England in Sri Lanka – 3rd November 2018

The relevance of the ‘contest’ at the Colombo Cricket Club today was in direct, inverse proportion to the relevance of the individual performances. Never has there been less of a ‘match’ than there was today. Each team bats 50 overs and bowls 50 overs, in ‘mock’ Test conditions, and the total is irrelevant and there will be no winner. Explain that to the fans.

And yet, there they were. Over 100 of England’s finest, packed and stacked harmoniously into the Colombo Cricket Club’s pavilion, patiently waiting as the wide-eyed bar staff hurriedly attempted to keep up with the beer orders from an unusually early start. But the tempo never changed, aside from a few toasted cashews and sandwiches in mid afternoon.

They were watching the most meaningless cricket imaginable. It wasn’t even a game, really. It was a full-on practise with no ‘result’ possible. Happily, this did not matter to the majority of watchers. They appeared to be happy that England, studiously batting in Test mode, had ‘set a target’ of 211 for the SLC Board XI in their 50 overs.

When the home side’s batsmen produced an inexplicable mix of ‘block and smash’ and then closed up shop on 200-7 in reply to 210-6, they claimed ‘victory.’ Good for them. Seriously. Frankly, the England team is spectacularly fortunate to have so many loyal supporters. There are believed to be 2,000 or so lined up for the Galle Test on Tuesday. If they believe the world is flat and Joe Root is the Queen’s grandson, all good.

I like Keaton Jennings a lot, and I’m not the only one. The Colombo Cricket Club is not ‘usual fare’ for the high-flying England team, but some adapted to the club facilities better than others. Seriously, it looked like a Sunday afternoon village green set-up at times, albeit 300% larger.

On a walk around the boundary Jennings, at third man, smiled his KES smile: “Good afternoon, Mr Manthorp,” he said. I watched him play at school and up to SA under-19 level. He was always a fine cricketer but now, in his own words, he is a “better person which makes you a better cricketer.”

He was suitably modest and effusive about his time with Alistair Cook- “The Chef.”

“I was so lucky to have spent 18 months with him and to have learnt as much as I did from him. I can only hope the lessons learned kick in on Tuesday, that’s crunch day.”

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