SL 0-2 Eng. World Exclusive (seemingly)


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Up to a dozen England cricket fans, all of whom had remained in Sri Lanka since the previous test series was abandoned in March 2020, were forcibly removed from public areas on the Galle Fort by SL police, on the first morning of the first test match, and thereafter identified and actively prevented from accessing such view-points for the remainder of the series.

Unbeknown to myself, for the most part of the somewhat disjointed and rain effected first test, there were several other England cricket supporters in attendance at Galle. And, while all had in common having been ejected from our various vantage points overlooking the cricket stadium from the fort ramparts on that first morning, whilst we'd settled for watching the game through the fence at the City End, most others had converged to the safety of the bar inside the Fort to follow the progress of the match on live TV. So, even our efforts to locate any other Barmies possibly in attendance by 'piling in' to the nearby Sydney Hotel by the bus stand, in the time-honoured fashion immediately after the close of play, proved futile as we ended up quaffing our post Day 1 refreshments by ourselves.

Despite some of the sublime cricket played in that match, not least by the man himself Joe Root, that first test was played almost wholly under menacing dark clouds and between showers of drizzle befitting of Old Trafford in September and the constant threat of bad light. Not much fun standing on the muddy construction site outside the perimeter fence. But, come the start of the second test, it wasn't just the memories of England’s Root-inspired first test victory that kept the smiles on our faces but the sight of bright sunshine on the first morning. Despite the evaporation of the mud at our deep long on position, it became more frustrating trying to concentrate on the game against a background of constant traffic and the shrill squeal of bus claxons. Accordingly, we followed the advice of the army officer on sentry patrol to call on the HQ Inspector at the police station to request permission to join 'our man in Galle', Rob, atop the fort ramparts. So it was, then, that at lunch on Day 1 I donned my sole antiquated Barmy Army T-shirt and went to visit the HQI at the Galle cop-shop. The 'Big Sir' initially summoned various excuses to explain why ‘nobody’ was allowed onto the fort during the match but eventually succumbed to taking my details, plus a selfie with me and chief negotiator, Renuka, to put on Whatsapp.

Come the dawn of Day 2, and armed with the bravado of being on first name terms with the HQI, it was time to do the duty of any true Barmy worth his salt to get in amongst ‘em on the fort ramparts and raise the roof – even if it’s just two or three of us. But it wasn’t. Benefitting from fresh intel on the spectator front, it was all down to Anura’s Bar at the end of play to meet the other unsung heroes of the England travelling cricket contingent, all still stranded in Sri Lanka since the aborted series due to Covid last year. it was like a burden was lifted, and the immediate onset of that very familiar feeling of being in and a part of the England men from cricket. One big happy family, so to speak. And, whilst not exactly an army, we were at least a veritable platoon: everyone together, all in it as one, and all full of beer after the end of the day’s play. Normal service had surely been resumed. Only a matter of time, then, that we’d inevitably gravitate together on the fort ramparts to witness a rampant England successfully defend the outcome of this test-match and secure yet another, famous series win in Asia under King Joe’s reign. But, the pedantic police officers stationed at the fort ramparts were having none of it, and it wasn’t to be.

Each attempt by any of the lads to ascend from their Anura Bar oasis towards the fort ramparts was met with the same forcible obstruction from the same obdurate police officers, even going as far as to search down discreet individuals ensconced alone on the more distant ramparts. Even with my personal endorsement from the police HQI, I was continually harassed on arrival and prevented from accessing the ramparts, such that I’d miss each morning’s start of play, having to call the ‘Big Sir’ and renegotiating my status until his gestapo relented. But I was the lucky one – though I forwent each opportunity to go out at lunch or tea.

With the match starting on a Friday, half of the game’s play took place over the weekend, which attracted other keen cricket supporters to make their way towards Galle’s free spectating points in the public areas overlooking the cricket stadium on the Galle Fort. Some had travelled from as far as Colombo to do so including, for the final hour of Day 3, Sri Lanka’s very own number one super-fan, Percy, universally acknowledged for his tireless, flag-waving support of the Sri Lankan cricket team for as long as I can remember. But, the passage of time is evidently catching up with Percy, such that this particular famous octogenarian was to rely on the support of his companions and a couple of England Barmies to lift him to a more appropriate perch on the higher rampart – to see and be seen, of course. What a star you still are, sir!

Meanwhile, for the cricket watching peasantry, we had a game to watch and the prospect of a classic test-match developing. Day 3 was a long, attritional day, which, having lost the master Joe Root himself, run out via a bit of opportunistic in-fielding off the final ball of the day’s play, left us with a forty run deficit with only the tenth wicket pair together at the crease in the morning. That first innings deficit was to end up as 37, which could have turned out to be of crucial importance should England have to bat last on the fifth and final day. I still don’t know who was our tenth wicket out as the two of us were again apprehended at the entrance to the fort ramparts the next morning, the access to which this time was physically blocked by a steel sheet barricade, plus a workmen’s sign stating, “APOLOGIES FOR THE INCONVENIENCE”. You don’t say!

While I was missing the final throes of England’s first innings, the other lads had been there already, hopeful of everyone finally getting together for the crucial fourth day’s play, but had retreated to the welcome of Anura’s Bar, ultimately to witness the conclusion of the match on the telly and unharassed by our uniformed guardians. And, what a fourth day that was. I’d questioned after the first test whether the Sri Lankan batting ensemble had finally overcome their fragilities after demonstrating some real application by batting 137 overs in their second innings then. In the second test, after winning the toss and batting, Sri Lanka occupied the crease for 140 overs while accruing their 381 and, even after England’s own sterling effort in response, batting long and taking time out of the game, still managed to take a 37 run advantage into the second innings phase of the match. But, Sri Lanka were all out for 126, in 36 overs, with wickets feebly given away in their second innings, leaving England needing just 164 runs to win. Oh dear! Notwithstanding the validity of the mettle shown in their first test second innings and their first innings in this match, it seems the Sri Lankan batting really only has one innings of application in them per game. Mickey Arthur must be tearing his hair out.

Everything Joe Root touches turns to gold, it seems, appropriately finishing off the Sri Lankan second innings by bringing himself on to bowl in the face of a bit of resistance in the shape of Embuldenya’s late order stroke play, and taking two wickets in his second over – leaving him on a hattrick the next time he bowls! What that most recent SL batting collapse meant was the match had been set up for a tantalising climax - the possibility of the draw being taken out of the equation. Someone was going to win, most probably on that same fourth afternoon. Opening the bowling with spin at both ends and fielders crowding the bat, it wasn’t long before Crawley succumbed and England were an opener down, again, for not very many. But, Bairstow’s typical positivity released some of the pressure and when he departed, for a swashbuckling 29, runs were on the board and England were practically halfway towards their goal with plenty of hitters still to come. In the end, Jos Buttler came out to join Dom Sibley, whose growth in confidence was palpable, and the final conclusion of an England six wicket win was made to look easy.

By attending the match live and being here in situ, one is not necessarily privy to what’s being said about the event elsewhere nor how it’s being reported on by the mainstream media back home. Indeed, even the televised live coverage and the evening highlights here have been broadcast by Sony TEN television, not by the likes of Sky, as in the UK, so it’s been intriguing to have the version of events according to the international media narrative trickle down to us here via the internet or social media. So, it should come as no real surprise to learn that the same fake news outlets resorted to a headline grabbing concoction of our poor England cricket team still managing to be humbly thankful for the minimalist support received during this Covid lockdown era, as their usual legions of fans were restricted from travelling. Meanwhile, there were plenty of us here all the time and a more honest but less palatable headline might’ve been more like; “Shock, Horror, as Loyal Cricket Fans Barred by SL Authorities After Waiting 10 Months to Watch England”.

The fact that no-one was allowed into the stadium, at an event being played behind closed doors, is a given. It applies to everyone. But selectively prohibiting fans from accessing public areas on the fort, or even looking at the otherwise empty stadium from the road, what’s that all about?

But why let the truth get in the way of a good story..?
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