Sri Lanka v England, 1st Test, Galle, 3rd day December 4, 2003

Melting point



Muttiah Muralitharan receives some refreshment from James Anderson
© Getty Images 2003


It is murderously hot out in the middle, and the Kiwi cameraman on the pavilion boundary can scarcely take it any more. He is sat slumped on the edge of his platform, taking a well-needed breather between innings, with a dozen or more water bottles strewn all around him. "I just gulp it down, and sweat it out," he says. "It can't be healthy."

While he rests, his camera remains online, pointing determinedly at a little grey thermometer resting against the boundary rope - the current reading is 45 degrees Celsius. At least Ten Sports have had the decency to erect a canopy over his head, but unfortunately it is a dark-blue material that is unlikely to be helping the leakage.

Leakage has been the order of the day, with Muttiah Muralitharan puncturing holes in England's line-up with an all-too-familiar frequency. It is a depressing procession for the hundreds of England fans thronging the hill, although they don't seem to mind too much - a second day of sunshine and an endless supply of beer is compensation enough.

The wickets have certainly enlivened the Sri Lankan fans, particularly the surfer dudes from Hikkaduwa who were notable by their absence on that rainy first day. Aesthetes that they are, their presence has unified the various musical arrangements that are competing to be heard. The massive stereo system near the players' dressing-room is still pumping out its usual medley of dance beats, but this time the drummers and cymballists below are quite happy to clatter along with the flow.

It is almost too hot to eat, but no journalist worth his salt has ever been known to turn down a free feed. A hundred media men and women throng the makeshift canteen, where a vast buffet is providing yet more heat, in the form of curried calamari and a vat of devilled chicken. That array of grub is decoration enough as far as most of us are concerned, although it is hard not to be impressed by the centrepiece of the room - a huge sculpture of a swordfish, carved entirely out of butter. Quite how it has survived is a mystery to us all.

Mike Atherton wandered down the steps from the press box as I returned to my seat, saying he reckoned it was even hotter than this on England's 2000-01 tour, which was a faintly alarming thought. Either way, it is definitely not a day to be stuck out in the middle of a cricket pitch. No wonder Murali was in such a hurry to melt England's resistance.

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