Better late than never as patched-up Galle passes first test

All that mattered was that they played. At noon, two hours later than scheduled but still remarkable in the circumstances, they took the field. There was a carnival atmosphere. People were excited, genuinely happy. There was nothing forced about it.

What had been a cross between a quagmire and a building site 48 hours earlier had been transformed into a festive scene. Flags were flying, bunting was evident, comfy seats had been placed under bright canopies. The old fort looked down on the resplendent scene. Cosmetic perhaps but there was nothing cosmetic about the smiling faces. Life was going on.

England won the toss and bowled. Dampness in the pitch tilted the balance. They felt the mood. Maybe the mood got to them without their realising it. The tourists were a little flaccid in the first session despite taking two wickets thanks to generous interpretations of the lbw law.

This was Galle Stadium yesterday, the first Test match here since the devastating tsunami of 2004 which cost so many lives and changed thousands of others forever. "You could sense the occasion," said Stephen Harmison, who finished the day with three wickets. "What happened three years ago was a horrendous time for these people. What happened in the last 48 hours probably isn't the best preparation for Test cricket but it had to be played, no matter what."

The cricket was going Sri Lanka's way until late afternoon. Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, were at it again, taking wily advantage of England's seamers.

The bowlers had a chat at lunchtime, Harmison and his fellows, Ryan Sidebottom and Matthew Hoggard, who was returning in place of Stuart Broad. "We had bowled full but floated it and we needed to hit the deck a bit more, or if we were going to bowl full we needed to do it with some purpose. I think sometimes when you see the amount of rain we have had here, the time it has been under cover and how damp the wicket was, bowlers with a brand new ball start clapping their hands and thinking wickets. But sometimes that can go the opposite way."

Harmison's day, England's day, their supporters' day, was made by the dismissal of Sangakkara. It is a delight to watch Sangakkara bat, but for England to have any chance of levelling this series he had to go. Shortly after tea, Harmison bounced him and Sangakkara hooked it down Monty Panesar's throat at deep square leg to conclude what seemed a skilfully executed plan.

"I was stiff," said Harmison, "and when you're a bit stiff probably the best thing to do to get unstiff is bowl a short ball. That's all it was, no plan, just bowl a short ball and he hit it straight down square leg's throat."

There's one for the coaching manuals.

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