England in Sri Lanka – 16th October 2018

It’s only 70-or so kilometres from Dambulla to Kandy and Google maps said it should take ‘only’ an hour and 51 minutes to get there. The reality was two and a half hours. The scenery was always fascinating but watching it lurch past from inside the mini-bus, with frequent, sudden stops and wrenching accelerations doesn’t do much for the constitution.

We headed straight to Pallekelle International Stadium where I walked straight to the middle, as much to counter the travel sickness as to have a look at the wicket, as my job has required for over a decade. For once it was actually refreshing, briefly, to feel the heat of the sun and the ferocity of the humidity as last night’s rain was sucked brutally out of the ground. It was actually steaming in places.

 

Equally steaming was Jonny Bairstow who didn’t recognise me and obviously didn’t like the look of me. My ‘pitch access’ accreditation hung obviously around my neck but Jonny wasn’t happy and asked me to leave. The affable, modest and mild-mannerd Chris Woakes did the media duties for the day and admitted that Lasith Malinga remained as much the enigma as he always was. “You can’t practise for his action, you just have to get out there in the middle and do your best. He’s still got all the tricks but we need to be better against him – you can’t be letting him take 5-40!”

In an era of constant surveillance where players only sanctity and ‘safety’ is inside their hotel rooms, perhaps Bairstow’s stance was understandable. But we have jobs, too, and I had no intention of invading any privacies. Apparently he can be a bit prickly. It won’t affect my appreciation of his cover drive in future.

 


Talking of hotel rooms, a delightful surprise awaited when we finally reached the Airavata Boutique Hotel in the centre of the city after three hours at the ground. Unfamiliar with the concept of ‘boutique’ on cricket tours, the luxury bath and feather pillows caught the breath – momentarily.

 

Minutes before Woakes spoke there was a commotion amongst ground staff barely 10 metres away from where we waited. A cobra. A baby one, but more than enough to put the willies into those with a fear of snakes. Eventually they ‘persuaded’ it into a sack, tied the knot and relocated it.

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