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The heat is on for TMS in Sri Lanka

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Adam Mountford | 10:42 UK time, Wednesday, 14 March 2012

A tour of Sri Lanka is often viewed as one of the most difficult for a cricketer with the combination of heat and humidity, flat pitches and hugely talented opposition.

Broadcasting Test Match Special in this country has also brought its challenges over the years. This is my fourth trip to what is known as the "tear drop isle" and there have been a few hairy moments since my first visit here nearly 10 years ago.

My first international match in charge of Test Match Special was in Sri Lanka back in 2003, a one-day international played in Dambulla.

England's Test captain Andrew Strauss made his international debut in that match - but it's not a game he'll remember fondly as he was dismissed for three as England were skittled for 88.

Things weren't much easier up in the TMS commentary box that day.

England bowling coach David Saker and paceman Stuart Broad

England's bowlers and fielders will have to find ways of keeping cool in Sri Lanka. Picture: Getty Images

I had always imagined that life as a BBC cricket producer abroad would be rather romantic, sitting back in some exotic location watching England in action. The reality was not quite the same!

When I arrived in Dambulla there was no sign of any broadcast lines, so the only way we were able to get on air was via a small satellite. However I had a nightmare trying to get a good enough signal, so I ended up balancing a very expensive piece of equipment on a piece of scaffolding - with me hanging onto it throughout the broadcast.

But that was the least of my problems. The stadium in Dambulla is situated in the middle of the jungle and with this game being played under lights, it attracted literally millions of insects. So there I was, holding onto the satellite with both hands while my body was being bitten to pieces by bugs.

My first Test match in Galle wasn't much easier on that trip, with the platform on which we were broadcasting not being built until the game had actually started, and in Colombo I remember doing a match at the Premadasa Stadium where we were literally blown off air by the loudest thunderclap I have ever heard.

Hopefully we will avoid such drama at the Premadasa this week as England begin their tour with a three-day game at the ground against a Sri Lanka Board XI.

But there will be plenty of interest in both this match and the three day game at the Sinhalese Sports Club as England wrestle with what their starting XI should be for the first Test in Galle, starting on 26 March.

Andrew Strauss told me today that no-one has a guaranteed place for the Test and urged his players to make an unanswerable claim to be picked during these two warm-up games.

He said the balance of the side will depend partly on the form of the bowlers and how they will cope with the challenging conditions.

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The most likely scenario is that Ravi Bopara will replace the dropped Eoin Morgan and England will stick with two spinners and two seamers. But they could decide to play Nottinghamshire all-rounder Samit Patel at six to give them a different bowling option or even promote wicketkeeper Matt Prior to six, with perhaps Tim Bresnan playing to help bolster the lower order.

It is rather unsatisfactory that this will be only a two-Test series and who knows what state the Sri Lanka team may be in. After a long one-day series in Australia they are currently involved in the Asia Cup in Bangladesh and may not even arrive back here in Sri Lanka until three days before the Test.

We expect a large Barmy Army contingent here, but I am not sure how many locals will watch with the cheapest ticket priced at 5,000 Sri Lanka rupees, which works out at £25, and some tickets nearer £40.

I mention that traditionally Sri Lanka offers flat pitches, but the surface at Galle was last year reported by the match referee for offering too much for the spinners, and the P Sara Oval in Colombo has a reputation for being helpful to seam bowlers so after some unexpectedly dramatic games in the UAE we could be in for a lively affair here as well.

There is also the weather factor. The driver who picked me up at the airport yesterday cheerfully informed me that we are in the middle of the monsoon season here in Sri Lanka, with the Galle area especially likely to receive long periods of rain.

But let's hope he's wrong and we'll have plenty of cricket for you to enjoy over the next few weeks.

They'll be reports on the warm-up games on BBC Radio 5 live and this website as well as the Today programme and via Twitter @tmsproducer.

Then, alongside the website live text commentary, join our commentary team of Jonathan Agnew, Simon Mann, Roshan Abeysinghe, Michael Vaughan, Geoff Boycott and Vic Marks from 0415 GMT on 26 March. And if you can't make it that early, don't worry we'll have our new highlights programme and the TMS podcast to help you catch up.


  • Comment number 1.

    Good luck to the boys. This will not be easy...

  • Comment number 2.

    Talking about Sri Lanka's far from ideal preparation for the Test Series - they may now be without all-rounder Angelo Mathews. He's a doubt after being sent home from the Asia Cup with a calf injury. There are also concerns about the fitness of paceman Thisara Perera, who is out with a back injury.

  • Comment number 3.

    Big series for England. Although it's only 2 tests, and Sri Lanka may not be as glamorous opposition as Aus, SA or India, it's a chance for the boys to prove that they can hack it in the sub continent. I for one will be particularly interested by how Bopara fares (if he plays) - Morgan never seemed to have the game for test cricket, now Ravi has the chance to cement his place in the team before the tests against Windies in June - a team against which he's had success in the past.

  • Comment number 4.

    I would hope that England pick 5 bowlers, of which Finn is one of them, the nightmare would be the "conservative" 2 pace bowlers (Anderson no good between overs 15-80) and 2 spinners, (which Sri Lanka play at home very well).

    In this case I think England "could" be embarrased.
    Bresnan, Broad, Swann, Finn, Anderson would be my preferance, and use Patel/Bopara to breathe down Bell's back (one failure here and I would drop Bell)

  • Comment number 5.

    Looking forward greatly to it - my life is incomplete when England aren't playing Tests! It will be good to hear Roshan again - he was excellent last summer........

  • Comment number 6.

    Hi everyone,

    I'm only 15 years old so please excuse me for my arerogance.
    What i really want to know is:
    why are test matches rated so highly?
    As a youngster i prefer 20 over matches or even 50 over matches. I can't stand test matches. Long and extremey boring unlike the constant drama of twenty over matches.
    Can someone please explain?
    Thank you

  • Comment number 7.


  • Comment number 8.

    Think this will be a different test for England to Pakistan. I think Pakistan have a better bowling attack, but Sri Lanka have a better batting line up. It will test our bowlers more for sure, on some flat pitches. Hope Strauss gets back on form, he is definately due a big hundred.

  • Comment number 9.

    Firstly Test matches are not 'long and extremely boring' all the time.Yes they can be, when the wicket's are flat and alot of runs are scored. Plenty of wickets = entertainment. Test matches are an old British tradition, therefore shall not be abandoned. However I think T20 is good for the game because test matches are being adapted by the players to getting runs more quickly. This also makes them more entertaining.

  • Comment number 10.

    @ 9

    Thank you very muchly :)

    Will try and enjoy it from now on

  • Comment number 11.

    @ 9

    I like the penty of wickets but i especially love big hits.
    Smacking the 4's and 6's. I love it and test matches don't provide that.

  • Comment number 12.


    You have a very short memory! Bell has been our best middle order batsman for the last 18 months - scoring huge runs and scoring them incredibly elegantly! He had a poor series against Pakistan but then so did all the batsman so I cant see any justification for dropping him!

    I agree with you though about the bowlers, I really think Finn has to play, best bowler in the ODIs in the UAE and a constant threat whenever I have seen him. If he could just stop bowling one 4 ball an over in the tests he would be a certain starter in the tests!

    @ adam

    Will we be able to listen to TMS if we are not in the UK?

  • Comment number 13.

    @ EmilHeskey (#6,7,10,11):

    Test cricket is highly tactical and a major test of temperament and technique. There are typically 450 overs to be played through. As in all forms of the game, the object is to set and defend a (two) total(s). A few poor shots or good deliveries can see sides dismissed very cheaply, but the best batsmen are good at scoring runs in all conditions.

    The broadcaster Henry Bolfeld once described limited overs cricket as 'exhibition' and Test cricket as 'examination'.

    It sounds as if you might enjoy baseball...

  • Comment number 14.

    Agree that Finn is right up there, but expect him to come back into the Test side back in the UK in the spot currently held by Tremlett, in a 3 seamers plus Swann attack. In Sri Lanka, with the heat and humidity, I expect five bowlers, with Prior at 6, Bresnan at 7, then Broad, Swann, Anderson, Panesar. Don't expect Patel to play as a second spinner, and struggle to think when England have played three spinners successfully.
    Much sympathy with the 15 y.o. "Emile Heskey" contributor - in contemporary sporting terms, a game that can last 5 days and not produce a winner seems odd, to put it neutrally. What sets test (or first class) cricket apart is that the only means an innings can be brought to an end is by the skill of the fielding side or the tactical judgement of the batting captain. In test/first class cricket, for as long as your side carries on batting, you cannot lose the game. The object of cricket is not to score more runs than the other side, it is to bowl the other side out before they have scored more runs than you - only test/first class cricket recognises this.

  • Comment number 15.

    This will certainly be an interesting "series", although I would prefer to have a 3 match series, rather than only 2 matches. I can see with side winning this, but of course as an Englishman I'm going to be supporting England as always.

    As for Ian Bell, I've never been entirely convinced by him. Yes he's scored some big runs and helped out at crucial times, but he also seems to have been one of the guys to have failed more often. Although I certainly think that before the recent ODI series, KP was the bigger let down.

    Not sure if you are aware, but in the IPL player auctions, players value is (or at least was) calculated on their test match records. As for why test matches are the most valued, you only needed to have watched moments and matches like Edgbaston 2005, Australia vs India 2001, Atherton vs Donald in 1998 or Australia vs South Africa in 2005, just to name a few. I also personally believe that the partnership of Walsh and Ambrose was at it's most potent in test matches.

    I'm only 25 years old, but I can genuinely say that I would rather watch a test match than a T20 any day. That's not to say that a T20 doesn't have it's place; a good T20 is great to watch in it's own right, but there is something magical about a test match that I just don't ever want to lose. And if I the ECB called me and said "Ok, you have the choice of playing 100 ODI's and 25 T20's for England, or 1 test match, which one do you chose?" my reply is "Test match, at Lord's, vs Australia".

  • Comment number 16.

    @6 Emile Heskey

    A look at some of the recent reports on test matches should show why it is such a joy. Ding dong matches where all results have been possible, right down to the last session. Teams fighting for a draw - only the Aussie vs India series has been predictable.

    T20 is how young people now come into cricket but it seems very rarely does the game go down to the wire.

    Also in Test cricket 4s and 6s have more impact than the blur of shots in T20. Even in T20 proper cricket shots can achieve the same result.

  • Comment number 17.

    @6 - years ago Opal Fruit (now called StarBurst) recognized that although a packet of their sweets contained orange, strawberry, lemon and various other flavours, people enjoyed the blackcurrant ones the best, and often hoped that the next one in the packet would be blackcurrant. So they released a packet with nothing but blackcurrant in them. Noone bought that packet. Blackcurrant flavour wasnt as exciting when you got 1 every time.

  • Comment number 18.

    A very good opening day to the tour for England's bowlers with Monty Panesar taking 5/37. Ravi Bopara gets the first chance to stake a claim for Galle with the likes of Samit Patel and Tim Bresnan have to wait their turn. Steve Finn does his chances of playing in the series no harm after coming into the side as a late replacement for Stuart Broad who was injured in the warm-up. But most likely team for First Test remains Strauss, Cook, Trott, KP, Bell, Bopara, Prior, Broad , Swann, Anderson and Panesar - if all are fit. But Bopara would like to get some runs tomorrow to push his case.

  • Comment number 19.

    Thanks for the update Adam - cementing a place at 6 seems a tough one as this is the place the selectors could use to blood young players if Ravi doesn't make a real impact.

    My challenge to @6 is to watch the whole 2 months of IPL and not be underwhelmed by the barrage of advert breaks and one sided matches.

  • Comment number 20.

    If Bell fails one more time he should be dropped? (#4) Sheesh. Can we instead drop some of these fickle fans with their goldfish memories?

    It would be nice to go through a series without calls for 'insert player name' to be dropped. As it's only a two Test series, that's not too much to ask is it?!

  • Comment number 21.

    "But most likely team for First Test remains Strauss, Cook, Trott, KP, Bell, Bopara, Prior, Broad , Swann, Anderson and Panesar"

    I really dislike going in with just two seamers. If one's off form, or gets injured during the match, then we are terribly exposed, and there is a risk of over-bowling one or both of them in the heat and humidity. Given that it should be easier to bat then to bowl in the conditions, I'd probably go for Prior at 6, with Broad, Anderson, Swan and two from Finn, Bresnan and Panesar, depending on form and the pitch.

    But it's interesting that Panesar continues to outbowl Swann, at least according to the scorecard. Is that down to form, or down to the batsmen's attitude towards playing them, I wonder?

  • Comment number 22.

    @6. A lot of new cricket fans will start to watch the T20's first as to the naked eye much more seems to happen. However as their interest in the sport grows so does their appreciation for what cricket really is about. The levels of concentration required to get in and stay in for two days to save a match. The individual battles between bowler and batsman to get on top, like the Pak series. Do they go after the spinner or try to play him slowly. The small fielding changes that will suddenly trap a batsman that has been set up for 20 overs, There are so many little details which you just don't get in T20 or ODI's. If you don't want to watch Test cricket just yet, have TMS on in the background and you'll just pick up little bits of info that will increase your knowledge of test cricket and I gurantee your interest also.

    For the first Test match I would like to see us play with 5 bowlers, with Prior at 6 and Bresnan at 7. Playing with 6 batsmen didn't really help last series and I think Bresnan would just strengthen the team all round. Altohugh this does depend on Broads fitness. If his ankle is bad then we will need to play Finn and would therefore need the 6th Batsmen and Bopara would get the nod. IMO.

  • Comment number 23.

    Wishing Adam, Jonathan and Team TMS
    a jolly good time in the Emerald Islands.

    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 24.

    For the love of all things good, move Prior to 6 and play Bresnan at 7.

    Ravi seems to be the perennial fall back guy, he's always first in line when a player looses form (of shows none), but he's never proved his ability or temperament to play test cricket. Those 100s he scored against the Windies (a very poor Windies), they seem to have gotten his name on the list, and now we can't seem to erase in...

  • Comment number 25.

    *erase it*

  • Comment number 26.

    I see the golden boy of cricket has again failed with the bat yet again I mean BELL, why do we keep picking him, he makes one good score and then lots of no scores, its about time he was dropped and give somebody else a chance.

  • Comment number 27.

    #26 Bell's record from 1st Dec 2010 to 31st Dec 2011 -

    11 matches, 5 centuries, 4 fifties, average of 98.90.

    One good score?? It's about time you were dropped.



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