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The uncharacteristically flat track in Galle led to a snoozefest which denied Sri Lanka a chance of going 1-up at their most bankable venue
Andrew Fidel Fernando in Galle
March 12, 2013
Small stretches of the Galle Fort's walls are currently being restored, where wind, waves and time have weathered the original granite and coral construction. Builders have trucked in new rocks to replace the old, but they will hardly find a more hardy material to reinforce the fort than the pitch on which the first Test was played.
It is usually said of Galle tracks that it already looks like a fourth-day surface on the second morning, but this time at close on day five, there was little observable change on the wicket to suggest more than two sessions had transpired. Sri Lanka declared their innings closed twice in pursuit of the unlikely, but in this Test, it seemed a travesty that bowlers can't just choose to declare when they've had enough as well. It did not help that both umpires were reluctant to give batsmen out, not having the safety net of DRS, but perhaps even they cannot be blamed for dozing off.
After the teams had agreed to call it a day an hour before the torture's scheduled end, Angelo Mathews confirmed the exceptional batting conditions were at least partly due to a request made by the home team. "The management had a bit of chat with the curators, but they are professionals," he said. "They have been doing this for the past so many years. We won't poke our fingers, but we did have a chat."
Sri Lanka's likely rationale for wanting a good pitch may have been to help ease an inexperienced batting order into Test cricket on a venue traditionally so bowler friendly that the previous four Tests didn't go to the fifth day. They were not so much eased in, as sent flowers, soft toys and champagne by the ground staff. Sri Lanka will be encouraged that its top six batsman now all have hundreds to their name, but given the paucity of the challenge, most of their Test fifties will rate higher on their list of achievements.
In requesting a good track for the young batsmen, Sri Lanka also seem to have forgotten that their attack has veered from modest to toothless in the past six months. Like a mechanic who inflates a flat tire but neglects the smoke pouring out of the engine, they have done their inexperienced bowlers a disservice and denied themselves the chance to taking a series lead at their most bankable venue. Even Rangana Herath, who averaged 20.30 in Galle before this match, and had two ten-wicket hauls in his last three matches there, was made to look no better than a part-timer, for all the turn he achieved.
The placid conditions also add fuel to the wider question about whether home team advantage should extend to influence on pitch characteristics, especially when the cricket suffers. In December, India's requests for turning pitches at home not only backfired in a 2-1 loss, but produced a dreary Test in Nagpur.
"I wouldn't say that it's against the spirit of cricket to have a chat to the curators, because it's home advantage after all," Mathews said. "We would like to have wickets suitable for our team playing in Sri Lanka."
|The wicket was absolutely a road. The batsmen would have loved to bat next couple of days as well Angelo Mathews|
In 2011, the call to prepare an especially dry track for the visiting Australians, even by Galle's standards, ended in the venue being officially warned by the ICC after the wicket had deteriorated drastically from the first day. Sri Lanka also lost that match, as the opposition fast bowlers exploited the extreme variables of bounce.
Galle Tests have ordinarily been exciting, and the surface happily spin-friendly (as rich a contributor to the Test match landscape as Headingley, or the WACA ground), but meddling with its natural characteristics has now twice ended in disappointment for the hosts.
"In a team perspective, we are very disappointed we couldn't pull it off here, but I would say that it was tough. The wicket was absolutely a road. The batsmen would have loved to bat next couple of days as well. It didn't spin at all, but the bowlers tried their best. It was just that the wicket didn't give any sort of assistance. We batted one and half days and got 570 for 4. That says lot about the wicket."
With this year's South Africa Tests having been postponed to 2015 and no home Test series until then, Galle will now take a two-year hiatus. For a venue that has brought bowlers so much joy, it is a shame its last match in a while had to be such a poor one.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets hereFeeds: Andrew Fidel Fernando
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