GEOFF WELLSTEED'S THREE WEEKS IN SRI LANKA 2019

Geoff is Cheshire Umpire and former County League Secretary (2008-2018). His latest book, Pavilions In Splendour, 'the definitive book about club cricket in Cheshire' is now available at the reduced price of £10 (+ P&P). Email Geoff with your details and he will arrange delivery in time for Christmas

Day 23 (Tuesday, 27 Nov)

Early on this trip I met Arthur, a fellow tourist. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of cricketers belonging to the 'Golden Age' and after the Remembrance Day service at the Galle Fort on 11/11 he quizzed me about the four England cricketers who had lost their lives in WW1. I am ashamed to admit I could only recall two. I knew about Kenneth Hutchings as I remembered the late Ken Thomas, who was chairman of the Manchester and South Cheshire Cricket Society for a remarkable 49 years, was born soon after Hutchings died in 1916 at the Battle of the Somme, and was thoughtfully christened after the said man. I also knew about Yorkshireman, Major Booth (Major was his forename not his rank) as l have quite recently read 'Headingley Ghosts'. I was very disappointed to have forgotten Colin Blythe who was an epileptic and probably should never have served as a soldier. Leonard Moon of Cambridge University and Middlesex was the fourth.
Anyway all that is irrelevant to the amusing story I'm about to share. On a previous tour to India Arthur was visiting a tourist spot regularly occupied by monkeys and was advised to remove his hearing aids as the monkeys were known to pinch them! He dutifully followed the guidance but was shocked when a monkey leapt from a tree and deftly removed his spectacles before craftily taking them up into the high branches! The coach driver saved the day by coaxing him down with some peanuts and the specs were returned. The Gatley umpire (who is still fretting about his aborted walking-stick transaction) was on the same tour and vouched for the accuracy of the story. But to get to the actual point of all this. I awoke at precisely 3.09am in a hot sweat thinking about related monkey things and I mused as to why AN Hornby (b 1847, d 1925) of Lancashire was known to all as 'Monkey' and the recently departed, former Lancs wicketkeeper, Geoff Clayton, was nicknamed 'Chimp' but Alan Knott who had the initials APE was commonly known as 'Knotty'. Is that odd or what? I couldn't get back to sleep for ages.
Last night at the 'Howzat Travel' farewell dinner both Aggers and Murali were on top form. The TMS man quizzed the Tamil man about his cricketing journey and we got a fascinating insight into all the alleged throwing issues he had to suffer over an extended period. It was gripping stuff. Don't you think the twirly-men are an exciting breed? In recent decades Murali and Shane Warne have done more for the game than most. (And l hope that Test selector, Ed Smith has Lancs spinner, Matt Parkinson on his radar - he’s a good 'un).
Given we had a spare day today four of us (me, the Gatley ump, The Colonel, Pauly Wauly of Christleton) took the train up the coast to the holiday resort of Negombo. It was a journey of about 40 km with nearly as many stops! Needless to say it cost buttons (25p). The most interesting part of the trip was seeing literally acres (no exaggeration) of fish spread over matting on the vast beach. The fish had been gutted and presumably was drying? The smell was something else. It all looked very unappetising (and very unhealthy). The train was exclusively third class and the rolling stock looked as if had been around forever. At each station a different trader got on and endeavoured to sell their wares. Each had a different product - fruit, lottery tickets, popcorn, newspapers and children's colouring books. An old lady distributed what looked like political material. A beggar with the most horrendous elephantiasis of the legs wandered up and down the carriage hoping for some coins. The train journey reminded me of one I had taken with Ian Greensmith, the Cheshire Umps chairman, some years ago in Cape Town. There, each day, on our way to Newlands we alternated between second and third class carriages but concluded the only difference was that the graffiti in second class was of a better standard!
For our very final night in Sri Lanka we were back at the Cricket Cafe of Colombo to reflect on a fabulous three weeks of cricketainment. It was tremendous fun and we learned so much about this fascinating island and its culture. Do give it a try sometime......the end.

Day 22 (Monday, 26 Nov)

The harsh statistical fact is that England won the 2329th Test match ever played but the eventual result was a lot closer than I, or the hordes of Brits still on this lovely island, ever expected. An overnight 53-4 chasing 326 to win was not a good launch-pad but by lunchtime the brave home team had only lost one more wicket. The sixth wicket partnership then added 102 before BKG Mendis was Run Out. It was a catastrophic error of judgement. It was never a two but it still required a tremendous 60 yard right arm throw from Jack Leach who bowls left-handed.
Three more wickets went down relatively quickly but then an unexpected last wicket stand of 58 made England a bit edgy. In the end they were the deserving winners by 42 runs but they did require some assistance from the officials with an 'umpires call'. The dejected Sri Lankan tail-enders walked off to sympathetic applause.
Both the infield umpires will reflect they did not have their best games with a significant number of DRS overturned decisions. Who’d be an umpire! And here is a controversial point - just how reliable is the predictive Hawkeye system on Asian surfaces? England will be thrilled with this whitewash 3-0 series win as it is the first time on an Overseas tour of three matches that they have achieved such an outcome since Ted Dexter's team overcame New Zealand in 1963. I can't resist telling you my Reading-born hero, Ken Barrington also played in that series with some success (and that we were both born in the same maternity home!!)
On one of the double-decker stands in the ground was a large hoarding showing a mug-shot of all the Sri Lankan squad and a display which read 'Our Lions. Our Pride. Powering the passion of our nation'. All the Barmies will think the home players lived up to that mantra today and contributed to an exciting concluding day.
Back to last night and a question for you. When did you last have a taxi ride which cost less than 60p? Four of us went for dinner at the Barracuda restaurant beautifully situated under trees right on the beach. Two of us paid a deftly negotiated 250 rupees for the ride but the other two in a metered tuktuk only paid 140 rupees (60p). Daft rather than deft maybe? The food portions were enormous and none of us managed to clear our plates. Tonight is the end of tour dinner. Aggers and Murali are the guest speakers. More about that tomorrow.

Day 21 (Sunday, 25 Nov)

Ever the traditionalist I never stray far from a full English breakfast wherever I might be on this planet. This time round I have daringly added grilled pineapple, cheese stuffed tomatoes and zesty potatoes to the normal fare. All that said I always enjoy looking at what the locals regard as a good start to the morning and today they were tucking into Miso Stock (dried sardines, shavings of skipjack tuna and hoshi-shiitake [no idea!]) and Ambul Thiyal. The ticket alongside the latter said 'a smokey, delightful spicy smell nudges the nostrils and envelopes and fills the mind with delicious thoughts'. With such a tempting descriptor I felt I should give it a try but when I lifted the lid it looked like liquid tarmac! Stick to sunny-side up Geoffrey!
While on the subject of food four of us were back at the city centre Cricketers' Cafe last evening. We ordered Botham's beefy lasagne, David Shepherd's pie, Punter's pepper chicken and Garry Sobers stir-fry. At the end of the evening when the bill was presented we felt like Premier League footballers as the bottom-line figure read 34000! Fortunately not in pounds but rupees which equates to less than £70. Very reasonable for four two course meals and a trough full of beer!
And so to the cricket. A dramatic start as Jennings was out to the very first ball of the day. Is he a Test match opener? Not in my book. In the same session Stokes was twice reprieved from the lonely walk back to the pavilion when 'No Balls' were called. Nobody sitting in our section of the grandstand could recall a similar occurrence in such a short period of time.
Wickets continued to tumble at regular intervals but contributions from Buttler(64), Stokes (42) and Foakes (36*) enabled England to set the hosts 327 to win with an hour and two days left. It was not a convincing batting display from England but more than good enough to comfortably win the match against this modest opposition. The inevitable happened and by the close Sri Lanka had stumbled to 50 odd for the loss of four wickets as the wind got up and a storm brewed. Sadly, the only thing to sort out tomorrow is whether they can survive beyond lunch.
Finally another amusing story about the Gatley umpire awaiting hip surgery. He saw a rather nice decorative walking-stick in the market and the trader only wanted '200'. Our man knocked him down to '100' and the deal was done. Well not quite. the hobbling ump was talking rupees but the trader was dealing in US dollars!! The stick remains in the ownership of the trader.

Day 20 (Saturday, 24 Nov)

A scorcher (again). How some of the Barmies sit in the full sun all day is a complete mystery to me.
The first two sessions of play undoubtedly belonged to Sri Lanka and at 173-1 a first innings lead looked a distinct possibility, but in the last third of the day Rashid (5-49) and Stokes (3-30) turned the match in England's favour. Stokes bowled rapidly and short of a length and was a real handful for the host batters. Two of them took nasty body blows. At the premature close, amid loud thunder claps, the visitors lead by 99. Expect England to bat all day tomorrow and bowl the Sri Lankan's out on Day 4. We'll see.
I arrived at the ground a good 90 minutes before the start so l walked literally 250 yards to the Colombo Gymkana ground which hosted three Tests matches back in the 1980s. I managed to persuade a steward to take me into the Long Room and allow me to photograph some of the lovely colonial decor and displayed memorabilia. Shades of a glorious past.
There is a third ground in the same road, snug between the two others, called the Nondescripts CC. Again a lovely old building. This ground hosted one of England's warm-up matches.
And so I made my way into the Sinhalese Sports Club the venue for this Test. Pavilion entry is via a lovely garden with marble paving between two forty yard narrow rills containing dozens of koi carp. It's very spectacular and, in my experience, unlike any other admission point I have visited anywhere in the cricket-playing world.
By the way it was good fun in the Cricketers Cafe in the city last evening. There was much talk of Bairstow's terrific century and his partnership of 99 with Ben Stokes. A lad from Sussex said he was deprived of asking (but asked anyway) who were the last pair of ginger-haired batsmen to share a century stand for England! How do they think them up! Blowers is absent but he would have been in his element yesterday afternoon when twenty-eight pairs of batting gloves were left drying on the boundary edge and when at least fifty egrets landed on the outfield quickly followed by a stray dog. Quick as you like the tannoy blasted out 'Who let the dogs out'! That was replaced by 'Sweet Caroline' and the Brits were rocking in the aisles. There would be much tutting of MCC members if such things happened at Lord's!

Day 19 (Friday, 23 Nov)

Cricket again. There was a familiar ring to the morning session - a) it was boiling hot, b) the humidity was sky high, c) England won the toss for the umpteenth time, d) the Barmies sang Jerusalem, and e) an endless number of St George flags were displayed representing every part of the UK.
Later in the day the White Rose was pretty much in full bloom as the Yorkies, Root (b Sheffield) notched an attractive 46 and Bairstow (b Bradford), returning to the side, scored a wonderful hundred. He showed his bat to every part of the ground and the spectators responded with rapturous and protracted applause. It was if he was saying to the selectors ' don't you dare drop me again'. It was a great moment for those of us that live in the Yorkshire broad acres (ah yes, maybe I omitted to tell you l moved from CH48 to YO19 on 22 October !!)
After tea England were very well placed at 235-3 but they then carelessly lost wickets, but at the close of play with a total in excess of 300 and with three wickets still in hand the tourists go into Day 2 with a very clear advantage.
We arrived back at the hotel just in time to take advantage of the Happy Hour and thereafter we hailed a tuktuk in the middle of a spectacular electric storm to spend the evening in the Cricketers' Club of Columbo. Let me tell me this touring lark is exceptionally hard work!

Day 18 (Thursday, 22 Nov)

We've moved on to our last destination. From the tranquil lakeside setting in Dambulla we are now staying on the seafront in the bustling city of Columbo. High-rise apartments, funded by the Chinese, are shooting up everywhere and contrast vividly with the lovely old colonial buildings.
On route we stopped off at an elephant orphanage. Here are five facts you must try and retain for your next pub quiz! On average elephants live to be 70. They have very poor eyesight. They consume 200/250 litres of water a day. A calf weighs approx 80-100 kgs (say 14 stone) at birth. An elephant's gestation period is 22 months.
Soon after arrival in Columbo we did a city tour which included a visit to a temple. Inevitably it was extremely ornate. Because there is a full moon tonight it is regarded as a special religious day and the temple was extremely busy. What l had not expected to see were dozens of glass cabinets containing all sorts of oddities including a collection of cigarette lighters, a large display of fountain pens, a shelf stacked with binoculars and cameras, and a room full of vintage cars - Mercedes, Rolls Royce and Hawker Siddeleys. It was like a museum within a temple. Are they gifts to the Gods? Ah yes, as it is a religious festival it is also a dry day. In the absence of alcohol it's an early night in preparation for the Test match tomorrow. Broady and Bairstow are back in the side.

Day 17 (Wednesday, 21 Nov)

I'm back on the name game. Someone who must remain nameless (but is an umpire, lives in Gatley and used to play for Didsbury CC) has suggested to 'The Colonel' that given his team no longer has any connection with the County Council he should drop 'County Officers' as part of the title. They would therefore become Chester CC and give the clear impression they were the senior club in the city. We speculated that Chester Boughton Hall CC, one of the finest sides in the county and with facilities to match any in the country, might be a bit miffed and take legal advice. The Brexit fiasco would have nothing on this one. The Chester Chronicle would love it. The blue touch-paper has been lit. What a hoot!
After breakfast we set off for a brilliant trip to Sirigiya (The Lion Rock). The ancient rock, nearly 200 metres high is Sri Lanka's most visited tourist location and it is easy to understand why. The volcanic flat-topped outcrop sits high above the surrounding jungle and the summit once housed the most sumptuous Royal Palace (AD 400). Some describe it as the eighth wonder of the world. The top is a mere 1231 winding steps up with very few handrails! Made it (just!)

Day 16 (Tuesday, 20 Nov)

We spent the afternoon tracking elephants near Dambulla which was good fun but the real highlight of the day for me was Pauly Wauly of Christleton CC endeavouring to convince Maggie our excellent South African tour guide of the merits of climbing Meol Famau in the Clwydian Hills in North Wales. Given she lives in Cape Town underneath the towering Table Mountain it was probably an underwhelming invitation!?
By the way I have always had a fascination with cricketers names and initials. That said there was a thoroughly confusing scenario at the Kandy Test when the two scoreboards decided to identify a good number of the players by different names. So, for example, the Sri Lankan wicketkeeper appeared as 'Dickwella' on one board and 'Niroshan' on the other! 'Perera' was shown as just that on the main board but 'Dananjaya' on the second. England were not exempt as the New England opener was identified as 'Rory' on the main board and 'Burns' on the smaller one. I sincerely hope this bizarre strategy is short-lived.
What was much more impressive though was was that the Perera has five initials MKPAD and it reminded me of the time my son was born a good few decades ago. Just in case he was to be a future England captain I thought he should have three initials and as the then West Indian captain was a favourite of mine I thought Clive Hubert Lloyd would neatly translate to CHL Wellsteed. Unfortunately Mrs W was not in agreement. She particularly objected to 'Hubert'. In the end we settled on CGT. Mrs W wasn't aware at the time but 'Clive Graham Thomas' was a mix of Clive Lloyd the cricketer, Clive Graham, the BBC racing correspondent and Clive Thomas the famous football referee from Treorchy! In the end it was all a wasted effort as he always preferred mathematics to cricket. Hey ho. Anyway a few years later when my daughter was born we had a similar disagreement. Penny wanted to call our new offspring Morwenna (Poldark was very popular at the time) but my preference was Verity (after Hedley Verity). In the end we compromised on Jo which was the name of my Gran's budgie.
Oh yes and finally I am pleased to say Colonel Collero has returned to full fitness and is back on the local stout which has an ABV of 8.8%!!

Day 15 (Monday, 19 Nov)

Last night's excursion to The Royal Hotel turned out to be a grand evening. It was another old colonial building full of atmosphere and plenty of features. Michael Atherton and Bumble were dining just a few tables away.
Today it was all change again. We are now staying on the side of a beautiful 'tank' in Dambulla for three days R&R! - can't possibly keep going at this pace! In fact a tank is a lake. They were dug out centuries ago purely for water retention. It's huge and stunning. We are accommodated in attractive lodges in the densely tree-clad grounds. Lots of wildlife. I have asked my colleagues to keep an eye out for a monkey in a pair of black underpants. I just knew I shouldn't have put my laundry outside! Just spotted a couple of Amaurornis phoenicurus on the lakeside. If your Latin is a bit rusty they are white-breast water hens. Al fresco dining tonight l suspect.

Day 14 (Sunday, 18 Nov)

Bring on the Dioralyte! 'Colonel' Collaro (Chester County Officers CC) is not his sprightly self at breakfast this morning. There is a nervousness on the bus and high tension at the cricket ground as the clock atop the scoreboard moves round to 9.45am and the players emerge from the dressing room.
No worries - thirty minutes later the presentations are taking place as England quickly captured the last three wickets. Root, the centurion, is the Man of the Match but Buttler 64 & 34, Burns 43 & 59, Curran 64 (including 6 x 6) and Foakes 19 & 65* all deserve a mention.
Crucially the England tenth wicket pairings contributed substantially in both innings - 41 and 60. Undoubtedly batting was a much trickier discipline than bowling.
Foakes must think Test cricket is a doddle as he has now scored 228 runs in three completed innings. His brother played for Bowdon CC a few seasons back and his father, Peter (d 2006), was a Premier League football referee. All upstanding Redingensians will know he was the man in the middle when Reading played in the 1995 Division 1 Play-off final. The mighty Royals were leading 2-0 but then missed a penalty before eventually losing 4-3 after extra time. It was not a good day for those of us that are proud of our home town and care about such things.
After the cricket l got off the bus in the centre of Kandy and visited the beautifully maintained Garrison Cemetery. The caretaker pointed out the grave of James Souter of Kataboola Estate (d 1868) and said that he died as a result of being hit on the head with a cricket ball while spectating although the headstone merely said he died 'suddenly', age 24.
While in Kandy l spotted a barbers shop and opted for a Sunday afternoon trim. Why wouldn't I at only 300 rupees (about £1.50)? I was seriously tempted, but declined a head massage for another 200 rupees. Thereafter I wandered the streets taking in the sights. I was fascinated to see a man sitting on the pavement repairing an umbrella and another stitching shoes which only looked fit for the trash bin.
The hotel pool was a late afternoon treat and 'The Royal' is the appointed drinking-hole for this evening. Must go the tuktuk is waiting.

Day 13 (Saturday, 17 Nov)

Two of the Chester boys were suffering this morning. They attributed their tummy problems to last night's Chicken Koffu which in fairness was more like Chicken Offal! The chicken legs (chicken feet?!) were completely devoid of meat! Fortunately I survived unscathed.
There was a mixture of expectation and nervousness on the bus to the ground. The anxiety disappeared to some degree as England added another crucial 22 runs before losing their final wicket. Set the demanding total of 301 to win, which quickly became 26-3, things looked hopeless for Sri Lanka. To their credit they battled back gamely and by tea they had evened things up and needed a mere 82 runs to win with another five wickets in hand.
Although the pitch had not deteriorated into the expected Day 4 snake pit, batting was not straightforward so this fascinating match had reached an intriguing crescendo. In the event the immediate post-tea session was a disaster for the home side as Angelo Mathews was disappointingly dismissed for a enterprising 88. Perera quickly followed and England were readying themselves for the kill when the rains came and play was abandoned for the day.
Presuming the weather holds the match will conclude early tomorrow morning in favour of England.
In the evening we went down the hill into Kandy. We drank at the Queens which is an old Colonial hotel right in the city centre and thereafter we ended up eating in the Sky Lounge high above the Main Street. We meet a lad who claimed to be an avid Surrey CCC member but he couldn't cope with my question as to which SEVEN Reading-born cricketers had played for Surrey CCC. He only got one! (PBH May) I continue to promote Reading as the UK cricket capital but still no one believes me!! We also set him the poser of which four England racecourses do NOT contain the letters 'r', 'a', 'c' & 'e'. Now there is a challenge!

Day 12 (Friday, 16 Nov)

Tea is a key product in this country. The locals very rarely take it with milk and never from a tea bag. Apparently tea bags only contain tea dust and is for export! Mention of the subject reminded me that many years ago a neighbour of my Mum claimed she could tell fortunes from reading the tea leaves in the bottom of a cup. Curiosity got the better of me at breakfast and I wondered if the outcome of today's cricket might be revealed. Nothing!
The morning session was both tense and exciting and by the lunch break England were 85 runs in front with six wickets in hand. The match is delicately poised.
By tea that lead had increased to 213 but now only four wickets remained. The visitors had the advantage - just. After tea Root’s hundred was greeted enthusiastically by the Brits and by the time the rain came, which clipped a dozen or so overs off the day, the lead had extended to 278 with the admirable Foakes and last man, Jimmy Anderson at the crease. It's tight but I guess the bookies will favour England to win sometime tomorrow.
There were six lbw's in the England innings so is the sweep shot being over employed? The jury is out. The early termination generated a hive of activity as more than a hundred saturated groundstaff boys pulled on the plastic sheeting to protect the surrounds.
The England supporters made their way back to the coach park rain-soaked, but full of hope and expectation.
No rooftop barbie tonight, it's still chucking it down!!

Day 11 (Thursday, 15 Nov)

What do I know? My Day 10 predictions were shot right out of the water! The Sri Lankans battled bravely and now have an advantage going into Day 3.
It was a gripping day of Test cricket. England will probably be disappointed they did not bowled better but the home side fought like tigers to stay in the game. Additionally we were also treated to a spectacular Run Out from Stokes, (and a very sharp catch), a rare five run penalty awarded to England, and another rare occurrence of a Test match cricketer (Silva) batting in a cap for almost the entirety of his innings. Helmets definitely do not to aid identification of players.
Earlier in the day as is their custom the Barmy Army sang Jerusalem. I reflected how they might have adapted the last line to 'in Ceylon's green and pleasant land'. The vegetation surrounding the ground is quite stunning and I rate this as one of the finest cricket grounds in the world on which to watch cricket. It's right up there with Cape Town and Jo'burg in my book. And what would William Blake have made of the Barmies adopting his lineage as their anthem?
During the luncheon interval I overheard a conversation in which it was said that when Herath retired after the Galle match he became the final Test player to have played a Test in the 1990s.I suspect not many people know that!! My natural shyness and sense of modesty stopped me from sharing a similar fact which I have been storing for a while and that is that in 2017 Hamidullah Qadri of Derbyshire became the first cricketer born this century to play first-class cricket in England. Perhaps even less people know that!
Being a Lancashire CCC member I was glad to hear overnight from a Wirral friend who had been invited to complete an online club survey. His name is Neil but the email started off 'Dear Nancie'! Only Lancs could get it that wrong. No wonder we were relegated last season! My best flag spot today was a St George one endorsed 'Winklepicker CC (Established 2009)'. I can only assume it is near Northampton as that was industrial heartland of British cobblers!

Day 10 (Wednesday, 14 Nov)

Dressed in a wide array of colourful cricket gear there was a long queue of Brits for breakfast when the hotel restaurant opened at 6.30am. Very soon we were all were tucking into a traditional English breakfast supplemented with grilled pineapple. There was not a great take-up of the fish curry, chick-peas and sambar.
Very soon all were aboard the coaches and bound for Pallekele the venue for the second Test match. It is about a 45 minute drive from Kandy but en route we were overtaken by the Sri Lankan team coach which had a police escort. Our driver quickly locked onto the back of the escort and we arrived in no time! The ground is modern, very well appointed and rather more tranquil than the much smaller ground at Galle. A three tiered grandstand covers about a third of the ground and the remainder is grass banking.
England won the toss, batted and put 285 on the board thanks to a last wicket stand of 60 by Sam Curran and Jim Anderson. By the close the home side had already lost a cheap wicket and are now staring down the barrel.
In the evening we visited a neighbouring hotel for an evening with Matt Prior. He was an excellent speaker. He was very forthright about some of the goings-on in the dressing room during his time in the England side and you can be assured Kevin Pietersen is definitely not on his Christmas card list!
Back to the match and again there were a host of flags attached to the perimeter fence and I spotted two footballing ones from my hometown of Reading. Both made a reference the the Royals, their modern nickname, but to me they are still the Biscuitmen. When I lived in the town Huntley & Palmers was the major employer and everyone knew someone who worked in the factory. Sadly it’s no more. The pitch looks to be a tricky one and I confidentially expect England to roll-over the Sri Lankan’s by teatime or thereabouts on Day 2. Unless they can find a get out of jail card from somewhere this match already looks like a nailed-on England win.

Day 9 (Tuesday, 13 Nov)

The tour guide had told us that Sri Lanka is 70% Buddhist (followed by Hindu) so I had not anticipated waking at 5.42am when the Imam started to call his followers to the mosque! Wide awake I checked my emails and was glad to have received one from a friend in Gateacre (pronounced Gat-tiker). It's at the posh end of Liverpool.
Commenting on my Day 2 reference to the rhyming of Stokes, Woakes and Foakes he offered a football version from the 1990s of Matt Le Tissier, David Platt, David Batty and Paul Gascogne. That's to say Matty, Platty, Batty and Fatty! Up the scousers!
This morning four of us from Cheshire cricket hired a couple of tuktuks and were whizzed around the sites of Kandy. We started off at the Asgiriya cricket ground where the Barmy Army were playing a match. It was last used as a Test match venue in 2007. This was followed by a fascinating tour around a tea factory. One of my mates bought a tin at twice the price it costs at Morrison's! Apparently tea cannot be grown below 600 metres so I presume therefore that Yorkshire Tea must be grown somewhere above that sign on the M62 near to Huddersfield were it states you are approaching the highest point on the UK motorway network??
Thereafter we made an hilarious visit to a herbal doctor who massaged us all with a special balm for medical conditions we didn't know we had!

This evening we had a Barbie under the stars on the rooftop terrace of the hotel. A splendid meal washed down with too much beer and a fund of stories.

Day 8 (Monday, 12 Nov)

All change! We declined the Howzat tour coach and opted for the early morning train bound for Kandy via Columbo Junction. What a bone-shaker! When we arrived at our connecting station a sign on the door marked 'Foreigners toilet' directed us to the Stationmaster's office to acquire the key. That task was duly achieved but the subsequent visit was not the best experience of the day; running water and an air-wick would have been appreciated!
On the train the loo was merely a hole in the floor. An official railway sign designated a seat on the train 'Reserved for clergy'. The occupant wearing outsize headphones and a string vest did not appear to me to be of any particular religious persuasion but more of a rock band, sun worshipper! The last quarter of the four hour journey was on an upward gradient as we climbed into the hills towards Kandy our base for the second leg of this splendid trip.
Our well-appointed hotel is located up a hill so steep the tuktuk could barely make it. The rooftop bar where we spent the bulk of the evening affords tremendous views over this ancient city which we intend exploring tomorrow.
The Second Test starts on Wednesday - will John Bairstow regain his place?

Day 7 (Sunday, 11 Nov)

A very poignant day. For more than two-score years I have paid my respects to the fallen at Grange Hill, West Kirby. The hilltop affords the most magnificent views across the Dee estuary towards North Wales and also into the mouth of the Mersey and the urban sprawl of Liverpool beyond. Today it was the Galle fort where the views are very different but equally spectacular. A very large crowd attended a short service of remembrance organised by the UK tour operators. It was a very moving occasion and a fitting tribute to those that perished. Commendations were read, wreaths placed and that very accomplished Barmy Army trumpeter, Billy Cooper, faultlessly played the Last Post.
Lest we forget.

Day 6 (Saturday, 10 Nov)

I confess that I can never recall cucumber juice featuring on the Wellsteed breakfast menu so when it was provided by the hotel this morning it just had to be sampled. Frankly It was not a great success and I was left wondering how one squeezes a cucumber and how many cucumbers were needed to fill the one gallon glass container on the breakfast bar.
And while I am referring to the hotel l might say the wet-room has a novel design feature in that the drain is located at the highest point on the floor so the water goes everywhere other than down the plug!
This afternoon the Howzat Tour group played the hotel staff at beach cricket. At 46-8 fortuitously the rains came and saved the tourists from an embarrassing defeat. David Gane was keen to act as umpire but failed to make the final selection being replaced by a guy who clearly had no knowledge of the laws!
Unperturbed by the deluge we set-off in a tuk-tuk for the railway station to buy tickets for our trip to Kandy on Monday. The tickets cost 45 rupees each (about 25p) for what I'm told is a spectacular three hour journey. Tell that to the long-suffering rail commuters back home !

Day 5 (Friday, 9 Nov)- FIRST TEST DAY 4

Miss Hardy, my old schoolteacher of sixty years ago, was adamant it was grammatically incorrect to start a sentence with 'so'.
These days it seems to be quite acceptable? SO predictably England won the first Test match at a canter being superior in all three disciplines.
Foakes was the visitors' star turn but in a broader sense the match belonged to Rangana Herath who was retiring from the noble game. Batting at No. 11 he was applauded all the way to the wicket only to be given out first ball by umpire Marias Erasmus, but then reprieved by his DRS representation. He lasted not much longer when he was Run Out....in every sense.
That was the final act of the match but for a UK 'mooner' who thought that six thousand spectators might be interested in seeing his rear-end. He ran the full diameter of the ground before disappearing under a pile of fifty policemen.
Earlier in the day I spotted a couple of good slogans displayed on flags hanging from the fort ramparts. One, showing an allegiance to Stoke City football, and no doubt with due deference to Liverpool FC, announced 'You’ll never DRINK alone' and the other was a St George flag hoisted by a gang of postmen from Colchester. The slogan read ;sorry no post today!'
And finally a friend proudly born on Wearside, after reading yesterday's blog which took a (playful) swipe at Keaton Jennings' South African roots, emailed me to point out KJs mother was born in Sunderland! Delighted to be enlightened and oh to be reminded of that famous Roker Park roar and their legendary goalkeeper, Jim Montgomery. Happy days!!

Day 4 - FIRST TEST DAY 3

Picture the scene. I's 9.20am and our tour bus along with a host of other coaches carrying 'CrickBrits' are converging on the ground for a 10am commencement. The main approach road is right on the sea front and is a mish-mash of shanty shops selling just about everything. Tucked amid them is a haul pile of scrap medal seemingly belonging to no one, a tyre dealer selling some very dodgy looking retreads, a man sitting in the gutter repairing shoes and countless traders flogging Sri Lanka cricket shirts and hats. Everything costs buttons.
As we get close to the stadium the car horns get louder as the tuktuks weave between the coaches and perform u-turns in front of oncoming traffic.
The place is a sea of colour.
The atmosphere builds as we enter the arena, it's already very hot and humid, and the Barmies are busy finding a suitable piece of fencing on which to display their club flags. There are literally hundreds representing ever corner of the UK. Where the heck is Rogerstone CC? That flag is hanging from the ramparts of the fort. As it features a red dragon l guess it's in the principality!
And so to the actual cricket. Predictably England's batsmen piled on the runs and declared a massive 462 runs ahead just about 30 minutes before the close. Keaton Jennings, born and schooled in Jo'burg and the son of South African Test player, Ray Jennings batted the anchor role and recorded his second Test century. His second forename is Kent so perhaps he does have some loose English connection!?
Foakes played another gem and looks the part with both the bat and the wicketkeeping mittens. Stokes recorded a half-century but looks to be a pale shadow of his old self.
In the latter stages of the England innings the Barmy Army were in full cry and amused themselves by singing a ditty to the retiring Herath who was fielding in front of them. He appeared to enjoy it as much as the red skinned fuel-filled revellers did.
The local policemen observing proceedings appeared completely non-plussed. Galle has never seen anything like it....... (since the last time the Brits were in town).

Day 3 - FIRST TEST DAY 2

Alastair Cook the late England captain and former choir boy at St Paul’s Cathedral was a very firm favourite of the Barmies but now they have a new hero in Ben Foakes, the Colchester-born debutant wicketkeeper who completed a splendid hundred early this morning.
It was greeted with a protracted standing ovation from another capacity crowd at this iconic venue.
Separating the ground from the open sea is the magnificent UNESCO heritage listed Galle fort.
It is a huge structure, covering a vast acreage and accommodates all the spectators who are ticketless. In 2004 it withstood the mighty power of the tsunami.
On an early morning excursion onto the ramparts a man with a monkey on a chain and a wicker basket under his arm offered to show me his python. Suspicious of his invitation I quickly scarpered in the opposite direction!
Oh yes and going back to the subject of choirboys we still have two definite candidates in the England ranks. Surely the cheeky and fresh faces of Joe Root and Same Curran qualify as potential choristers?
My Kent umpiring friend known to everybody as AB (Ace Blagger) negotiated my pm entry into the Rangana Herath hospitality area. As it was air-conditioned and we were kindly provided with tea it was a welcome relief from the increasingly humid conditions in our tented area. Herath is, of course, the Sri Lankan making his final Test match bow on his local turf after nearly two decades of service and 400 Test wickets. England generously formed a guard of honour as he came onto the pitch to bat and there was generous handshaking. Nice touch.
There are nine Cheshire umpires here in Galle and the 'Upton set' had the unfortunate experience of being evicted from their accommodation before they ever took up residence! Despite firm bookings via Expedia they were double-booked. No worries, this resilient lot soon got sorted out further up the road ( in an equally dodgy establishment!?)
England go into Day 3 of the match with a lead of 177. This is an invincible position and England are bound to bat long tomorrow and polish off the home side on Day 4 presuming the weather holds.
For those who like a bargain a Lion beer is less than £1 and a choc-ice knocks out at 50p. Equally it is perfectly practical to secure a substantial evening meal for well under a tenner. Bliss and only 20 odd days left!!

Day 2 - FIRST TEST DAY 1

My room-rate David Gane, opened the curtains at 6am and confidentially predicted, on seeing it was still raining, that there would be no play today.
In the event his weather forecasting skills proved to be as shaky as some of the subsequent England batting. We played the whole day uninterrupted!
I confess to never having been to Glastonbury but parts of the spectator areas resembled what I imagine it to be like. Ankle deep mud, offending music (why oh why must we have music at Test matches?) and masses of junk food stalls.
The irresponsible way in which Root and Stokes got out also suggested the ready availability of illicit pop festival substances? These poor shot selections caused England to be poorly positioned at 111-5 at lunch.
By the close the situation had been recovered largely thanks to an encouraging debut innings from Foakes and cameos from Curran and Rashid.
For the greater part of the day although it was warm it was grey and overcast but hugely enjoyable for the hordes of Brits that made-up 95% of the sell-out crowd.
By the way it occurs to me if Woakes returns to the side at Kandy we might have a team containing Foakes, Stokes and Woakes. Now there is a question for Andrew Sampson, the TMS statistical wizard, when was the last time England had a team with three rhyming surnames?

Day 1 - ARRIVAL IN SRI LANKA

Call me a soft romantic if you must but Mama MIA! Here we go again was my film of choice on flight EK650 from Dubai to Colombo.
As it was 4.30am I resisted a singalong. Breakfast soon followed - Red fish curry served with moong kiribath. Makes a change from Kellogg's.
Soon after our lunchtime arrival in Bentota the heavens opened and very quickly the neatly manicured gardens appeared to hold more water than the hotel pool. Still raining heavily at midnight.