England in Sri Lanka – 4th November 2018

It’s obviously not a ‘different world’ but it sure feels like you’ve changed worlds when you move from Colombo to Galle. The big city gives way to a beach life more akin to the Mediterranean than the subcontinent. No wonder Sri Lankans wealthy enough to travel reckon they’ve got a ‘bit of everything’ on their Golden Island.

The mountains of Kandy, the wild jungles of the north, the cafes and restaurants of the capital, developed beach resorts of Unawatuna and the truly rustic beauty of the deep south. (The hard-core surfers of the world have shared the secrets of the country for decades and shake their heads now at this ‘sudden; discovery.)

After four hours on the road – including an hour and a half faffing around – it was with great delight that we caught sight of the ocean, moments after arriving at the Unawatuna Beach Hotel. It can be confusing when hotel receptionists spend 15 minutes tapping at a computer after confirming your reservation. They also do that stuff at airline check-ins. Anyway, with great respect I excused myself from standing around looking stupid and walked into the sea. Leaving my passport behind. Whenever possible, I would recommend this approach when confronted with tedious receptionists. They even gave me a delicious glass of watermelon juice.

Keaton Jennings has surely ticked his box to open the batting, as has Rory Burns. Mo Ali is adamant that he can bat at number three and still bowl 25 overs a day but the ‘management’ aren’t convinced. There is a strong drive to include Joe Denly at number three but there is an equally strong wish to include Jack Leach as a third spinner in place of either Stuart Broad or Sam Curran – leaving Jimmy Anderson and Ben Stokes as the two seamers.

If Adil Rashid and Moeen can’t bowl the opposition out, will Leach make a difference? He is a man who specialises in bowling long spells and exerting pressure with dot balls. Perhaps that would work with Mo and Rash being used as ‘strike’ bowlers.

I suspect the last remaining question concerns the place of the ‘keeper. Jonny Bairstow was ruled out a week ago but has fought his way to fitness and has been demonstrably strutting his stuff in recent days in an attempt to prove his fitness to observers, if not the people who matter – England’s medical staff.

Jos Buttler was given the gloves for – we were told – the “whole 50 overs” of the practise event on Friday. Then suddenly Ben Foakes took over behind the stumps for the last 15 overs. England are not sure…Buttler is the safe option, but Foakes is the better gloveman. And with three spinners…

Penultimately, I would like to thank Ed Mckenna for getting in touch and suggesting that I was, possibly, a little ‘negative’ about the status of England’s practise matches. Obviously, they had had no ‘status’, which may have made me sound more dismissive and flippant than I would ever have wanted. All I was saying is that the matches were not, actually, ‘matches’, and there was no pretense of ‘contest.’

So, Ed, you are absolutely right about the ‘intrigue’ and ‘interest’ for England fans about watching these gilded net sessions. I really mean that, with complete respect. I just wanted to point out that practise sessions are 99% for players, not spectators. But GOOD on you for being there and appreciating how much was at stake.

And the final word goes to my old man, Bill, who was lying in a hospital bed three months ago after a triple bypass operation. He said he’d be here, and so he is.

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