With Wisden widely reporting that the long awaited India series will be screened on the Disney channel rather than the sports stations we are all used to, I readily agreed to Freddies request for a virtual review of the Galle Test, as at least I am able to watch it.
I flatly refuse to pay for yet another TV channel subscription on top of the ones already contracted. Any oblique references to The Wonderful World of Disney in the review below are completely coincidental and not at all connected to my annoyance at missing England Test matches during lockdown.
I must admit that as a recent convert to BT Sport, I haven’t been starved of cricket, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the recent Test matches from New Zealand and Australia.
It came almost as a relief to see the convicts up to their old tricks in the Sydney Test. Childish, brainless and tasteless sledging by Paine and Labuschagne, questionable antics on the crease by a certain Mr Smith – more Wicked Queen than Snow White – maybe at last some things ARE beginning to get back to normal!
Unless my memory is playing tricks I seem to recall the last time I was in Galle in 2012 with Herbie (the Addis member rather than the cream coloured Volkswagen Love Bug) we seemed to spend very little time in the cricket ground. The days consisted of watching the mornings play from the packed walls of the Fort, a liquid lunch / afternoon in a bar, and finally an attempt to gain entry to the ground without tickets after tea when the security staff had become less vigilant.
All this as a protest against the exorbitant ticket prices being levied back then by the Sri Lankans of £25 per day. It doesn’t sound a lot of money now, but when you consider this amount was approximately TEN times more than the Australians were charged on a similar trip this may better explain our collective Addis protest at that time.
“Don’t worry, the English are daft enough to pay whatever we ask!”
Well, the tour groups are anyway as the ticket prices are cunningly hidden in the overall package cost…..a very different world now of course and such trifling concerns as ticket prices pale into insignificance.
Right, that’s enough negatives, let’s find some positives – apart from, of course, in the England pre-tour Covid tests!
Although England are fielding a weakened team with several notable absentees, from what I have seen of Sri Lanka in their short tour of South Africa I am expecting nothing less than a comfortable two – nil victory in this series. After all, fond memories, England hammered the South African team on their own soil less than a year ago – the same SA team (or arguably, even weaker now) that have just dominated Sri Lanka.
No match tickets needed for this series, of course.
No supporters allowed, unless you happen to be a certain attention seeker who stayed on in Sri Lanka after the last tour was cancelled, and even then only viewing from the Fort permitted. The situation is understandably most frustrating to our cricket-following fraternity and worse still if you have seen the recent Tests from New Zealand (normal summer service resumed as if Covid never existed) and Australia (a reduced crowd and minor restrictions but still a fair few there).
I rise at 3.55am and wander downstairs to my appointment with Sky – well if you believe that, you will believe anything. First the toss, which England lose. Joe Root has been handed a duff microphone, and when questioned by Mark Butcher, sounds like a Disney chipmunk. Maybe he is warming up for the India series. I learn enough to work out that we will be batting last, against a Sri Lankan team containing three spinners, on a pitch deliberately prepared to rag square after the first hours play – what could possibly go wrong?
The SL team has been ravaged by injuries, including their captain. England have one surprise selection – Dan Lawrence, fresh from Australia, where he has been playing in the Big Bash. I wonder if Mr. Ray Ban, our Head Selector, has watched any of his performances for Brisbane Heat. For those who may not have seen it, poor Dan couldn’t buy a run. Lawrence of Australia . Harrumph.
Our comforting commentary team from the start are the two Lancastrians Atherton and Lloyd, the latter operating from a spare bedroom in his Accrington home – with a Yorkshire Tea mug prominent on his workstation. What medication is he on?
Some panoramic drone shots of the Galle ground and it’s surrounds, including the empty
Fort, which would normally be festooned with English banners. Empty, that is, bar one person. Just the one flag in evidence, from the perpetually publicity-seeking Barmy Army, who have taken the opportunity to link up with our lone spectator and advertise on his banner. To be fair, the pandemic must have served the Barmies a mortal blow, as it has to all the travel companies.
The opening session is littered with ludicrous delays so the cameramen have to find other targets. The Series Trophy is on proud display – The Moose Cup.
I wonder what the trophy for the India Series will be called – The Mickey Moose Cup, perhaps?
Suddenly, rapid action. In the seventh over the ever enthusiastic Broad runs in for two wickets, one caught round the corner and one behind.
Sri Lanka 16-2.
In the eleventh over, the first sight of spin with Dom Bess who makes an immediate impact. A ridiculous reverse sweep shot by Kusal Perera which goes straight to Root at slip.
Chandimal and Mathews steadied the ship till just before lunch, when the former offered a dolly catch to debutant Dan Lawrence – who promptly shelled it.
As the commentators pointed out, the over rate was appalling. Just 24 overs before lunch with spinners operating. Memo to the ICC – how many more examples of this do you need before taking remedial action?
Both batsmen perished just after lunch.
A slip catch for Broad, who by this time was looking more exhausted than Ben-Hur in chains being led through the desert to his oar. Next over, a straightforward catch in the covers by Sam Curran to give Leach his first wicket.
The first ball after the drinks interval was a rank long hop bowled by Bess, which Dickwella slashed straight at Sibley, who caught the ball despite being unable to see through his sunglasses. Sri Lanka’s innings in tatters at 105-6 with all their main batsmen gone.
With the spinners now bowling in tandem, next came a novelty wicket. Dasun Shanaka hit a slightly uppish full blooded sweep, and Jonny Bairstow cleverly deflected the ball off his unprotected ankle into Jos Buttler’s gloves while pirouetting out of the way. This must have been as painful as it sounds, as Jonny left the pitch for attention shortly afterwards.
The wickets continued to tumble.
Perera bowled by Dom Bess for a Donald Duck.
A Jack Leach finger end run out of the non-striking batsman.
With Sri Lanka tottering at 134-9 we are introduced to third umpire Lyndon ‘Lecter’ Hannibal, adjudicating on a tight run out call. Wonder who he had for lunch?
To my old and knackered eyes, the bat was not grounded, but Hannibal thought otherwise.
My mind wandered back to the dreadful Bowden run out call at Adelaide in the World Cup 2015 against Bangladesh, which went the opposite way and cost us our place in the tournament – a bit of consistency would not go amiss, but as various films have taught us, you upset Hannibal at terrible personal risk.
Sri Lanka did not take advantage of their let off, and were dismissed for just 135 from 46 overs. Awful batting, and by a huge margin the lowest ever first innings total by any team at Galle in a Test match.
My TV set started emitting a strange clicking sound soon after, which I suspect may have been Jimmy Anderson, who had been ‘rested’ despite playing no cricket, gnashing his teeth in the dressing room.
So England had bowled well and fielded faultlessly apart from the Lawrence of Australia drop.
But as the o!d saying goes, let’s not make any judgements until both teams have batted – especially on a pitch previously highlighted by Al -Jazeera as part of their match fixing exposé!
England’s innings commenced straight after tea and was not without incident. A crazy run in just the second over resulted in Sibley and Crawley at the same end, but the hapless Sri Lankans were unable to complete the run out. Mickey Arthur, their coach, had his head in his hands, but he didn’t have to wait too long for some cheer. Sibley nicked off to first slip and was given out rightly on review. 10-1.
In the ninth over, Mickey was doing a jig of delight as Crawley punted the ball up into the air and was caught at mid-off. 17-2.
With thirty odd overs still left, and a dirty big black cloud looming in the distance, things were suddenly looking dark in more ways than one at a ground without floodlights, but Messrs Root and Bairstow milked the spinners to take England past fifty. Keen watchers who picked out the Barmy Army sticker on Joe’s bat may find a Companies House search most illuminating.
In the gathering gloom England finished the day on 127-2, in the process compiling their highest ever Test partnership at Galle of 110. It looks as if they intend to do the job in one innings, and from what I have seen of Sri Lanka’s batting I make a mental note to erase my Sky recordings set for days four and five.
When I got up on day two, the covers were on, so it was back under my own covers for an hour or so. I severely doubt we will get those minutes back given the light situation. When the game did start, controversy was almost immediate. In the first over, Root, who was on 66, attempted a sweep and was pinned in front of his stumps.
The Sri Lankans all went up – the onfield umpire gave not out. Cue a review to our friend Hannibal.
‘Impact umpires call outside off stump’.
Very tight, but I have to say it looked out to me!
The camera panned to Mickey Arthur, who does not conceal his emotions very well.
“F****** H***!” pronounced stroppy Mickey, that’s “flipping heck” if any kids are reading.
The very next over, Bairstow WAS out, caught in the slips – maybe this was not going to be the cakewalk anticipated?
Lawrence of Australia strode in for his debut and Sky showed a delightful clip of his earlier session with England’s new batting consultant – Jacques Kallis. Blimey, if they all end up batting like he did, we might declare some time on Sunday!
No further alarms before lunch.
Joe Root went in on 99 not out, but the bigger story was probably Lawrence, who stood at 40 not out from just 71 balls, having moved into Big Bash mode about a month too late. In truth, he played some lovely shots, although the comparisons to Viv Richards and Virat Kohli by the commentators were probably a little premature. Nasser Hussein’s diatribe about all things Essex being marvellous was not only unnecessary, but completely boring – Nasser, please shut up. We all know Graham Gooch played for Essex. So did Mike Denness and Keith bloody Fletcher!
An inevitable century for Root straight after lunch. The next over saw a mistimed reverse sweep from our Joe, which was played into the ground and brought up a trowel full of dirt. This didn’t stop the Sri Lankans for asking for a catch via DRS referral, and when Hannibal confirmed the not out decision the TV camera panned straight to Mickey on his balcony. He was apoplectic! Flapping his arms like Pete’s Dragon, he stormed off to seek an appointment with Hannibal – and later emerged not only in one piece, but also with hopefully a better understanding of the laws of cricket.
Unsurprisingly, the ‘not out’ decision stood.
As Englands lead motored towards a hundred, Dan Lawrence went to a well played fifty, heartily applauded by the squad – some of whom must have had mixed feelings about his instant success I suspect! We are in danger of having more batsmen than places at present. Needless to say, Lawrence’s debut innings was accompanied throughout by constant flattery and superfluous Essex tales from Nasser Hussein.
Nothing was going right for Sri Lanka.
Lawrence was dropped at slip on 60 and by this time the England lead had advanced to 119.
After more rather pointless scenic pictures from the Sri Lankan tourist board during the drinks break came a classic, plaintive intervention by Rob Key.
“I’m not sure it makes me feel better keep seeing these great shots of a fantastic country when we’re all in lockdown. Can’t go anywhere! Can’t do anything!”
As I glanced at the freezing fog developing outside my bay window I could only concur.
I love to see England doing well, but by this time the match was becoming monotonous due to the lack of competition and the sheer ineptitude of the Sri Lankan fielding. Just a few minutes after the drinks break I nodded off, and by the time I awoke the new ball had come and gone, and Root was past 150. Just as well I’m not a journalist.
Lawrence was finally out just before tea for a well compiled 73, joking apart a great effort on debut. It must be if Nasser says so.
After 24 balls looking all at sea, Buttler was subject to a DRS for a caught behind, despite no obvious deviation of the ball. Once again, not out. Review lost. Cue Mickey, waving his hands about in frustration to David Saker. All he needed was a couple of glove puppets – any suggestions, anyone? Boris and Trumpy?
Tea – England 320-4, a lead of 185. Surely, it was just a matter of how many more we would score. None today though, alas, because the rain came during the break and washed out the final session. The programme wound up with some concerning allegations of Covid protocol breaches – watch this space – and I was then able to experience the dubious pleasure of watching Boris and his A-Team presenting their regular Covid roadshow from Downing Street. Any comparisons to the Sri Lankan bowling and fielding attack are again, purely coincidental.
Day three started fifteen minutes early to try to make up lost time. At this rate, it won’t be worth going to bed for the remainder of the match! The session started promptly, but with dire prognostications about the weather for the next few days. It had clearly rained overnight, and the Galle skies were leaden. The playing surface resembled a damp piece of blotting paper, and the perimeter was just as I remembered it, damp and muddy. The ground staff were in constant focus readying covers and shovelling sand onto wet patches on the outfield. Clearly the weather may be a factor here.
Out in the middle England continued serenely. Joe Root looked in no trouble at all, and Buttler now had his eye in, hitting a number of reverse sweeps and other boundaries. Root had already passed the highest English score in Sri Lanka, and also went past 8,000 Test runs.
The ball had been smashed so much it needed to be changed, and the new one worked wonders for Sri Lanka. On 372, Buttler misjudged the first ball with the new cherry from Fernando that swung away slightly and was caught behind.
The very next delivery bowled Sam Curran, and now we were staring at a potential hat-trick. Dom Bess, however, managed to keep it out.
The focus was now firmly upon Joe Root, and he went to a magnificent double hundred with a boundary sweep. The innings reminded me of Kane Williamson in terms of style & quality – you don’t notice him, but all of a sudden he has scored 200! A remarkable innings even including a six, and it is great to see him back in form in time for India.
Bess joined Sam Curran in the Donald Duck club after a run out and a mini collapse was under way. By the time I had eaten my full English, we were all out for 421 just a few minutes before lunch. I was hoping Joe Root would leave the slogging to Broady and finish in red ink, but he holed out on the boundary attempting another six for a wonderful innings of 228. England had a lead of 286 runs, and in truth it could have been much, much worse for Sri Lanka.
The hosts made a much better fist of things in their second knock. Whatever tirade Mickey had subjected the batsmen to, it worked a treat, as the first wicket pair put on a hundred partnership. Even when a wicket fell, in the 38th over, it was more by luck than judgement as Perera holed out on the boundary for 62 trying to cut Sam Curran for six.
In the sixtieth over, finally a breakthrough by “The Somerset Combination”, as described by M.A.Atherton OBE, Lancashire CCC Vice President. Mendis, c Buttler b Leach, 15.
I will forgive Michael for being confused about Jos Buttler’s current County playing arrangements, its easily done. Buttler only seems to appear at Old Trafford for International matches.
England needed that wicket. When bad light brought a slightly early close, Sri Lanka had reached 156-2, just 130 runs behind, and against all expectations the game is going into day four. It would be churlish not to admit that with the earlier England collapse, and their stubborn afternoon batting, today belongs to Sri Lanka.
Day four started off in sunshine and despite the early wicket of the night watchman, Sri Lanka continued to prosper.
To my mind, our spinners were dropping the ball too short, and were consistently cut and slashed for runs.
Thirimanne brought up his first Test hundred in seven years with such a shot and the prospects of England having to bat again were increasing all the time.
As the hosts chipped away at England’s lead Dan Lawrence was brought on to bowl, but mercifully for everyone, Nasser Hussein had just finished his commentary stint.
His over included a waist high full toss outside leg stump which was smashed to the boundary – a fifty partnership between Thirimanne and Angelo Mathews.
Is it just me, or is there a feeling of slight desperation creeping in?
The new ball arrived and surprisingly it was given to Sam Curran. In just his second over, Thirimanne nicked an inswinger and Buttler somehow managed to cling on to the ball, despite slow motion showing it spinning in mid air between his gloves for an eternity.
“That didn’t melt into his gloves” said Nasser, in one of his more lucid moments.
Mark Wood shared the new ball with Curran, but as in the first innings the most notable thing he did was falling over regularly after delivering the ball, like Bambi on ice.
At lunch Sri Lanka were 242-4, just 44 runs behind. Like an oil tanker out at sea, this match seems to be imperceptibly turning around. As I make my lunchtime brew, I find myself fervently wishing that I had placed £100 on Sri Lanka to win two minutes before Dan Lawrence was out!
Chandimal edged a Dom Bess delivery to Joe Root after the break, but the dangerous Angelo Mathews was still around, and he has prior form against England.
The afternoons play became soporific as Sri Lanka crawled towards parity. I found myself doing wicket walks around the house, not outside the front door though, as that is my best defence against Covid, and has been firmly locked since Boxing Day. The tension was made greater by regular camera shots of a huge, black cloud formation gathering up overhead that could, in other circumstances, have formed the backdrop to the end of the world. The rain came eventually at 2.26pm local time, with Sri Lanka having just taken the lead.
Despite the rain the players stayed out on the field and Sri Lanka probably regretted this, with Dickwella being caught behind off Bess with their lead standing at only 5. Shanaka was bowled shortly afterwards by Leach leaving the hosts in a very precarious position, effectively 10 for 7.
By tea Angelo Mathews had gone to a patient fifty and Sri Lanka stood on 302-7, a lead of 16 runs.
The hosts went into attack mode after the break, and soon had a lead of 50+.
My mind wandered back to Port Elizabeth, when the South African tail put on a frightening amount of runs and England seemed incapable of getting them out.
Then – at last – a breakthrough.
On 352, Buttler whipped the bails off behind Perera and appealed for a stumping. Over to Hannibal. An incredibly close decision, but Hannibal ruled in England’s favour, and as the camera turned towards Mickey on his balcony, his glum expression said it all. Isn’t the batsman supposed to have the benefit of any doubt?
This left Angelo Mathews batting with the number eleven and quite logically, he decided to open his shoulders. Unfortunately, in an attempt to farm the strike next over, he steered a Jack Leach delivery to slip. Sri Lanka all out for a creditable 359 leaving England just 74 runs to win.
We couldn’t mess this up – could we? Well, being England, we just have to give it a shot.
Sibley was bowled off a rather unwise leave in the first over. Crawley followed him into the pavilion in the fifth over after being caught at slip. Root was run out by a distance attempting a suicidal run with Bairstow. Next ball, Bairstow attempted another ludicrous single but somehow survived. We have scored precisely 15 runs at this point.
The match is becoming almost unbearable to watch. The wicket has turned into a minefield in the last hour. I pull my sofa away from the wall and take position behind it, like I used to do as a kid when the Daleks appeared.
As the ball deviates crazily off the pitch for four byes, I cheer like a loon.
We reach 38 with just the 3 wickets down, and if our lone Barmy Army supporter on the Fort is singing “Ooooh we’re half way there, Oh Oh, livin’ on a prayer…” then I can’t hear him! The cameraman appears to have got bored with him today.
The weather is out of everyone’s control and with the light disappearing faster than England’s batsmen, the Umpire suddenly calls stumps. Phew, what a day!
So finally to the unexpected day five. The key buzz phrase for the commentators today was ‘king pair’ and I soon lost count of how many times they used it. I’m sure Sam Curran is aware, guys.
England started busily and Nasser Hussein wasted no time in heaping more praise on Dan Lawrence, who should in fact should have been out early doors. With two reviews left in the bank, Sri Lanka declined to use one which was later shown to have three red lights. With less than thirty runs to go I think I would have reviewed every time the ball hit the pad, what’s to be lost?
Lots of discussion about this error and that Sam Curran would have soon been in to collect his king pair.
In the bright sunshine the nightmares of the previous evening were soon forgotten, and England completed the relatively simple task of knocking off the 74 runs to win. Poor Sam Curran didn’t have the chance to collect his king pair after all.
This is England’s fourth successive away Test win so credit where it is due. I cannot help thinking though, that if Sri Lanka had managed to score just 200 in their first innings, we would have been in real trouble here. From what I have seen in this match, I don’t think our spinners will be strong enough to compete in India. Although Bess and Leach both had a five wicket haul, this owed much to poor batting in the first innings and the pitch in the second one.
However, for today, the Mickey Moose cup is half way to coming home.
Unless man of the match Joe Root manages to reproduce his batting form here in India, he may be reduced to wishing upon a star – which given the Disney involvement, seems rather apt.
Regards and stay safe, Midnight