Andrew Miller on England in Sri Lanka, 2007-08 November 20, 2007

Cobra stops play

Normally when lunch is called on a baking hot day in the subcontinent, a cricketer's first instinct is to leg it for the pavilion to hide in the shade and take on board several gallons of liquid. Not so on the first day of England's tour match in Colombo. The cool of the players' marquee may have been beckoning them, but as soon as the umpires released them from their duties, eight of the team instantly sprinted in the opposite direction.

Very soon they had set a trend - within minutes half the media, most of the spectators and several pointy-stick wielding groundstaff were all gathered around a rubble-strewn wall, peering down onto what, to judge by the excited chatter, was a very, very big visitor.

"Naya, naya!" was the word doing the rounds. Coiling around the bricks, bushes and general detritus - and looking not a little alarmed at suddenly becoming the centre of attention - was a large greeny-yellow cobra.

Its colour may have been perfect for hiding in the proverbial manner, but this one had made its home out of an abandoned piece of grey piping, which was jutting out from the soil at the angle perfect for easy slithering. Lurking just to its left, although by now very much out of sight, was a second such creature. When you've got a sweaty Matthew Hoggard towering over you, armed with an inquisitive branch, its best to keep a low profile.

The size of the snake was much disputed. The best judge in the England camp was probably Andy Flower. He is well used to such creatures from his days in Zimbabwe, but even he was apparently heard to swear gently under his breath when he turned up for his viewing. Graeme Swann, on the other hand, was rather more blasé. He was a latecomer to the gawping, having been told by his team-mates that it was at least "eight metres" - all he could see by the time he turned up was the last measly six inches.

But for Swann, as with all the one-day tourists, such sightings are old hat. At Dambulla several of the squad came across a "Killer King Cobra" (copyright The Sun) during a training run, and were so inspired they went on to win their next three matches. "Let's hope it's a good omen," said Swann. "That one was only a four-footer, but this one was of anaconda proportions …"

Either way, it fared better than the last snake to interrupt an England Test tour. In Bangladesh four years ago, a significantly smaller version fell from a tree surrounding the BKSB ground in Dhaka, causing the most disciplined stampede imaginable from the hundred or so spectators gathered round the pitch. That one was soon clubbed to death with a combination of bricks and sticks. But England nevertheless went on to win the series 2-0, so the snake-sightings are clearly a one-way benefit.

For the rest of the day, snake corner at backward square leg was an uncomfortable place to be posted, especially on a day when so many rusty fast bowlers were on show. With competition for places at a premium, a spate of leg-side long-hops might have been a subtle way to eliminate a few new-ball rivals - ("Sorry Hoggy, would you mind fetching that massive six out of the undergrowth … oh sorry …"), but in the end Vaughan selected Monty, his premium spinner, to patrol the rope and keep his team-mates on the straight and narrow. He's capable of producing a few spitting cobras of his own.

Andrew Miller is the former UK editor of ESPNcricinfo and now editor of The Cricketer magazine

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