simply as a batsman. As expected Jennings kept his place and opened with Burns. Mo was in at three and, contrary to Skip’s seaming pitch theory, Rashid and Leach are both in, Broad is out and we have a left-arm seamer in Curran. To my mind that’s a pretty balanced attack for this ground.
Burns, neat and compact, got off the mark with a cracking cover drive for 4. Like so many of our recent openers he looked the part until he feathered one down the legside to the keeper. A score of 9 was not what he really wanted from his debut. Ali, who always looks smaller in the flesh that you’d think he is, came out, played down the wrong line to a ball that may have swung a little and was out first ball. 10-2 was not a good start. Here we go again!
There was a loud, raucous shout of encouragement behind me for Root as he came in. I looked round at the massed Barmy Army to see Deco in a fine pair of white-framed sunglasses. Where did he get those from? Root looked skittish and jumpy and never really settled.
Tubby little Herath came on to bowl in his last Test to an explosion of fireworks from under the ramparts of the Fort. Poor Root had to defend Herath’s first ball to loud bang that made us all jump. It wasn’t long before he came down the track to Herath, missed and was well and truly stumped. Queue more fireworks to celebrate Herath’s 431st wicket to equal Kapil Dev’s record and Murali’s effort of 100 wickets at Galle.
Jennings, upright, military and stiff, was actually doing the job of an opener, despite a few too many sweep shots to the spinners. However, he was bowled on 46 from a missed cut to Perera who wheeled away much of the day from the stands end and was by far Sri Lanka’s best bowler, getting 5 by the end of the innings. 98-4.
Stokes was bristling with intent and looked solid but having scored just 7 runs a reverse sweep undid him. 103-5 and lunch not yet taken. We have been here before.
At lunch I walked round the ground and bumped into Clarkie selling the latest edition of The Corridor of Uncertainty. Saint had told me that Clarkie had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. I’ve looked after people with it so I asked him about it. He was very open. It’s been three years now. He’s conscious about having the shakes and limps a bit. But what a legend! He’s out here for the tour and still producing and selling the fanzine. He knows I’m writing this and is happy for people to know. Credit to you, Clarkie, and lang may yer lum reek.
Further round the ground I came upon Skip, Saint and Freddie more or less behind the bowler’s arm where there was a nice bit of bank to sit on. Not Skip, though. There was a line of chairs for the police and Skip, larger than life as ever, had blagged a chair with them on the grounds that he had a bad leg.
After lunch, a very tidy, straight-batted Buttler was joined by Foakes. Buttler moved along nicely but Foakes was the man. He played the ball as he saw it, was neat and unflashy and gradually accumulated runs. Buttler, Curran and Rashid came and went and at the close Foakes was on 87 with Leach at the other end. At 321-8 Foakes had turned the game around.
At teatime Tufty revealed that Tom had consumed a bottle of rum at lunch at Mamma’s bar where they all go and was too wasted to see the last two sessions.
DAY 2 Wednesday 7 November: SRI LANKA NEVER GET GOING
On what turned out to be a blistering hot day, Foakes came on with Leach to great applause. On 87, the real question was would his partners survive long enough for him to get his debut ton and become the first English keeper to score a hundred in Asia? It was touch and go. He started the day with a beautiful cover drive for 4 and then a couple of singles. His plan seemed to be to trust his partner to stick there. For a while it worked with Leach stretching forward in exaggerated defence. But he found the edge one too many times and Foakes, on 94, was left with Jimmy. It was a nervous time for us all. Foakes still played with patience but finally a 4 followed by a 3 brought him to three figures. It was a great moment.
It didn’t last long because having got his ton, Foakes went into slog mode, hit a couple of sparkling 4s and was out with a skier. 342 was infinitely better than we could have expected a lunch on Day 1.
The celebrations for Foakes’s ton were slightly marred by a stroppy little sod from Stoke who came from behind us to say that sitting as we were on our little chairs we were obscuring the view for him and his mates. This hadn’t caused anybody any problems yesterday and there were plenty of others on chairs today. Most people seemed to accommodate to it quite well. Not matey. Had he not been so niggly we might have moved but there was something very annoying by his manner so we declined. He persisted so I told him to shut up. He carried on. I’m sorry to say that my good manners deserted me and I told him to ‘fuck off.’
He bent over me and said, “What did you say?”
“Fuck off,” I said. He threatened to plant one but to everybody’s surprise Jack stepped in as the peacemaker and he went off, only to return a few minutes later to stand right in front of me. We ignored him and he soon gave up his feeble protest.
It was evident pretty quickly that Sri Lanka would struggle. Karunaratne hit Jimmy’s first ball from the Fort end for 4 but the snaking second delivery took a fine outside edge, reviewed nonetheless, to add to Foakes’s great day. Curran, who took the new ball with Jimmy, soon had Silva lbw after another failed review so on 10 Sri Lanka had lost both their openers and both their reviews.
The story of their innings was that no-one really got going. At lunch they were 42-4.
I wandered round to pay my respects to the Addis. By now the Sri Lankan policemen had been convinced by Skip that back home he was an actual inspector of police. They treated him with great respect and jumped to his command. His authority was required when a monitor lizard marched along the perimeter of the ground unfazed by the English supporters. Skip hauled himself from his seat and ordered his men to shoo it out of the ground, which I later learned they had manifestly failed to do.
In the afternoon Matthews, back in the team after being side-lined over fitness issues, and Chandimal fought back with the best partnership of the innings. Root had Leach and Moeen wheeling away at either end. Poor old Rashid, fielding on the boundary in front of us, hadn’t had a look in. The Barmy Army with Billy on the trumpet started up their incredibly moving version of Queen’s I Want To Be Free:-
‘Adil Rashid, Adil Rashid
He spins it to win it cos no-one can pick it
It’s Adil Rashid, Adil Rashid
Root knows, Root knows it’s Adil Rashid.’
That final cadence is so poignant. Rash look behind at us and sheepishly applauded. Root did know and finally chucked the ball to him to great cheers from all of us. He was enough to do the trick. Chandimal was caught behind by Foakes who was having a great game with the gloves as well as the bat. The partnership was broken, wickets kept falling and at tea they were 136-5.
God, it was hot. We were damp with perspiration and survived only with lashings of sun block and plenty of liquids from the bar behind. Just in front of us were two ladies of a certain age, Kath and Ali. I’d apologised early in the day for the blueness of my language. It turns out that they are from Glastonbury and are members of Somerset. Nor are they averse to a pint or two. So there we were, me and Steve and the two Glastonbury girls, a Somerset quartet home from home.
At 4 o’clock Sri Lanka were all out for 203. Ali took 4 wickets, Leach 2 and Rashid 1. A spinners’ day. We would have taken a 139 first innings lead after those wickets of ours fell cheaply yesterday morning.
Just before tea, Burns at short leg was felled by a fearful blow and was inert on the ground for quite a while. Eventually he was able to walk off. In the innings break we speculated over who would open in his stead so it was a surprise when he came out with Jennings. The pair of them survived very comfortably till the close with England on 38. A lead of 177 with all our first innings wickets intact is healthy. Weather permitting, and who would have bet on two full days of play, it would be surprising if this game isn’t wrapped up by the end of Day 4.
DAY 3 Thursday 8 November: JENNINGS PILES IT ON
Today was another scorcher. Jack had balked at the idea of risking 300 rupees for Day 3 tickets when Skip was buying them for us last week. The reasons for that have something to do with his reluctance, which I had not previously been aware of, to shell out money. 300 rupees, by the way, is less than £1.50! Consequently, Steve came to the ground with me in a tuctuc – we’d abandoned the taxi that had brought us in for the first two days because Jack thought he was racist when he’d said that Indian people were dirty. I went into the ground with the chairs because I had got a ticket via Skip. Steve successfully beat down the price for tickets for himself, Barry and Jack from 10,000 rupees each to 4,000. Jack’s tight-fistedness had cost them each more than 13 times the price they would originally have paid.
To avoid arguments with any stroppy little sods from Stoke I tactfully set up our chairs just behind a row of four other seats. Robbo with his beard and little white porkpie hat turned up soon after and plonked his seat behind us. There was safety in numbers. Our chairs by now had been reduced to two and a half because one had collapsed and another was rapidly coming apart at the seams. For a tenner a piece they were not top quality.
Burns and Jennings continued from where they left off and chugged along nicely. Jennings swept and missed too often for our liking but otherwise was serene in his stately kind of way. Burns again looked compact. He’s happy to use his feet to the spinners although he does seem to have a tendency to fall towards the off in forward defence. It wasn’t long before the 50 partnership came up. May be he was getting a bit bogged down but on 23 Burns took a suicidal single to ball that went straight to mid-wicket where Karunaratne collected quickly and smashed all three stumps. Burns was patently out.
Jack and Barry, our two Welshmen, had seat numbers on their tickets and choose to sit with the tour parties in a marquee. Steve and I were happy on our seats with the hoi polloi. Burns’s wicket called for the first of the day’s beers which you get from a convenient bar behind us. You can buy them in six little plastic cups that slot into a long cardboard carrier. The young Sri Lankan lads that are pulling them routinely give short measures so it’s always necessary to get them to top them up which they do with good humoured reluctance.
I’m afraid Ali didn’t do much better than he had in the first innings. There was a cheer when he survived his first ball and another when he got off the mark. But two runs later he didn’t connect properly and a lofted drive was neatly taken by Herath at deep mid-wicket. This is a shame because I would like to see him nail down the number three spot. Most of those around me don’t think he’s up to it.
Root didn’t hang around either, caught behind by a lovely turner from Herath. 74-3 was not really what we wanted but with the lead now over 200 Stokes wasn’t going to hang about and was belligerent from the start. When he commits to a shot there’s no doubt what’s in his mind and when he hits it it stays hit. There had been no boundaries yet this morning but Stokes soon sorted that out. In this mood he’s great to watch. Jennings brought up his 50. 100-3 at lunch after a slow morning, until Stokes’s arrival, and a lead of nearly 250 was very acceptable.
We paid our respects to the two Somerset ladies and went to see how the Chief Inspector of Police and his troops were getting on, greeting Clarkie on the way round. Saint and Freddie were there so we were able to wish Saint many happy returns of the day. We saw the Welshmen briefly who are comfortable in their seats. With another line of six beers we returned to our chairs dropping a beer to Somerset Kath and Ali on the way.
Stokes entertained us with 62 runs that included 3 sixes. When he was out, at 181-4 it was clear that only weather was going to prevent an England victory. Soon after tea the ground stood to applaud Jennings’s ton. We were all delighted for him, despite our doubts. Buttler powered his way to 35 which included 2 fours and 6. And then Foakes came in a played another blinder. This time he wasn’t patiently grafting a ton. He did what the situation called for and leathered it. It was coming up to 4.30 and, with just over half an hour to go and a lead of nearly 450, it was surely time to declare. There was, however, the small matter of Jennings’s 150. When he was nearing 140 Broad came out with a pair of gloves and a clear message that Jennings didn’t have much time left to get there. It was not to be. Foakes holed out for a run a ball 37. Jennings was on 146, Curran came on but one ball later at the end of the over Root pulled them in. No 150 for Jennings. 322-6, though, and a lead of 461 was splendid.
There was nothing more of note. The Sri Lankan openers survived the day but surely with two whole days ahead even the weather isn’t going to stop an England victory.
Saint is 55 today. (I attended his 50th in Oxford.) Skip’s organisation skills were again in evidence. He’d booked a table for 20 of us in a very chic restaurant conveniently near my digs where I ate the most delicious black pork curry. There was one notable absentee, namely Tufty, who I’m afraid was so excited by Jennings’s ton that he rather overdid it in Mamma’s and was in recovery. Actually, I need to take him aside for some paternal advice because Tom had a quiet word with me to say that Tufty had taken it upon himself to advise Tractor of Tom’s alcoholic misdemeanors. Needless to say, Tractor expected nothing less but, still, that’s not the kind of thing you do to your mates.
Saint made a very elegant speech which managed to include reference to everyone in attendance plus some absent friends. The Fat Controller, a moniker bestowed upon him on our New Zealand tour by the late lamented Gazza, had conjured up a delicious chocolate banana cake iced with ‘Happy Birthday Saint’ which Birthday Boy generously cut and served, with an extra large portion for the Controller. As I left them to it, it started to rain and didn’t stop till 6.30 in the morning. Could play possibly start on time?
DAY 4 Friday 9 November: ENGLAND WIN
As on Tuesday, despite all that rain, they started bang on ten.
None of us had Day 4 tickets but that was no problem. We arrived at the ground together. Jack collared a lad who said he had tickets for four of us at 3000 rupees each. He took us round to Gate 4A where a few policemen were lounging about. They looked away. He told us to walk through. We walked into the ground with matey behind us. At a discreet distance we handed over the cash and were in. Simple as that!
To be fair, Sri Lanka tried hard. Root soon had Leach wheeling away economically from the grandstand end and Ali from the Fort end. Uncharacteristically when Karunaratne was on 9 Stokes at leg slip dropped a low catch off Ali’s bowling. He was not happy with himself, although, to be fair, he may have been unsighted as Foakes came across as if to take the catch. With that bit of assistance Sri Lanka too had a 50 opening partnership. But not for long. Silva was lbw to Leach when the score was 51 and Ali caught and bowled Karunaratne 8 runs later. Stokes’s drop had not cost a lot.
As it neared lunch Sri Lanka were 98 for 2. Steve and I really want 3. This looked unlikely. Stokes, who had been roughing up the batsmen to no real affect, came in from the Fort end for the last over before lunch. There was a moment of hope when Marias’s finger went up for a caught behind. This was turned down on appeal. The very next ball Stokes fired it in again and Root took a sharp catch at first slip. De Silva was out. We had our third. Stokes: what a legend!
Matthews and Mendis gutsed it out after lunch for a 50 partnership. When Mendis became Leach’s second wicket Chandimal was soon his third. Leach ended the day with 21 overs, one maiden, 60-3, which isn’t bad.
After tea, Kath and Ali came to swap pints with Steve and me so we were a little Somerset foursome. Dickwella was out for 16 and the last crucial partnership was broken. It was only a matter of time. Ali nurses a secret passion for Matthews – she obviously likes them big and hunky – so she was sorry when he was out soon after getting to 50.
Once Matthews had gone the job was more or less done. Victory was in the air. The massed ranks of England supporters swayed and sang on the grass. No point in trying to use our seats now. Billy played his trumpet and the Barmy Army went through their repertoire. When Herath in his last act in a Test match was run out by Stokes, England had won by a massive 211 runs, our first win at Galle. The England crowd on the bank to a man and woman raised their arms and bellowed a mighty ‘Yeah!’ We hugged and kissed and shook hands. What a game!
Foakes was without question man of the match – Bairstow eat your heart out. Ali failed at 3 but took 8 wickets. Leach proved how economically he can hold up one end and take wickets. Jennings showed he can bat in the sub-continent: can he do it elsewhere? Burns looked tidy. This is a good team. Roll on Kandy.