England in Sri Lanka – 8th November 2018

It’s fair to say England enjoyed their most successful Test match day on tour for three years, only just ahead of yesterday. A quite brilliant all-round display with bat, ball and in the field where they caught everything offered.

Ben Foakes is now England’s worst nightmare. A last-minute call-up as no more than ‘cover’ for the injured Jonny Bairstow, and (highly) controversially included in the starting XI as ‘keeper ahead of Jos Buttler, he became just the glove-man to score a century on Test debut and then, to make matters worse, showed, without blemish, throughout five hours, just how skilled he is behind the stumps.

What the hell do England do in Kandy next week when Bairstow is fit? Drop him? The tourists could find themselves starting the second Test with three wicket keepers in the XI, one for each of their specialist spinners. But Stuart Broad, surely, must come back into the team. It might mean Ben Stokes moving to number three. As I said, Foakes has been brilliant – and a nightmare at the same time. The best possible nightmare.

Security remains extremely tight around the teams. Much more rigorous – rather than vigorous – than is normal in these parts. Troops with automatic weapons used to be commonplace in Pakistan a decade ago, but they still feel a bit eery here. They stand at every entry and exit point used by the players. Rarely do the media feel this much need to display our accreditation badges so prominently. But they are briefly passing moments.

For the hour before work starts and the two-three hours afterwards (yes, that’s true, it’s not a holiday!) life remains completely normal. Down in the beach city of Galle, there is almost no discernible talk or reference to the ongoing, deeply complicated political situation which sees the country with two ‘legitimate’ prime ministers. But in Colombo, the fires of protest and revolt are clearly being fired.

A better sort of fire was the one which cooked dinner tonight. After all the photographs of fresh fish over the last month, it was about time you saw what they do with them after sunset. Wow. Extraordinary how much a pinch of rock salt and a squeeze of lime can do to something so already divine.

Pool old Rangana Herath. There are no guarantees when it comes to fairytale endings, but Sri Lanka’s second-most successful bowler looks like he might have to toil deep into the third day in a near-impossible situation on his final day of bowling for his country. England will most likely be out-of-sight by lunchtime but, for the sake of posterity and nostalgia, it would be satisfying for all concerned to see him take 7-70 before the match is, in all likelihood, lost.

My tuk-tuk ride back from the ground.


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