England in Sri Lanka – 6th November 2018

Apologies, my fish obsession has returned. I decided to run the 5 km from Unawatuna to the Galle International Cricket Stadium to be there for Joe Root and Dinesh Chandimal’s captain’s press conferences and it’s impossible to avoid the fresh markets along the way. The merchants are entirely aware of what is ‘sustainable’ and what is not, and happy to share their knowledge. I wouldn’t have a clue – but small boats with hand-drawn nets would be appear to be far less damaging than industrial trawlers.

 

Root held one of the shortest press conferences of his captaincy career, according to the regular attendees. There really wasn’t much else to say. He has a diverse squad to cover all options and he is prepared to ‘gamble’ in order to change England’s wretched away record of just in the last 13 Tests. And that was a squeaky one against Bangladesh in Chittagong two years ago.

So it seems Stuart Broad will be omitted in order to play Jack Leach as the third spinner alongside Mo Ali (who will bat number three) and Adil Rashid. The seam bowling duties will lie with Jimmy Anderson, Ben Stokes and Sam Curran.

I fear a little for Curran. If the ball does not swing, as it didn’t in the two practise matches, his medium pace makes him vulnerable. Playing him at number eight on the basis that he will score more runs than Broad could be interpreted as ‘defensive’ rather than ‘positive.’ But then, Broad at number eight would give most captains and coaches a fear of heights.

The middle and outfield has been covered for almost all of the last three days. When we did get a glimpse of the playing surface two days ago it looked powder dry and grassless. What else would you expect for Rangana Herath’s last Test match?

When Mutthiah Muralitheran retired in July 2010 (with 800 Test wickets) Herath was 32-years-old and had taken 71 wickets at 37.9 a piece in 22 Tests. Since he assumed the lead role, he has collected a further 359 at an average of 26.3. Extraordinary. This will be his 93rd and final appearance and the emotion was visible during a press conference this afternoon. It was conducted for 90% of the time in Sinhalese, and quite right, too. His comfort bowling spin is in direct contrast to his comfort in English, and he deserved to be stress-free today.

“We would like to do something to acknowledge his career and contribution to Sri Lankan cricket,” Root said. “He deserves the greatest respect.” The England captain would prefer he takes no wickets at all, of course, but should he take just one he will form a unique club, unlikely ever to be joined. Just a single wicket will give Herath 100 at Galle, joining Murali as the only two men to have taken 100+ wickets at the same Test venue.

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