April 9, 2012

Quick but not breezy

It was sweltering on England's tour of Sri Lanka, and the traffic's a chore, but there are consolations for the travelling journalist

March 23
Plenty of England supporters (and a few other journalists) on the flights from London to Colombo. Immigration officer chats briefly about the cricket, but unlike when you're arriving in Australia, there are no quips about the result. Maybe he hadn't watched England in the UAE. The foreign exchanges in the arrivals area do a roaring trade as pounds are converted to rupees. Then it's off on the journey to Galle - well, at least after getting through Colombo; that part takes nearly two hours, the rest of the trip just over an hour, thanks to new highway. It's due to be extended right through to the airport, but judging by the roadworks that will take a while. A colleague says it took him five hours.

March 24
First full day in Galle. Twenty minutes stood at England's net session and the heat becomes too much. Sit in the shade of a stand and almost get taken out by a Kevin Pietersen straight drive. Rumblings of discontent from England fans about ticket prices, but it's the locals I feel sorry for, with a suggestion they will be asked to pay LKR 5000 per day.

March 25
Take the opportunity for a stroll around the fort. A lovely area, and on a Sunday, peaceful as well. Endless little streets and alleys could give you hours of exploring. Around the ramparts plenty of games of cricket have sprung up. There is barely a conventional bowling action among them. But this is a land where they do things a little different. Malinga and Murali are the heroes. How Sri Lanka would dearly love to find another of either.

March 26
First day of a short series. James Anderson shows, again, that's he's one of the best in world. As does Mahela Jayawardene. Compelling cricket. Despite talk of a boycott by England fans, the ground is packed. Eventually the locals, it seems, are let in for a fraction of the price earlier asked for. The ramparts of the Dutch fort are also crammed and draped in a full range of flags. Not quite sure this is what UNESCO has in mind when it designates World Heritage Sites.

March 27
There's no Murali for Sri Lanka these days, but try telling the England batsmen that. They gift Rangana Herath five wickets. It does appear the value of a Test wicket is less these days than it used to be. There have been some horrid shots in this match. The game is moving forward.

March 29
A valiant innings by Jonathan Trott but England's first hundred of the year isn't enough to prevent a fourth straight defeat. Herath finishes with 12 wickets in the match. Better than anything Murali achieved against England on home soil. Wonder if Murali is reconsidering retirement. Spend my 30th birthday having a few beers on the beach. There is more to life than cricket.

March 30
Early finishes may give players a day off but not the journalists. The England team hotel is a three-hour round trip for a 15-minute press conference, so opt to use time more wisely. Chat to Mahela Jayawardene for a column, which is always a pleasure. In him and Kumar Sangakkara, Sri Lanka have two of the finest speakers in the game.

March 31
Return journey to Colombo is smoother than the outbound. Door-to-door in a little over two hours. Steven Finn is put up for media duties, a pretty good sign he'll play his first Test since last May.

When in Colombo, you have to pay at least one visit to the Cricket Club Café so I tick that off my list this evening. It's a shrine to the game, with shirts, bats, photos and scorecards adorning every wall. I opt for Jayasuriya's Triple Century (that's chicken and chips) but almost went for a Border Burger.

April 1
The team is back in training today at the P Sara Oval, where Sri Lanka played their first Test in 1982 against England. I was here six years ago, during the Under-19 World Cup, and apart from the new media centre, it hasn't changed much. The ground consists of a hotch-potch of stands and a grass bank. Full of character, and there certainly won't be any trouble filling it with all the Barmy Army in town.

April 2
The bar in the M Sathasivam Stand is like small museum. On the far wall a massive picture of Murali, who took 52 wickets in nine Tests at the ground, stares at you. On the opposite wall, Don Bradman's appearance here in 1948 is commemorated; one picture has him dressed perfectly in a suit and the other is of him as he strides out to bat. Behind him the stands are crammed with locals. Times have changed.

Most of the questions to Andrew Strauss involve his form and his future. He answers all politely, as he always does, but there is a sense that the team is closing ranks on their captain.

April 3
Apparently even Alastair Cook sweated a little today. It was that hot. England stick to their task superbly, as Mahela scores another beautiful hundred.

April 5
A very special innings from Kevin Pietersen. Watching him play like this is a pleasure. The press conference is a gem, too. "It's what dreams are made of," he says when asked about setting a new record for English hundreds, with 29. When it's suggested there's another 71 to go he grins and says "No way." Then he tips Cook to score "a lot more than me".

April 6
It's a Poya (full moon) day in Sri Lanka. It means no alcohol is on sale, and the journey to the ground is a breeze, with, by Colombo standards, barely a car on the road. The England fans would have had to be inventive if the team had wrapped up victory, but a battling Sri Lanka performance means that never looks likely. In fact, two overs before the close an England win looks a long way off. Then Graeme Swann strikes twice in three balls. He's got his mojo back, if he ever really lost it.

April 7
England win and stay No. 1 by the skin of their teeth. Winning away from home is never easy, so the victory is a worthy effort. Just a shame there isn't a deciding Test, but other demands weigh heavily on schedules these days. Pretty soon after the game Pietersen is on a plane to the IPL, along with a number of the Sri Lankans. From five days of hard work to 40 overs for a lot more money. You can see the attraction, but these two matches have shown again how Test cricket is the ultimate battle. Thanks Sri Lanka, it was brief but fun.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo