Dannie Byrne in Colombo for Kiwi-Lankan Cricket

ONE =Bent elbows, broken tuk tuks and the inevitable search for tickets. The tour moves on to Colombo

There have been seven previous series between the two sides in Sri Lanka with the home side winning three, three draws and New Zealand claiming victory in the first encounter back in 1983– 84. Prior to last week in Galle, New Zealand hadn’t played in a Test Match in Sri Lanka since 2012. By contrast Sri Lanka had visited New Zealand three times in the last five years losing all three series. In all the Sri Lankans have played nine series in New Zealand winning just the once in 1995 when Chaminda Vaas took 10–90 in Napier and Muttiah Muralitharan picked up his first five-fer outside of Asia in the second innings. The second Test in 1995 resulted in a draw when Asanka Gurusinha batted for nearly two days to score 127 from 429 deliveries in Carisbrook, Dunedin. Vaas was again Man of the Match having scored a half century in the Sri Lankan first innings and then taking 6–87 in the first and only New Zealand innings.

Two of the three Tests to be staged at the Colombo Cricket Club Ground from 1984–1987 were between Sri Lanka and New Zealand. JF Reid scored 180 in the first innings in 1984 and RJ Hadlee returned figures of 10–102 for the match. In 1987, 803 runs were scored for the loss of only 14 wickets in a match interrupted by rain that ended in a draw. DSB Kuruppa scored 201 not out as a wicket-keeping opening batsman for Sri Lanka whereas JJ Crowe and RJ Hadlee each recorded undefeated centuries for the visitors. Mahela Jayawardene scored the first of his 34 Test centuries in Galle in 1998 when he made 167 out of a total of 323 batting at number 3 in the first innings against New Zealand.

There have been two previous encounters between the two sides at the P Sara Oval over the years. The first was a drawn match in April 2003 when SP Fleming made 274 not out in a New Zealand first innings of 515–7 declared and the Sri Lankan skipper HP Tillakaratne contributed 144 to the reply of 483. More recently the two sides met in November 2012 when New Zealand won by 167 runs. Taylor 142 and Williamson 135 scored the bulk of the runs in New Zealand’s first innings total of 412 with Rangana Herath returning figures of 6 – 103. In reply the Sri Lankans were bowled out for 244 with Southee and Boult taking 9 wickets between them. The Kiwis added a quick 191 from 54 overs before dismissing the hosts for 195 with the two fast bowlers again picking up most of the wickets.

After the Galle Test ended I made my way to the Bar next to the Unawatuna Beach Resort and watched some of the Ashes match from Lords. The label on the bottle of Tiger Beer informed me the price was 180 Rupees which did little to explain why I was charged 640 a bottle during the happy Hour which included a 30% discount. I think people attending training courses before working in the Sri Lankan Tourist industry are taught to make it up as you go along. Start with the correct price, add 100 Rupees, multiply by an arbitrary fraction for example 8/5 to ensure no-one has a clue as to how you reached that total and then add all the ridiculous Sri Lankan taxes plus a few more if you can think of any. I didn’t really mind as it was great to watch Stokes coming down the wicket to the Australian fast bowlers and then to see Archer bowl in a Test match for the first time.

When I arrived in Colombo I discovered that Akila Dananjaya had been reported once again for his dodgy bowling action and looking at some video action on the internet is wasn’t difficult to see why. Kane Williamson has suffered the same fate, but as a part-time off-spinner the Kiwi’s won’t be particularly disadvantaged. Both will be allowed to bowl in the P Sara Oval Test as they have 14 days before they have to appear before the elbow straightening inspectors.

Collecting my pre-booked on-line tickets for the Test match was always going to be an interesting experience. Previous trips had taught me to always allow an extra day for this particular challenge as it could take several hours. I managed to find a tuk tuk with a driver prepared to use his meter from outside the Renuka City Hotel and the journey to the P Sara Oval took 20 minutes and cost me 235 Rupees. The Sri Lanka team bus arrived at the ground at the same time as me with far fewer escort vehicles than I would have expected. I showed my ticket purchase receipt to one of the security officials and it might as well have been my hotel booking confirmation. He waved me in and sent me towards the offices in the opposite direction to where the team bus had gone. Having got inside the ground I sat in one of the stands to watch the beginning of the practice session. Eventually I went into the offices and was informed that the tickets were being sold and collected from the Sinhalese Cricket Club Ground which is about 2–3 Km away. This time I couldn’t find a tuk tuk with a working meter and had to pay 250 Rupees for a much shorter journey.

On the way to the SCC we passed along a street where tuk tuks were being taken apart and put back together again. It was like a hospital for auto rickshaws and there was one mechanic / doctor who clearly specialized in wheel amputations. I collected my tickets and was disappointed to learn that they were not for the AC Stand which was priced at an astronomical cost by Sri Lankan standards of 4,000 Rupees a day. I was to be located in the TR Mirando Stand but at least there was going to be a scoreboard on the opposite side of the Oval. My tickets had set me back 1,000 Rupees per day.

I was in no hurry to return to Kollupitiya and decided to take a long walk around the area where so many cricket grounds are located. I found a 50 over girl’s game taking place at Thurston College and marveled at the standard considering some of them good enough to play for Surrey. Further along I came across a boys match at Bloomfield Cricket and Athletics Club where again the standard was very good. I stopped off at the Cricket Club Café to check to see if Chanderpaul’s Cheese and Vegetable Pie was still on the menu and discovered it was only marginally more expensive than a ticket for a decent seat at an International cricket match. A sign outside confirmed the Ashes Test from Headingley will be shown live after the close of play at the P Sara Oval for the next five days. It shouldn’t be too difficult to work out where I’m going to spend the rest of my time in Sri Lanka.

TWO = Rain and non-rain interruptions restrict play to 36.3 overs on the first day of the Second Test; Day One at the P Sara Oval

There wasn’t much point leaving the Renuka City Hotel in time to reach the P Sara Oval before the scheduled start of play, as the rain crashed into the third floor window and the people down below did their best to avoid the puddles as they made their way to work. There was time instead to reflect on Sri Lanka’s recent achievements on the cricket field notably that the win in Galle meant Sri Lanka had won three successive Tests chasing a target in the fourth innings for the first time in their cricket playing history. Dilruwan Perera had declared himself fit for the Second Test and had been drafted into the squad without any hesitation by the local selectors. There was a sense of expectation and excitement within the Sri Lanka camp which certainly isn’t always the case, if only the rain would stop.

For a nation of cricket lovers it’s amazing how few tuk tuk drivers in Colombo have any idea where the Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu Stadium is located, never mind the most direct route to travel towards it. At a rough estimate the recent introduction of meters into the auto rickshaws in the Sri Lankan capital has added an additional 10 minutes to the average journey time for me, with the eventual price being no cheaper than if I had haggled in advance with the driver as in previous years. On this occasion I was taken on a tour of virtually all the cricket grounds I had discovered yesterday in a different part of Colombo and it was only when we passed the tuk tuk infirmary that I was able to provide the decisive and accurate directions to the P Sara Oval for the benefit of my errant driver. The final price came to nearly 400 Rupees.

After an argument with the Stewards who were trying to force me to enter the T Murugaser Stand I was eventually shown the correct entrance for the TR Mirando Stand. Once inside the seating area I discovered that instead of two stands side by side there was in fact only one stand with two names. There was at least an overhead fan, a conveniently placed small TV screen for DRS replays and a good view of the only scoreboard inside the stadium. All that was required now was for the covers to be removed and for play to begin. Lunch was taken early and I found out from one of the anti-corruption officials that the match would get under way at 1.40 pm. Sri Lanka won the toss and Frank had no hesitation in electing to bat first. There was one change to each team with Dilruwan Perera picked to provide a straighter arm to that of Akila Dananjaya for the Sri Lankans and for the New Zealanders it was hoped that Colin de Grandhomme would display a straighter bat compared with Mitchell Santner. It was also felt by Kane Williamson that the additional medium pace bowling offered by de Grandhomme would be preferred on the P Sara Oval surface to that of another spinner.

  “Frank” by the way is Dimuth Frank Karunaratne” …Michael R

Frank got off the mark with cut shot to Boult behind backward point and followed up with another boundary off a thick outside edge with the ball going all along the ground to the fence at deep third man. The ground sheet wallahs made their first appearance in the sixth over but fortunately the rain stayed away. Somerville and de Grandhomme replaced Boult and Southee after 10 overs and Thirimanne was caught at short extra cover by Williamson presumably unsure how to play a delivery from Somerville that bounced a bit more than he had expected ( 29 – 1 ). The Sri Lankan opening batsman had scored 2 from 35 balls in exactly an hour at the crease. In 34 Tests he has managed only one century and has an average under 23.

Kusal Mendis joined Karunaratne in the middle and the scoring rate improved immediately. Somerville’s first three overs conceded no runs and his next three went for twenty. A Painted Stork flew over the ground in one direction while a Brahminy Kite hovered over the Grass Bank on the opposite side of the ground. The scoreboard was from a different era and when the score was 60 – 1 the numbers visible to the crowd showed 06 – 1. Somerville dropped short to Mendis on three occasions and each time the ball was ruthlessly pulled to the leg side boundary. Tea was taken at 3.40 pm with the score 71 – 1 from 29 overs. There must have been some dark clouds encroaching from behind the TR Mirando Stand as four sheets of tarpaulin were dragged on to the pitch during the interval.

The Tea interval ended and it wasn’t raining. The umpires came onto the pitch and spoke with some of the grounds staff. They had a chat with one of the officials before walking off. The covers remained on the pitch. As the official was sitting close by I approached him to ask what the umpire’s had said. He was very abrupt in telling me he couldn’t talk to me as he was working and when I said I only want to know about the prospects of play he told me he wasn’t accountable to me. I managed to bite my tongue before potentially mispronouncing the word “banker.” I’m sure he is a decent bloke and after all he was only supposedly doing his job but it’s very sad that people are so paranoid that someone like me might be representing a betting syndicate that they can’t even tell me something like Oxenford said “we’re going to give it ten minutes to see if these clouds pass.”

We had already lost three hours to rain and now we were losing time to it not raining. A couple of people were holding open umbrellas near the pitch but perhaps they were trying to protect themselves from the sunshine. It was either that or it was done for the benefit of the TV audience to try to convince them that it might be raining. The covers were eventually removed and then some members of the ground staff were instructed to run a rope around the outfield again to presumably suggest it had rained when it hadn’t. We live in a world of Fake News but this was the first time I had witnessed not raining stopped play. Play started again after a completely unnecessary delay of 30 minutes and Frank hit the first ball after the restart through extra cover off Southee for a boundary.

The 50 partnership between Karunaratne and Mendis was completed two overs later from 101 balls just before the right handed batsman was comfortably caught behind edging a delivery from de Grandhomme that appeared to drift towards the slips ( 79–2 ). Frank was fortunate when an inside edge to a ball he tried to cut wide of off stump missed the leg pole and he was unable to complete his half century before bad light intervened at 5.02 pm with the score 85 –2 from 36.3 overs and the Sri Lankan captain left on 49 not out. Having been informed of rain at the Headingley Test I returned to the Renuka City Hotel and discovered the West Indies verses India Test was being shown live on a TV channel available in my room. As is so often the case in my experience the England match could only be accessed on a TV I could potentially watch for a significant additional payment.

THREE =Slow play and an afternoon of persistent rain. The Sri Lankans are already hoping for a draw; Day two in Colombo.

The tuk tuk driver this morning didn’t have a clue where the P Sara Oval was located but he did have the foresight to ask another auto rickshaw pilot for directions once he had reached the suburb of Borella. He clocked up a record low score of 218 Rupees on the meter and will be nominated for the “most honest Sri Lankan of the year” award. On entering the TR Mirando Stand I was disappointed but not surprised to observe several covers still on the outfield. The rain had only stopped while I was having breakfast and the grounds’ staff, both paid employees and volunteers were clearly doing their best to get the match started as soon as possible. I met my old friend Keerthi who is the official Sri Lankan scorer for this Test Match after he splashed his way through a few puddles in order to greet me.

As the various groups of workers struggled with their tarpaulin task Nick went off to investigate the possibility of us purchasing tickets in one of the sponsor’s boxes behind the bowler’s arm at the Press Box End for the next two days. He returned with tickets for 4,000 Rupees per person per day and hence I can only hope that it doesn’t rain on Saturday or Sunday as the person they were purchased from will probably be in Dubai by then. Nick’s mysterious friend Praveen then phoned to tell us that play would be beginning at 10.30 am. I thought about informing Kane Williamson who was warming up in front of me with the batting coach Thilan Samaraweera as I guessed that even the New Zealand captain wouldn’t be aware of this useful piece of information. There had been no announcements at the ground and no hints from the TV replay screens either.

Frank completed his half century from 103 balls shortly after play began. Mathews scratched around for 29 deliveries for only two runs before edging a bouncer from Boult down the leg side where the catch was excellently anticipated by Watling (93–3 ). It was Boult’s 250th Test wicket. Kusal Perera was lbw three balls later not playing a shot and Boult should have claimed his third wicket of the morning when a leading edge from de Silva went straight up in the air following an attempted pull shot and he somehow managed to drop a caught and bowled chance that even Monty Panesar would have taken 9 times out of 10.

Karunaratne brought up 12,000 first class runs with a flick off his legs for three when on 58. Only 23 runs were added to the Sri Lankan total in the first hour from 12.3 overs. Ajaz Patel eventually replaced de Grandhomme at the Air Force Flats End after a spell of 8.3 overs had conceded only 19 runs. Karunaratne was dropped by Williamson at short mid-wicket off the spinner’s first delivery, a very  difficult chance that he did well to even get his hands to. Karunaratne stopped scoring for 30 minutes and the game was virtually going nowhere. Southee had replaced Boult at the Press Box End and he finally persuaded Karunaratne to attempt a drive at an out-swinging delivery and he was caught behind for 65 from 165 balls. Dickwella was also caught behind three deliveries later giving Southee a double wicket maiden ( 130 – 6 ). A top-edged pull from de Silva added another four to the total as two Painted Storks circled the ground high above the TR Mirando Stand. The light had become very poor around 10 minutes before lunch and the ground staff had moved into positions near the tarpaulins. The umpires signaled for lunch to be taken a few minutes early with the score 144 – 6 from 66 overs with only 59 runs having been added from 29.3 overs during the extended morning session. The rain started falling before the players had even reached the boundary rope.

The covers were dragged on quickly and efficiently and after half an hour there wasn’t a single blade of grass visible. The rain started falling gently at first and then it suddenly went up through the gears to heavy and eventually to torrential. It dropped down to steady after a while and 90 minutes later it was still raining. By this time I had calculated there would be no play due to the light even if there was time to get the covers off and I decided to see if I could get to the Cricket Club Café before Jason Roy was out. The tuk tuk wallah managed to complete the journey before the Ashes match even started which at least meant that I got to see Roy bat for 10 minutes. England managed to lose 5 wickets in the time it took to order and eat Chanderpaul’s Cheese and Vegetable pie. They then lost the other five in the time it takes to consume two bottles of Lion Beer. A monsoon storm then arrived and forced everyone into the back room of the pub. It was just as well that I needed to leave at this stage and find an ATM. At least the West Indies verses India Test could be watched in the comfort of my hotel room without the worry of having to find a wooden tuk tuk with a working paddle later in the evening.

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Filed under cricket and life, New Zealand cricket, Sri Lanka Cricket, Uncategorized, unusual people

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