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December 17, 2007
Five-day BBC weather forecast for Galle
Start time 12.00 local 0730GMT Tuesday
After two days of sunshine, including a swelteringly hot final day of practice, all the puddles in the outfield had dried and the muddy banks had been baked to a golden brown finish, but such is the tightrope that this ground has walked in the build-up to the match, that a half-hour shower was enough to tip the balance and force the start time to be pushed back by two hours.
Play is now scheduled to get underway at 12pm local time which, according to a Sri Lanka Cricket spokesman, will give the groundstaff sufficient time to tend to a damp wicket and dry the outfield ahead of a last-minute mowing. Inevitably, the news has given rise to fears that the match could end up as a complete washout, but after everything that this ground has been through in the past three years, the teams are sure to do everything in their power to get the contest underway.
As far as Sri Lanka Cricket is concerned, the stadium is already open for business. This morning, it was given the presidential seal of approval, as the country's leader, Mahinda Rajapaksa, flew in by helicopter from Colombo to officially open the pavilion that now bears his name. The centre of Galle was shut down for two hours amid frenzied levels of security, and the fuss presumably didn't help the army of workers around the ground, whose last-minute touches will now be going on long after the 11th hour.
However gloomy the current prognosis may be, the state of the stadium is already so far removed from the scene three years ago. "It's very hard to even imagine what it was like," England's captain, Michael Vaughan, said. "I just remember pictures of buses and debris flying around the ground. That's why this week is a special week for all the Sri Lankan people, and we're just delighted to be the first team here. Hopefully we can spoil things a bit by winning, but I think there is a bigger picture here. The game of cricket is back in Galle and everyone should really be celebrating."
After so many years out of service, there is an understandable mystery as to how the pitch will play. "The two wickets we've been using are four or five metres away from tomorrow's pitch, and they have been pretty fast and bouncy and seamed," Vaughan said. "The test strip has a bit less grass and is softer, with a bit more moisture. We'll have to wait and see because I think it'll be a bit of a lottery for everyone."
England have options aplenty for their line-up. Matthew Hoggard has been named in a 12-man squad and could slot back in to lead the attack, although Vaughan did speak enigmatically of a mystery niggle in the England camp, which turned out to be an ear infection that's been afflicting Steve Harmison. After the performance he put in at Colombo, it ought to require an amputated limb to stop him from picking up where he left off.
Had the heavens not distorted the issue this week, Graeme Swann would probably have been a shoo-in to make his debut as Monty Panesar's spin twin, but he could yet feature if England gamble and push the in-form Matt Prior up to No. 6, thus making room for a five-man attack. The dangers of such a strategy are inherent, but England are in a strange situation with their batsmen - all of them have shown glimpses of form, but no-one as yet has made a century.
"I'd rather have it this way round with us all playing well but not going on," said Vaughan. "We all look in good touch, but it's just a matter of getting over that barrier. There's no reason why someone this week won't stick their hand up and get a real big one for us." The flip side of taking a risk with the selection, however, would be the ramifications of defeat. If England return home with a 2-0 deficit, they will slip three places to No. 5 in the world rankings, with Sri Lanka moving in the other direction, ahead of India and South Africa.
Either way, all such selection thoughts will be postponed to the last available minute. "Who knows what the wicket will do," said Vaughan. "All we've got is hindsight to assess the best bowlers to get 20 wickets on this pitch. We just have to make sure we perform well and to a really high standard. Winning Test matches over here is really difficult, so we need to set the building blocks early in the game, and get Sri Lanka under pressure."
Even as the afternoon sun was baking down on Galle, the groundstaff were covering every available inch of grass with tarpaulins, pinned in place with tractor tyres, as an insurance against the elements. At 4pm, it began to rain, but not with the torrential force of days gone by. Somehow the show is going to go ahead this week.
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