Inflatable Santas

"It's Chriiiiiiiiis...maaas!" as Noddy Holder has no doubt spent the past few weeks announcing to the shopping malls of England. But you wouldn't have guessed it to wander around the SSC this afternoon, where festive spirit has been in short supply.
It hasn't helped that Sri Lanka have been engrossed in a one-paced walloping of England's disinterested attack. Nor has the world's most tuneless brass band given the crowds much to cheer about - on and on they have droned, like the pounding in your head the morning after the office party. If only God would rest these merry gentlemen.

In the stands at long-on, the soupy-thick gloom has even affected the inflatable Santas that take up roughly half of the 500-rupee seats. For most of the day, they have been minding their own business, but suddenly the ennui kicks in and the Santas kick off - 20 of them flying this way and that, and squeaking in a most unSanta-ish way, as England's bored fans liven up their afternoon with an impromptu game of Mallet's Mallet.

Midway through the morning, even the clattering of the band is outdone by an almighty racket at the press-box end of the ground, as two sheets of corrugated-iron roofing detach themselves from their moorings and crash onto the ground below. Fortunately no-one is hurt (largely because no-one is watching), and during the lunch interval, the hole is patched up. But there is clearly a design fault with this roof. Two hours later, another gust of wind lifts a third sheet clean off, leaving the remainder to ripple and sway like a metallic Mexican wave.

These stands are at least in keeping with the rest of the SSC, which has a very cobbled-together feel to it. The nearby press box is a case in point - a vast open-fronted aircraft-hanger of a building, that gives a wonderful view of the pitch and room to spread your belongings as well. But, it pays not to investigate the soft underbelly of the stand too closely. The shrapnel-ridden rubbled drive outside the media entrance wouldn't have been out of place in Paschendaale, while the entire edifice seems to be propped up by a wobbly pile of breeze-blocks, which also double as the sightscreen.

The outer perimeter of the ground is a jungly bombsite, shaded by palm trees but strewn with twists of metal and heaps of things-that-might-be-useful-one-day-so-don't-chuck-them-out. Birdcages and barbed wire, for example, and endless stacks of logs and surplus plastic chairs. Midway through the afternoon, some of these logs are hauled up the dusty slope and used to weigh down that offending roof - as if to prove the point.

Nothing goes to waste at the SSC. At the upmarket end of the ground, where the indoor nets and squash courts are to be found, there is a concrete circle on the ground that probably had a use once, but has since been forgotten. No matter, it has now been taken over by a pool of very muddy goldfish. And further round the corner, by the grand entrance to the executive area, a spare patch of grass has been used to provide a children's playground, all decked out in yellow and blue.

As the band clanks away and the game drifts along, the hordes on the hill begin to get restless. One or two Sri Lankans shout abuse at Nasser Hussain, inviting him to go home at the earliest opportunity. But the English contingent are making a similar request of Graham Thorpe, albeit in more pleading tones.

"Graham, can we get this over and done with? We want to go home now."

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