Mateship gangs up on enemy called dehydration

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The Independent Online

Well, here we go again. Another month, another tour, another Test, another bed. If that sounds as if I am a trifle weary about being back in the old routine, it is not intended. Now, not being on another tour, that's when you suffer.

Well, here we go again. Another month, another tour, another Test, another bed. If that sounds as if I am a trifle weary about being back in the old routine, it is not intended. Now, not being on another tour, that's when you suffer.

But the six weeks since the great triumph in Pakistan have flown by much more quickly than our time there. England now have it all to do once more.

For most of this happy band, including me, it is a first visit to Sri Lanka. England have only played two Tests here before. This is our first tour.

First impressions are distinctly favourable. Ask me what I think of the pitches for fast bowlers just after the First Test and I shall probably know more. It is already being said, of course, as it was in Pakistan, that the pitches will be geared for spin, for therein lies Sri Lanka's strength.

But my initial thoughts, without having done much purposeful bowling in our first four days over here, is that the ball goes through the air a bit quicker than it did in Pakistan. Still, as in every new place where you bowl for the first time, there will be some adapting of length to do.

It may also mean, as it did a few weeks ago up the road from here, a different role for me to play. New-ball wickets will be important - they always are - but there will also be something of a holding role to play for the seamers.

Sri Lanka is a welcoming place. Being on the coast here in Colombo, there is the whiff of the Caribbean about it, and when we leave Colombo for the provinces, that feeling may well grow.

I think the time here will pass quickly. I know it has been reported back home that we are being looked after by an armed guard and heavy security is in place because of the potential threat from the Tamil Tiger freedom fighters on the island. But we have hardly noticed them so far. There is a definite feeling of greater freedom here, and when the matches start the hours and days will fly by.

Much has been made of the weather we can expect: hot sun and humidity. We have not actually experienced much of that yet, because it has been quite mild. There has been rain, one tremendous overnight thunderstorm, and apparently we can expect a few more of them.

From England's point of view, this is not desperately good news. Overnight rain tends to give way to sizzling daytime sun, and this creates a steamy, oppressive humidity. The players were urged to do some acclimatisation training before we came here. Jogging in the gym in tracksuit and muffler helped to work up a sweat. But the only real way to become accustomed to the conditions is to be out here experiencing them.

Dehydration, as always in this sort of climate, is the greatest enemy of the fast bowler. It is like a mantra, but the water you take on board as you go to bed (about two litres) and before the morning's exercise is absolutely crucial. It all takes a lot more out of you than at home.

The team have quickly rebonded after our winter break. There is, as you have probably gathered, a true rapport between this group. Mateship, the Australians call it. Winning helps, as ever, but we do get on. There is plenty of the banter which is so important to professional sportsmen.

My Somerset team-mate Marcus Trescothick, Banger to us, made an early mark on proceedings. We were having our heartbeats monitored and on top of the machine, our estimable young opener noticed the legend TIM. "Is it possible to have any name on the machine?" he inquired of our fitness coach, Nigel Stockill. "It stands for 'Time' actually," said Stockill.

The opening match of the tour, a two-day affair, begins tomorrow, with a four-day match on Thursday. The standard of the opposition may not be so significant as getting used to playing cricket for long, sweat-filled sessions.

This will be, in every sense, a hard couple of months. Sri Lanka may have had a torrid time of it in South Africa but they are a very different proposition on their own turf. They will be no pushovers, and we know it, but England are no pushovers either, not any more, and they will know that.

This week has been taken up by getting over the jet-lag. The time difference is six hours, and it was in the small hours when we arrived here. No matter where you go as a cricketer it still takes a few days to settle down into a routine of sleep.

And the business about the bed is true everywhere. There is no bed in any hotel anywhere in the world like the bed at home. It's not the length. It's the mattresses. They're always softer, your back always seems to twinge in the morning. That's touring. Eight weeks, three Tests and three one-dayers to go. It will fly by.

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