GEOFF WELLSTEED'S THREE WEEKS IN SRI LANKA 2019

Geoff is Cheshire Umpire and former County League Secretary


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.