England in Sri Lanka – 7th November 2018

After four days of persistent if not relentless rain, including throughout Monday night, several hundred of the England fans staying in our hotel were convinced there was no chance of play. Several were exploring alternative options…not that a day on the beach was a good one. Fortunately, I persuaded them otherwise.

And what a day of cricket they saw.

Thousands of fans queued for between three and four hours to buy their tickets on Monday having been ‘royally screwed’ (their description) by local agents who added somewhere between 800 and 1000% percent to face value tickets in the knowledge that it wouldn’t make a material difference to England’s most loyal supporters. It didn’t. But it did make a very big difference to their moral difference.

The Barmy Army issued a statement saying they would be happy to pay 30 pounds instead of three – provided the excess was funding the grassroots of the game in the country rather than lining the pockets of unscrupulous agents. But no such guarantee was forthcoming

So 6,300 fans paid officially to sit inside the Galle International Stadium while just over 2,000 chose to perch on the Fort walls where, to be fair, their view was barely less satisfactory than their paying colleagues. But without the plastic bucket seat. Some of them, at least, were undoubtedly better off.

The outfield was a thing of wonder this morning. Having been under covers for the best part of 56 hours, and 70% of the last two months, it smelt like the worst sort of damp you can imagine. Actually, it smelt of rotten fish. The reason for that, it was explained to me, was not fish – but the millions of earthworms which are persuaded to the surface by the artificial lack of oxygen.

The crows come foraging at a moments notice but when the worms are immediately covered – and stay covered until they start decaying – nobody is interested, least of all the crows. And the smell is dreadful.

 

Extraordinary and, dare I say, completely unexpected level of fightback from England today. It is not unusual for the lower order to bail the top order out, but this was especially eye-brow raising. 103-5 to 321-8. Wow.

Ben Foakes was a highly contentious selection. Jos Buttler was the designated ‘keeping understudy to Jonny Bairstow before the tour started and his late call-up was enough of a face-slap. Foakes’ inclusion in the starting XI was a brutally clear: “you’re not good enough” message, no matter how much he was encouraged to believe in his value as a batsman.

And yet there was Foakes at the end of the day, 87 not out. The entire innings not just rescued but turned from acceptable to good – and then very good. “I was so nervous on debut that I’m not sure I even knew what the score was (103-5) – I just wanted to survive each ball,” he said, only half honestly. I think.

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