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England head to iconic Galle for start of Test series

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Adam Mountford | 16:28 UK time, Thursday, 22 March 2012

It's certainly been an eventful start to England's final tour of the winter.

An emphatic opening victory marred by accusations of "cheating" with an England player talking about "wanting to kill" one of the opposition, a thrilling run chase as darkness began to fall at the SSC and a game disrupted by reports of a cobra by the boundary edge and a two foot lizard on the outfield. At one stage I thought about sending for David Attenborough rather than Jonathan Agnew.

And the drama is unlikely to diminish as the tour moves the 116 kilometres from Colombo down to Galle, a location which has been in the headlines many times over the past few years for events both on and off the field.

The Galle International Cricket Stadium is one of the most iconic venues in world cricket with the 200 year old UNESCO protected Dutch Fort providing a stunning backdrop and the Indian Ocean in the distance. Then at the other side of the ground you look down on the hustle and bustle of the bus station and local markets with traders selling a vast array of spices and freshly caught fish.

On the field there have been many special moments since Galle was first declared a cricket stadium in 1927. The ground was where Muttiah Muralitharan took his 800th Test wicket in his final Test appearance. It's also where Shane Warne claimed victim number 500. On the batting front Chris Gayle scored 333 at the stadium and Virender Sehwag made a brilliant double century.

The Galle cricket ground in Sri Lanka

England have twice staged superb rear guard fightbacks in Galle

But the biggest event in Galle took place on the 26th December 2004. A terrifying Tsunami swept through the ground destroying the stadiums pavilions and wrecking the pitches before causing horrendous damage in the town and surrounding areas. An estimated 40,000 people died in Sri Lanka because of that terrible event.

When we were last in Galle we heard some amazing stories from some of the boys from the Harrow school in England who were playing cricket on the ground that day. They were forced to scramble to the top of the stands to escape the flowing waters.

The Tsunami and its aftermath threatened the future of the stadium and it needed help from the likes of Sir Ian Botham and Shane Warne to push for its reconstruction.
In fact England's last visit to Galle in December 2007 marked its return as an international venue with work taking place through the night to get the ground ready in time.

England escaped with a draw in that game thanks to an Alastair Cook century despite conceding a first innings lead of 418. Four years previously they had pulled off an even more remarkable rear guard action with Ashley Giles remaining defiant as England survived with nine wickets down.

That game nine years ago was my first Test in charge of TMS abroad and it had an eventful beginning from my point of view.

On the eve of the match not only did we not have any broadcast lines - we had absolutely nowhere to broadcast from.

I had been promised a platform was being built for TMS but as night fell at the ground not a scaffold piece was in sight. Eventually at about 10pm I had to give up and go back to the hotel ready to spend the night fretting about whether anything would be in place in the morning. I was at the ground by 6am and amazingly our platform had appeared - but we still had no power or lines as play approached. We managed to get on air 20 seconds before the first ball was bowled - but only because Jonny Saunders had physically dragged an electrician from the other side of the ground whilst Jonathan Agnew and I somehow lashed together a satellite link.

But even that wasn't as stressful for Aggers as his Galle experience in 2001 where he famously ended up broadcasting from the Dutch fort.

When he and the BBC team arrived at the stadium they were refused entry by armed guards after the Sri Lankan Board demanded "access fees" for them to broadcast

So Aggers, Pat Murphy and co were forced to decamp to the turrets with a 100 feet sheer drop just in front of them where fortunately they still had a good view of the cricket plus a supply of king coconut juice and plenty of iguanas and snake charmers for company.

Meanwhile my predecessor Peter Baxter spent the day outside the main gate in temperatures of 115 degrees frantically negotiating to get the BBC team back into the ground.

I am sincerely hoping that my Galle experience on Monday is less frantic... although it could be an interesting Test match with the last game at the ground a lively affair with Australia winning a low scoring thriller on a pitch described as "poor" by the ICC.

Test Match Special will be on the air from 0515 on 5 live Sports Extra and at 0530 on Radio 4 Long Wave while will have text commentary throughout plus columns from Aggers, Alec Stewart and other features. And If you miss any of the action check out the TMS highlights show on Sports Extra or the TMS Podcast.


  • Comment number 1.

    Our team for Galle includes Jonathan Agnew, Simon Mann and Roshan Abeysinghe with Michael Vaughan, Geoff Boycott and Vic Marks. Kevin Howells will provide updates on 5Live and other BBC networks. But what would be your England team for Galle be? Does the injury to Bopara make any difference? Should England consider 5 bowlers in the heat? What XI would you pick?

  • Comment number 2.

    With Bopara unable to bowl and so much talk about the heat, I'd go for Cook, Strauss, Trott, Pietersen, Bell, Prior, Patel, Broad, Swann, Anderson and Panesar, replacing Broad with Bresnan (because he's a far better batsman than Finn) if Broad's ankle doesn't heal. A third spinner is a handy option and a fifth bowling option a must. It's unlucky for Bopara but he'll get another chance.

  • Comment number 3.

    #2 I'd swap Patel for Bresnan. Two seamers makes me nervous, particularly in the heat and humidity of Sri Lanka, and with two specialist spinners, I can't see Patel having much of a go. But with three seamers, they can each bowl short, sharp 4 or 5 over spells. Harsh on Finn though.

  • Comment number 4.

    Great TMS team - although I'd swap Vaughan for Tuffers any day. Tuffers' summing up is incisive & humorous; when he first joined TMS I wasn't at all sure he'd fit, but I was wrong. He's right up there with Vic Marks, as the best of the best, in my opinion.

  • Comment number 5.

    Is this post going to be closed to comments as quickly as yesterdays? The above post touches on the "cheat" comments regarding walking or not walking so I feel that I'm not too far off topic (and I promise to comment on this one as well!)
    Having played cricket at a good level (but never with any recourse to DRS) I was of the strict Non Walker persuasion. Over the years I was never called back by any bowler or captain when I had wrongly been given out so I saw no reason to give the opposition two chances at getting my wicket. The caveat being that when given out you have to go quickly and quietly, no glaring at the umpire, no matter how wrong he/she was!
    The TMS team looks good but please try and get more Tuffers. We've even named one of our chickens after him! The reasons are too long and involved to go into! Agree with poster number 3 re Patel & Bresnan but could there be a case for dropping Bell? Hope not as the man has class and is great to watch from the purists point of view.
    Good luck with the broacasting.

  • Comment number 6.

    You cant drop Bell in Sri Lanka, who would replace him? Bopara hasnt proved himself at 6 yet so he cant go up to 5! Bell deserves another chance but if he fails in Sri Lanka they will have to look to the next generation for the summer and India tour.

    As for the test line up I cant see them looking beyond the Pakistan Test Tour Bowlers who all performed well, it was our batting that failed. Monty can bowl 30 tight overs a day and Pieterson and even Trott can contribute a few so no need for a 5th bowler. If Broad isnt fit then the best bowler not the best batter has to replace him and thats Finn! Simple!

  • Comment number 7.

    In reaction to John's comment above I'd say that it really depends if you walk or not on the opposition. If you have an opposing team who aren't walkers then you stand your ground unless you are blatently out, however if your not I think you need to stay within the spirit of the game, otherwise your going to change the whole match into a squable, I was called back by the opposition for a LBW decision last season and then walked when I nicked behind and there was no appeal, it's swing and roundabouts really!

    Back onto the subject I think we need to go with Anderson Broad and Bresnan, rather than Patel or Bopara, if needed we can always bring on KP to bowl a few overs of spin and Trott can always fill in for a couple of overs as well.

  • Comment number 8.

    Bell should be given the chance's the other batsmen in the team have had when they've been in poor form. He's a class batsman and hopefully will come good again, we should only start worrying about him if he's still in this poor form for the south africa series.

    Bopara certainly isnt the answer, he only scores cheap easy runs when someone the other end is scoring and thats what inflates his already poor average. Most over-rated player in English cricket. Even in this warm up match every batsman scored close to a run a ball or better and there was bopara milking the singles the other end boosting his average. and as soon as the pressure rises, he gets out.

    The 1st test match should be a straight shoot out between patel and bresnan, dependant on whether we need 3 seamers or not?

  • Comment number 9.

    England dont seem to like chopping and changing the formula, so whilst i would like to see Prior up to 6 i still see England going with the top 7 from the Pakistan series with Bopara in for Morgan (I believe its been announced the Bopara is fit and available to play as a specialist batsman)

    I also think that if they can they will keep the 4 man bowling unit they had in Pakistan, if they cant select Broad then keep it simple and pick the next best bowler, the next best bowler, based on how brilliantly he bowled in the ODI's against India and Pakistan is Finn so he has to be next in line

  • Comment number 10.

    Bell's nowhere near being discarded for 'the next generation'. He'll be in the team for the next five years, and rightly so.

  • Comment number 11.

    If Broad misses out, then yes I'd replace him with Finn. But if we're going in with 5 bowlers, which I think we's been said by many players and commentators that Sri Lanka is one of the hardest places to play because of the heat...then Prior at 6 and Bresnan at 7, and Finn potentially misses out.

  • Comment number 12.

    I'd go with:

    1. Cap'n
    2. Hornblower
    3. Trott
    4. KP
    5. Bell
    6. Prior
    7. Bresnan
    8. Broad
    9. Swann
    10. Jimmy
    11. Monty

    A few of the batsmen need to re pay the faith the selectors have shown in them this series. For the life of me I can't see why Bopara is getting another chance. Is his nickname the cat? For the 9 lives as test cricketer he seems to be getting?

  • Comment number 13.

    Really interesting views. I will have a better idea when I have seen the pitch tomorrow and heard the latest from the England camp. But at this stage I think its most likely to be Strauss, Cook, Trott, KP, Bell, Bopara, Prior, Broad, Swann, Anderson , Monty. England don't tend to spring selection surprises these days. They have identified Ravi Bopara as the next batsman in line and I suspect he'll get the chance. He'll have to do better than his last Test in Galle however when he bagged a pair including a bizarre run out in the 2nd innings - it completed a miserable debut series where he averaged 8.4.

  • Comment number 14.

    During the Test as well as ball by ball commentary and plenty of expert analysis they'll be plenty to enjoy during the intervals. We get a unique players insight into what they really think of the technology in the game as Michael Vaughan chats with Stuart Broad. Aggers will be talking to MCC President Phillip Hodson who is in Sri Lanka supporting "the Foundation of Goodness". He'll also be joined by Lord Naseby , the Chair of the All Party Committee on Sri Lanka. We'll hear how the area is coping 8 years on from the Tsunami and discover how the Sri Lanka team and Barmy Army are assisting the organisation "Children's Hope" set up in the aftermath of the disaster. And with the domestic season only days away Kevin Howells presents the third and final part in his series celebrating "Championship Characters" and we hear from some of the key figures in the County game ahead of this years campaign. By the way if you missed the first two parts of Kevin's series they are now available as TMS podcasts. Click for details. TMS on air monday morning at 0515 on Five Live Sports Extra and 0530 on R4LW. Lunch is scheduled for 0730-0810 with tea 1010-1030.

  • Comment number 15.

    "They have identified Ravi Bopara as the next batsman in line and I suspect he'll get the chance. "

    But surely part of the attraction of Bopara is that he can fill in as a 5th bowler, which is very useful in these conditions. If he's unlikely to bowl in this test, because of the side strain, then a rethink is needed. In theory it will be easier to bat than to bowl, so why would we need six batsmen plus Prior?

  • Comment number 16.

    TMS may not be aware of this as you don't have to pay for tickets but seeing as England have been such great supporters of Sri Lankan cricket and have come over in huge numbers, which contributes greatly to their economy, I hope that TMS raises the question of ticket prices with their Sri Lankan guests.

    Today at the ground I was informed that Sri lankans will be paying about 300 LKR for their tickets but the cheapest tickets on sale to Eng fans today was 5000 LKR.
    The worlds best travelling supporters deserve better than this.

    The fort is going to get awfully busy.

  • Comment number 17.

    If Bell is going to play I hope they've told him already. If he has to wait until the eve of the test the waiting might add to his lack of confidence.
    I remember after the Centurion test in SA when Bell had a terrible two innings, 5 and 2, both Strauss and Andy Flower supported him in interviews before the Durban test. Bell went on to score 140 and his career never looked back until this year.

  • Comment number 18.

    Re post 16. Yes I brought up the high ticket prices in my first blog from Sri Lanka. The cheapest ticket is £25 per day but prices can rise up to £40. When Australia were in Galle seven months ago their supporters were charged around £3. We have also heard the suggestion that local fans will be able to buy cheap tickets around that £3 mark. Earlier today we called the Sri Lanka Board President who claimed all supporters will be charged the same ie at least £25. As an average weekly wage for Sri Lankans is around that we don't expect many to attend. We will continue to investigate this story and intend to feature the issue during the lunch interval on Monday when we are told many England fans will demonstrate their displeasure by watching from the fort rather than paying the prices to get into the ground

  • Comment number 19.

    I think the biggest factor that will determine England's success/failure on the tour is the straight bat shot. The straighter England play, the better they will do. Period.

  • Comment number 20.

    Please don't get me started on ticket prices and the Sri Lankan Cricket Board ! Last August we were in Colombo watching our boys laying cricket for Bedford School and a number of parents decided to attend the ODI between SL and Australia. We purchased the top price tickets against assurances that not only would the view be stupendous but that the price also included drinks and dinner. Having arrived at the ground the view was indeed stupendous but there was a distinct lack of any food or drink. It soon became apparent that the entire stand had been given th same cock and bull story about what was included and a near riot ensued with the SLCB rep denying that anyone was ever given any assurances ( we all were). Eventually I discovered that the President of the SLCB was actually watching the game with his entourage on the floor above us and I managed to obtain an audience with him - our complaints were dismissed out of hand and in truth we were all treated appallingly by his minions which sadly had a very negative effect on our tour and in particular destroying the Sri Lankan myth of great hospitality. This was tragic as all the other Sri Lankans we met were lovely warm people - the one exception was in respect of anyone who was associated with the SLCB. Accordingly I am not surprised to hear that they are ripping off the England supporters and doubtless failing to tell the truth. As you can possibly gather I am stil. Fuming about our treatment 8 months later.......

  • Comment number 21.

    I was due to fly to Sri Lanka on Saturday 23 March. Unfortunately, I have broken my arm & wasn't discharged from hospital in time to fly. But, you know what, there is a little part of me that is glad I am not going. I am a frequent cricket tourist, this would have been my fourth cricket tour to Sri Lanka. I've visited most other test playing nations and was in Dubai/Abu Dhabi earlier in the year. Cricket Boards & various ticket shenanigans make trips less & less enjoyable every year - hence a little part of me is glad I am indisposed. And it's difficult to take the moral high ground when the ECB charge so much for home tests & sell hiked priced tickets through foreign travel agents. I understand the simple logic of the Sri Lankan Board's position - we're skint, our normal prices are cheap to foreigners, they're going to come & they won't want to miss the game, other tourist sites charge discriminatory prices (for eg Temple of the Tooth in Kandy). But, I don't want a segregated, sanitised experience - I want to meet and chat to local fans - I want them to share their chocolates with me as they did in Kandy when Murali broke the record - I want them to advise me what mixer drinks to have with which brand of Arrack. The ICC will set up task force after task force to find out how to make Test cricket more popular - floodlights, pink balls, etc. Before play starts on Monday there'll be an ICC statement about racism read out over the PA & displayed on the screens. How about a supporters charter - we will set prices at a level to encourage fans to come to the ground and any spectator from any country is welcome to pay the same price as everyone else and enter any section of the ground. Having said that, where there is a will there is a way - England fans are ranked No. 1 at finding their way in at the right price.

  • Comment number 22.

    I completely agree with Phil; segregation of fans does not belong in cricket. It is an essential part of its charm. Even the ICC's own preamble for the anti-racism policy found on their website states "there is a strong tradition of fans from rival teams enjoying matches side by side"

    The ICC does have an ICC anti-racism code for players and staff and Article 2 prohibits, "engaging in any conduct (whether through the use of language,
    gestures or otherwise) which is likely to offend,etc .........on the basis of their race,
    religion, culture, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin."

    SLC will not permit English people to sit on the grassy banks in the cheap areas. This is discrimination on the basis of race, nationality and ethnicity. It is not compatible with the spirit of the ICC's code and the ICC needs to take urgent action to remedy this before start of play on Monday.

    What would happen if a (white) English ex-pat living in Sri Lanka for a number of years rocked up to the ground; would they be permitted to pay local prices?

    The latest SLC statement that some tickets priced at 1000 LKR will be available to all fans is encouraging but I cannot find how to reserve these tickets on their website. I have also heard that all 'English tickets' for the Colombo test have sold out which is particularly worrying for me as I am flying out for the 2nd test on 30th! I have resisted reserving the 5000 LKR seats on the SLC website as these appeared to be for hospitality type tickets. Unfortunately there is no fort overlooking the P Sara oval!

    SLC's late communication of their hugely revised policy is abysmal.


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