England in Sri Lanka – 15th November 2018

The anticipation before the first day of the second Test in Pallekelle was too much for Gareth Batty and me to sleep in (although we would have done quite easily had we not set our alarms for 6:15am) so we set off for three laps of the Kandy Lake to kick-start the day.

It was a good run until we realised we had been lapped twice by three members of the Kandy Athletic Club, resplendent in their running vests. Never mind the pace, you know people are serious runners when they tuck their vests into their shorts. “Sorry pal, sorry…never mind us,” said Bats as they flew past the first time. “Crikey, what’s the hurry?” he sighed as they made us look like Sunday afternoon strollers.

Part of the reason for the hold-up was my pause to take a snap of the largest Varanus Salvator in the Lake. He must, surely, have a more familiar name but the largest monitor lizard in the water certainly has a following. At about two and half metres from nose to tail, he is frequently mistaken by tourists for a crocodile, or alligator. Understandably so. Like his fellow reptiles, he (or she?) can eat large ducks and geese in one go, and then float around for hours while digesting. When they do come ashore they are not agile. But they do scare the crap out of visitors.

When a captain wins the toss and chooses to bat first in a Test match, and loses four wickets in the first session, he has lost the session. But if his team scores 120 runs at the same time, the opposition are wondering whether they are, actually, in front.

Jos Buttler’s extraordinary 63 from 67 balls will be confined to the small print of this Test match – hopefully it will appear if England win. It probably won’t if they don’t. We all know ‘big hundreds’ win Test matches and ‘bright 60s’ don’t. But that’s not always the case and Buttler’s innings will look like a fanciful fling on the scorecard for years to come. Actually, it was an audacious counter-attack studded with moments of such genius that the hosts, who should have been cock-a-hoop with their early successes, were left floundering and obviously confused.

Sam Curran has confounded everyone with his success at Test level, including himself. He was 16 not out from 65 balls, without a boundary, when last man Jimmy Anderson joined him at the crease. He finished with six sixes and a four in an innings of 64 from 90-odd balls and transformed the innings and almost certainly the Test match.

“To be honest, I was struggling badly,” Curran said of the start we described in the commentary box as “measured, mature and patient.” So, in fact, he couldn’t lay a meaningful bat on the ball for an hour and then smashed the bowling out of the ground when his team needed him most. That’ll do. Every team could do with a number eight like that.

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