Who says that journalistic standards are slipping? Not the members of the media lined up at the Colombo Cricket Club, that's for sure. Four years ago, on England's last visit, we were housed in the bleak but undeniably functional whitewashed press box next to the scoreboard at the far end of the ground. The view of the pitch was excellent, although the creaky wooden trestle tables, intermittent power supplies and tandoori oven atmosphere were less so. Also, the vantage-point came with a certain sense of detachment, as all the action seemed to take place in and around the grand colonial pavilion at the opposite end of the ground.
Things are much more civilised this time around. Now the press are lined up on the pavilion verandah, beneath a bank of pankahs, with easy access to the fridge, the internet, the bar (post-play only, of course), and not least, the players. Quite what the players themselves make of the new arrangements is a matter of debate, however. They've been shunted down the steps and onto the grass beneath us, where they've spent the last three days lounging beneath a blue boxing-ring sized marquee - which is not the most comfortable place to be when Colombo's daily deluge arrives …
The pitch-side positioning does have one advantage for England's cricketers though. It allows them easy access to the undergrowth whenever the CCC's serpent mascot makes an appearance. Having been hounded out of its old home by constant media intrusion on Monday, the slippery one had set up camp beneath a pile of rocks behind the boundary hoardings to the left of the pavilion, which was fine until he was caught basking in the sun ten minutes before lunch today.
Within seconds Matthew Hoggard was leading a rampage towards the scene, where he set about scouring the rocks with a broomhandle while his team-mates peered in with varying degrees of trepidation. Not surprisingly, the poor creature went to ground after that … but not for long. After lunch, a three-piece brass band arrived and set up shop a few metres from the scene. Their medley of Harry Belefonte numbers was clearly too much for its delicate reptilian hearing, and so he had no option but to break cover and slither for the trees.
He wasn't quick enough. Hoggard was back on the scene in a flash, and emboldened by the news that the beast was nothing more than a very well-fed rat-snake (bad-tempered but essentially harmless - except to rats of course), he decided to tweak its tail. It didn't quite have a hissy fit, but that final indignity did hasten its snakely sprint for the undergrowth, and for the last fifteen minutes, it has not been seen again …
The snake hasn't been the only multiple sighting in this match. Throughout yesterday's morning session, a bizarre ritual was enacted on the boundary's edge. Aside from the flannelled fools in the middle, most sensible folk were hiding in the shade or, if they did prefer to be in the sun, were at least motionless while they basked.
Not so one puzzling chap, who for a full two-and-a-half hours traipsed solemnly but determinedly round and round and round the perimeter of the ground. He was not jogging, but nor was he ambling. This was a vigorous power-walk, and it caused all manner of unexpected mental arithmetic among the spectators. A posse of the Barmy Army advance guard timed his average lap at four-and-a-half minutes, which means that he must have put in upward of 30 laps, which means that at 2 x 3.14 x 60 metres for the radius of the pitch, he must have covered a distance of …
God knows. He wasn't that interesting.
Andrew Miller is the former UK editor of ESPNcricinfo and now editor of The Cricketer magazine