The Colombo Oval or “P Sara” — a historic venue as England search for redemption

Adam Mountford, for the BBC

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”!

Mariamma the groundswoman in the 1940s

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.

 Ceylon team walk out, 1948

 Sathi Comaraswamy beats Bradman

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.

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Filed under Australia Cricket, Bradman, cricket tamashas, performance, Sri Lanka Cricket

One response to “The Colombo Oval or “P Sara” — a historic venue as England search for redemption

  1. Pingback: Miller on Aussies Whistle-Stop at Colombo and its Oval in late March1953 « Critiquing Cricket

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