Sri Lanka v England, 1st Test, Galle, 1st day December 2, 2003

England thank the heavens



A perfectly timed cloudburst for England
© Getty Images

England have not had much reason to be grateful for rain this winter. It decimated their preparations in Bangladesh, wrecked the recent one-day series, and caused the replacement of the dressing-room's deck of cards, after complaints that they had become see-through with overuse. But even when there has been water, water everywhere, a muddy great cloud can still come as a very welcome sight.

There are not many venues in the world where England consider themselves all at sea. The WACA in Perth perhaps, or maybe one of those dustbowls in the Indian hinterland. But from the moment they arrived in Galle, very scenic though it is, England's thoughts have been geared towards departure ... preferably with a sneaky draw under the belt. Today's perfectly timed cloudburst has significantly altered that assessment.

Never mind the 32 overs that were taken out of the day's play. Of far greater significance was the time that England spent away from the baking midday heat. When the rain arrived - some two hours ahead of schedule - England's exertions were barely equal to one of their typically gruelling training sessions. They were fresh, much like the pitch, and Ashley Giles was on autopilot, which is the best possible setting for a man who knows how to win in the subcontinent, but has been consumed by doubt in the meantime.

In the context of their previous visit to Galle, the morning session had been extremely ominous for England. They lost the toss, they lost Nasser Hussain to a viral infection, and at 76 for 0 with Marvan Atapattu lurking, they were in danger of losing their grasp on the match as well.

Atapattu and Sanath Jayasuriya had played a perfectly weighted waiting game, much as Atapattu and Kumar Sangakkara had done in the corresponding fixture two years ago. They forced England's seamers to throw everything they had into the new ball, and Sri Lanka were ready and waiting to capitalise on some weary limbs as the day wore on.

Instead, it never quite worked out like that. Before the match, Michael Vaughan had described Galle as a "horses for courses" venue, which is a euphemism for "desperate times, desperate measures". Nowhere else on earth could England think out loud about playing three spinners, and having Rikki Clarke open the bowling, and not get laughed out of court.

But so far, England have discovered that Galle is just another pitch, and the conditions are not as inclement as they might at first have appeared.

Andrew Miller, Wisden Cricinfo's assistant editor, is accompanying England on their travels throughout Sri Lanka.