Monsoon threatens third Test washout
Saturday 15 December 2007
The make-up of Michael Vaughan's bowling attack and the chances of it taking the 20 wickets it requires to level the Test series here will be the least of the worries facing the England team and its supporters in Sri Lanka during the build-up to Tuesday's final Test.
Monsoon rain accompanied the England team as they travelled from Colombo to Galle yesterday, turning the venue for the third Test into a quagmire. At the ground water pumps were attempting to remove huge pools of water from the outfield and areas set aside for spectators, and with further heavy rain forecast for the next few days, there must be genuine doubts that the arena and its surroundings will be fit to host an international match.
There are games of sport that are relatively inconsequential when compared to the occasion they represent and the official reopening of the Galle International Cricket Stadium is one of them. When a tsunami hit the region on Boxing Day 2004, killing more than 40,000 people, the devastated cricket ground was one of the strongest images to emerge from here, and the return of international cricket to the venue is an extremely poignant moment for every Sri Lankan.
But the special occasion, an event that Mahela Jayawardene, the Sri Lankan captain, wanted to be a celebration rather than a memorial, looks set to be spoilt by bad weather and the inability of builders to finish the construction of the ground. There is very little that a groundsman without a drainage system like that installed at Lord's can do about water lying on the outfield, but that is the least of the concerns facing those responsible for handing over a venue fit to host an international event.
The England team are aware of the situation but they have no desire to get the Test called off, or for it to be moved to another venue. The mood on the team bus as it made its way through areas affected by the tsunami was, apparently, sombre. The sight of derelict houses brought home to them what took place here three years ago. The players are not concerned about the state of the pitch or the outdoor practice facilities, which are non-existent at the ground, they are more worried about the amenities available to spectators.
Although there are murmurings that the virgin pitch being used for the Test may not be up to scratch, the playing surface is the best prepared part of the ground, and if the rain that is expected stays away there is a pretty good chance of play.
The major problem is outside the boundary, in areas where spectators are meant to sit. Most of the ground resembles a building site and it is hard to believe it will be ready by 10am on Tuesday.
Yesterday labourers were frantically tossing loose stones over prospective walkways that were basically mud. The banks that surround the ground were supposed to be grassed by now, but they too are just mud. If the game is to go aheadwithout incident, it will require a great deal of goodwill from everyone, whether they be players, umpires, spectators, journalists, cameramen or stewards.
"The rain was unexpected but we should be OK for the start," said an optimistic yet worried-looking Jayananda Warnaweera, the former Sri Lankan bowler and current venue manager. "We are hoping there will be little rain over the next couple of days and if there is we should be OK."
Approximately 1,500 to 2,000 England supporters are expected to descend on the venue, weather permitting, and there was concern etched on the face of the tour representatives yesterday as they surveyed the stadium. "We were expecting more and of a better quality," said Peter Browne, the Cricket Product Manager for the tour operator Kuoni Sport Abroad.
The mood of England supporters would improve if Vaughan's side were to level the series in Galle and their chances would increase if Matthew Hoggard were to return to full fitness. Hoggard injured his back during the first Test and missed this week's game in Colombo. But England are hopeful that he may be fit for Tuesday.
Sri Lanka have recalled the middle-order batsman Tillakaratne Dilshan for the third Test in place of Jehan Mubarak, who struggled in the first two matches. Two left-arm seamers, Chanaka Weladegera and Sujeewa de Silva, will compete to replace Dilhara Fernando who has been ruled out with an ankle injury.
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