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A historic venue as England search for redemption

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Adam Mountford | 13:24 UK time, Saturday, 31 March 2012

Jonathan Agnew began his podcast with Geoff Boycott on Thursday talking about how romantics were dreaming of an historic England victory.

Well if those romantics did not get the result they wished for in the first Test, they should at least be pleased with the venue for the second because the P Sara Stadium is an enchanting location.

To give it its full name, the Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu Stadium is the oldest cricket ground in Sri Lanka and is home to the Tamil Union Cricket and Athletic Club.

The ground was famous for having a female curator named Amravati who worked at the P Sara for 40 years. Although she is long retired, her sister Saroja continues to be involved.

It is a little rough around the edges and there is clearly a last-gasp effort to get things ready in time for Tuesday's 10am start, but the ground has a wonderful aura of history.

Its most famous feature is the beautiful ivy-covered scoreboard - surely one of the most distinctive on any international ground.

When I visited, the scoreboard was showing a team total of 631 and when I asked one of the current groundsman what the wicket was like he just looked at me and said "it's for the batsman". I asked him whether England should play two frontline spinners and he said "it doesn't matter"!

Andrew Strauss

England captain Andrew Strauss will hope to cash in on a pitch which may favour the batsmen. Photo: Getty

We have previously been told conditions here may favour the seamers with talk that England could consider dropping Monty Panesar and play both Steve Finn and Tim Bresnan alongside Anderson and Swann - we will await the team sheets with interest on Tuesday.

England's first visit to this ground was 30 years ago when they played against Sri Lanka in their inaugural Test.

If you visit the nostalgic bar, the Oval Taverners, you can see lots of memorabilia from that occasion.

But the ground's history stretches back much further than that. There are pictures of Garry Sobers returning to the pavilion after scoring a century and, when the stadium was known as the Colombo Oval, it hosted Don Bradman's 1948 Australians for a match against an All Ceylon XI.

The Taverners bar has several photographs from that occasion with the Don dressed immaculately in suit and hat as he goes out into the middle for the toss with legendary local captain Mahadevan Sathasivam.

Although Bradman never toured South Africa, India, New Zealand or the West Indies he actually played in Sri Lanka twice, with the country used for many years as a location for Australian teams travelling to England to take a break.

The ground is now more than 120 years old and, as well as hosting Bradman and the inaugural Test, it was also the location for Sri Lanka's first Test victory when they defeated India in 1985.

A steady stream of Sri Lanka players have learnt their cricket at the venue - including record breaking spin bowler Muttiah Muralitharan, former captain Tillakaratne Dilshan, and the hero of the first Test Rangana Herath.

There are old-fashioned low level stands on one side of the ground and grass banks on the other, where the England fans should enjoy the sunshine on Tuesday.

The P Sara only has a capacity of around 7,000, so if the same number of England supporters who were in Galle turn up this week they may struggle to get in. And, unlike Galle, there is no Fort to retreat to where you can watch the action for free.

It's a very important match for England, who have to win to avoid losing their number one status in Test match cricket. If they lose they would complete a miserable winter of five successive Test defeats and could fall behind Australia to number three in the rankings before the start of the summer.

It is also a critical match for under-pressure England captain Andrew Strauss, who is facing the greatest scrutiny since he took over the job. Four months ago he was being shortlisted for the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year, but now he faces question marks over his future.

It all makes for a fascinating match and Test Match Special will be on the air at 0515 BST on Tuesday morning with Jonathan Agnew, Simon Mann and Roshan Abeysinghe. Geoff Boycott and Vic Marks will provide expert analysis alongside former Sri Lanka batsman Russel Arnold who is joining us with Michael Vaughan Augusta-bound where he will be working for BBC television at the Masters Golf.

As well as ball-by-ball commentary during the intervals we will be finding out more about the history of the ground, remembering the inaugural Test with guests including Graham Gooch and looking ahead to the start of the County Championship season which gets under way this week.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    England have got to get their heads right or they'll lose again. Patience is everything in the sub-continent, and we've shown absolutely none.

  • Comment number 2.

    The reason Strauss needs to worry is that the South Africans are here this summer. Hussain in 2003, Vaughan in 2008 - Graeme Smith would love to finish off another England captain's career!

  • Comment number 3.

    You can see pictures of the historic P Sara Oval including the Ivy covered scoreboard, the Taverners Bar and the photographs of Don Bradman. Plus take a look at what the pitch looks like two days out before the test. What team would you select to play on it?
    bit.ly/OjMIx.

  • Comment number 4.

    If the link to the photos does not work for you just go to the bottom right of the bbc.co.uk/cricket front page and click on TMS behind the scenes photos on Flickr

  • Comment number 5.

    The capacity estimate I was given yesterday may be a little optimistic. Some suggestions today that the ground can only hold around four thousand. As I say it is a stadium full of history but it will be a terrible shame if supporters who have spent a fortune to get out here can't get into the ground. Colombo has several other test grounds like the S S C and the Premedasa where the warm up matches were held. They lack the character of the P Sara, but they seat many more people. Will be madness if people are turned away.

  • Comment number 6.

    AN historic

  • Comment number 7.

    Guest update. Derek Underwood is joining us during the game to share memories of his last Test which he played at the P Sara and about recording his best figures at the ground.

  • Comment number 8.

    'Four months ago he [Strauss] was being shortlisted for the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year, but now he faces question marks over his future.'
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    That's the insane media for you. Strauss doesn't do all of the batting by himself: he's been badly let down by his top-order teammates.

    OK so England have lost their last four Tests, but apart from the first Test in the UAE England have been competitive in each of those defeats, and only a small improvement in batting in each of those matches could have brought about victory. The fact remains that aside from isolated innings by Azhar Ali, Younis Khan and Mahela Jayawardene, the batting from both sides in these Tests has been far from convincing, and spinners Saeed Ajmal, Atur Rehman and Rangana Herath had more experience of the conditions in which these matches were played than England. Given the track record of the England batsmen, I'm not expecting wholesale changes in the short-term, and a home series against the West Indies might be just what they need.

    England had never won in three previous trips to Galle (two draws), and that position remains unchanged. The inaugural Test in Colombo PSS remains their only visit there, and it was a low-scoring affair dominated by John Emburey and Derek Underwood, although obviously Sri Lanka have progressed since then...

  • Comment number 9.

    'Mental scarring', as Alec Stewart and others call it, is a modern concept. I prefer the theory that England's batsmen are just not natural improvisors or adaptors, which is why they always struggle against testing spin bowling, and also, incidentally, why I believe our 50-overs record has been so poor overall since the format of that game changed many moons ago. If there's one good thing to come out of the current run of defeats, it's that it will hopefully deflate a few egos, which in one or two cases might be a good thing, if the demeanour of some players over the last couple of years is anything to go by. I'm fed up of comments from various team-members defending their mates with 'So-and-so hasn't become a bad player overnight....he'll soon start getting results again'. This England side has ALWAYS had weaknesses....it's just that now they're being exposed. Time to be realistic, chaps. You've all still got a long way to go.

  • Comment number 10.

    "That's the insane media for you. Strauss doesn't do all of the batting by himself: he's been badly let down by his top-order teammates."

    Over the last couple of years, he's hardly done any batting at all. It's time he lead by example from the front, otherwise he's only in the team for his captaincy skills. and is he really that good of a captain?

    It's hard to know from the outside how important the Strauss/Flower combination is to the team, but if we lose again, and if Strauss fails again, then his place must be in question.

  • Comment number 11.

    The Colombo Oval had an inimitable 'call sign' of its own, unique one at that until about mid 1990s carried over Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation airwaves while match commentaries from the 'tennis court end' as they called it were tranmitted whenever a 'big match' was played there. The hooting whistle of the steam trains that passed within close proximity of the grounds on the narrow-gauge Kelani Valley railroad ! Quite a few trains could be heard in the background every hour play was on and commentary continued. I believe its the only venue where such a lively feature, unintentional though it was added auhenticity and nostalgia to a cricket match that would be long remembered by local cricket fans as Sri Lanka, being an unofficial cricketing venue saw circket at international level rarely, once a year and twice at best with MCC or Australia being good enough to play here on transit to elsewhere. Great legends in the golen age of Test cricket have played at the Oval and each may have noticed the whistle of the steamers that hooted far away as they were enjoying the warmth of our tropical sunshine, fielding or batting in that relaxed game with the Ceylonese they wouldn't remember for long as Sri Lanka was only a footnote in their hectic shedules. Yet they would miss the nostalgic whisle of that steam train if they return today as the tiny steamers are now gone for ever as the line is now broad and developed just like the game of cricket in the country and the romance has died, only the ashes we have to 'retain' in memory !

  • Comment number 12.

    Nice job Adam. Fine bit of history.
    Wishing Team TMS, players and fans of the two sides exciting days
    of test cricket at the historic Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu Stadium.


    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 13.

    @10

    "otherwise he's only in the team for his captaincy skills. and is he really that good of a captain?"

    How could England have possibly got to the top of the test rankings with a second rate captain?

    The last 4 tests England have lost have been down to batting collapses, yes, he's part of a batting unit that isn't firing on all cylinders, but you can't bring into question his ability to lead the side after 4 poor games.

    Everyone knows the reasons why England have had 4 straight losses, the top order has woefully under performed, it's simple and frankly thats got nothing to do with Strauss and his captaincy. If we had been batting/playing well and still losing, then yes, maybe you'd have a case for criticising his leadership of the team, but when the problem is there for all to see I can't see how changing the captain is going to improve the batters ability.

    At the end of the day, there are a few players would/should be getting dropped ahead of Strauss anyway.

  • Comment number 14.

    #10 and #13:

    The problem that England have had this winter is that they are batting in each Test for only about 150 overs. Only a few months ago England were routinely piling up 591-6 dec and winning by an innings. By contrast their highest innings score in the last four Tests has been 327.

    In his last eleven Tests Andrew Strauss has scored 459 runs at 25.5 with two fifties. When England are winning series convincingly this matters little. The perception of poor form is partly based on the fact that in the last Ashes series and home series to India, he was being outscored by highly prolific teammates (Cook, Trott, KP, Bell): however this is no longer the case. His overall record as skipper and batsman is still very good, and he is likely to remain captain until the 2013 home Ashes series.

    The Pakistan team that defeated England were improving and continuing an unbeaten sequence in international matches. The current Sri Lanka team lost their last four series (three of them away) by the margin of a single Test against tough opposition and might be described as battle-hardened.

    West Indies toured Sri Lanka a year ago and left a scoreless series undefeated courtesy of rain and a triple century by Chris Gayle. Sri Lanka lost their last three-Test series at home against Australia last Autumn 1-0 following a poor performance with the bat in the first innings of the first Test at Galle.

    In recent Tests I don't think that the England bowlers have been given full credit for their contributions with both ball and bat. Jimmy Anderson has now taken 254 Test wickets in total, and only Derek Underwood, Fred Trueman, Bob Willis and Ian Botham have taken more wickets for England...

  • Comment number 15.

    The perception of poor form is based on his poor form. An average of 25.5 with two fifties is rubbish.

    #13 "How could England have possibly got to the top of the test rankings with a second rate captain?"

    You've gone off on a tangent, I didn't say he was second rate, I asked if he was a good enough to be in the team on his captaincy skills alone. I haven't blamed our lossses on his captaincy.

    Anyway, how good a captain was Ponting? How good is Dhoni? Their teams got to number 1, but was it because of their captaincy, or because of Warne, Mcgrath, Tendulkar, Dravid, etc? We got to number one because our bowlers have been excellent for a long time, and our batsmen went through a purple patch.

    Strauss is in the team as a batsman, and an opening batsman at that. It's his job to set the tone of an innings, to see off the new ball, to lay a good foundation. He has been failing at that over a long period of time. What authority does he have over the other batsman, how can he criticise, when he was not even able to score runs last summer?

  • Comment number 16.

    @14

    Before our 2nd innings, sky ran a stat that was our last 7 innings vs the 7 innings before the pakistan tour.
    (If I can remember it correctly) In the 7 previous innings before we played pakistan, we'd averaged 455 runs compared with averaging just 193 runs in the 7 most recent innings.

    As you said, it doesn't matter when he's not scoring runs and the team are easily winning, and yes it's obviously more of an issue when the results aren't going England's way.

    But look at the averages from the Pakistan tests, Strauss was England's (joint) 3rd highest run scorer, and he had the 4th best average (all relative given the scores I know!).
    While the likes of Bell, Morgan and KP where virtually being walking wickets.
    He scored 3 times as many runs as Ian Bell, and he doubled KP's tally, with KP failing with the bat yet again this series.

    It's easy to jump on the captains back when the results aren't going well, but the fact is all our batsmen are struggling, changing the captain won't change their fortunes round over night will it?
    Lets face it, it was ridiculous we didn't win the first test, we had two days to score 340 runs and come up terribly short.

    Sacking Strauss isn't the answer.
    And again, if you were going to be dropping Strauss, then you'd have to cut Patel, Monty and KP from the team first.

  • Comment number 17.

    "And again, if you were going to be dropping Strauss, then you'd have to cut Patel, Monty and KP from the team first."

    Why? It was Patel's 1st Test and he bowled ok, took a couple of wickets. Monty's been one of the successes of the winter. KP's been poor, but at least has 2011 to back him up, and some very good performances in the one dayers.

  • Comment number 18.

    @15
    KP and Bell were worse than Strauss during the Pakistan Series.
    And in the first test against Sri Lanka, he out scored Cook, KP and Prior, where is the criticism aimed at them?

  • Comment number 19.

    Monty can not catch a cricket ball and his batting is worse than terrible.
    Patel isn't as good an all rounder as Bresnan, and KP (at test level at least, yes he played well in the one dayers) has underperformed again.

  • Comment number 20.

    There's been plenty of criticism aimed at the top 6, most of them have been very poor. But at least the others, excluding Morgan, can point to all the runs they scored in 2010/11.

    Strauss has to start delivering as a batsman or he shouldn't be in the team. That's hardly a controversial opinion.

  • Comment number 21.

    Monty can be shocking in the field, there is no doubt, but I don't think his batting skills should be taken into consideration. He's in the side as a spinner first and foremost, and he's done well at that, better than Swann at times.

    Personally I would have had Bresnan in the team ahead of Patel, but he did pretty well (apart from the batting of course).

  • Comment number 22.

    Every time KP gets into a slump, I slate him.....he then immediately goes and makes me look stupid (not hard to do).

    So here we go....KP, you are not a test batsman. A test batsman strives to adapt to his conditions. For you its just "this is the way I play, this is my natural game", so basically, the way you play, your natural game is to cede your wicket early to the opposition? Because thats certainly all you seem to do. I have a feeling that KP is only valuable as a batsmen when things are going well. He does'nt seem to be able to dig out performances when the chips are down, he's not a game changer in that respect (and only seems to do well on certain types of track).

    So there you go KP, you've had a nice slating there and you can go and freely score a couple of tons as you usually do after I've given you a piece of my mind.

    And if you dont......well there's always county cricket or the IPL!

  • Comment number 23.

    @21
    Whey at least we agree on something!
    With the players available to England on this tour I'd line up like this for the next test:

    Strauss
    Cook
    Trott
    Bell
    KP
    Prior
    Bresnan
    Swann
    Finn
    Jimmy
    Then it's a toss up really between Patel and Monty, wouldn't really want to play either of them, but as Patel is the better batsmen i'd go with him.

  • Comment number 24.

    Interesting debate on selection. Judging by practice today I would suggest it looks most likely that Finn and Bresnan will both play with Monty possibly missing out. Some think England may play Bopara at six and go in with just one spinner, but Patel must have decent chance of playing. All will be revealed at 0515 tuesday morning.

  • Comment number 25.

    Still can't get my head round why Bopara is being given yet another chance in an England shirt, what ever happend to blooding a few younger players???

  • Comment number 26.

    If Bopara was able to bowl, then maybe. But as he's presumably still unable, then no chance. We need to stick with 5 bowlers in these conditions. Let's make sure we look after our seamers and have 3 of them, bowling in short spells. (If Bresnan plays, we definitely want 3 seamers, because he's had very little match practice since his injury.) And then it's probably Patel as the 5th bowler with Monty missing out.

 

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