Sell-out crowds, home team’s early dominance, woeful slip catching, injury issues, visitors fighting back, runs on the board – first day of the Galle Test on Tuesday had almost everything you need in Test match cricket.
Reporting from Galle
You don’t often find massive crowds, on day one of a Test match in the subcontinent unless England have traveled. They are probably the only nation with fans, who have a high level of interest in Test cricket.
Thousands of English fans had made their way to the grounds in almost 50 buses. They had also packed out the picturesque Dutch Fort quite early in the morning, perhaps expecting a traffic commotion or intensive security procedures, which may have delayed their arrival. They would have found the journey straight forward on Tuesday, however.
The grass banks were filled with visiting fans while the local support was very poor, except for some supporters wearing custom-made t-shirts. They had come to send off the most loved left-arm spinner of all-time, Rangana Herath in his final international match.
For a young cricket writer covering his first England Test match at home, the atmosphere outside the field of play, and the thrills and spills in the first day at Galle match were an absolute treat.
But the real game changer of the day was the brilliance of debutant, wicket-keeper Ben Foakes who wouldn’t have even hoped to play this game, when he got back home from a lads trip to Lisbon, about a month ago.
He was touted as the ‘Best Wicket-Keeper’ in the world about a year ago by former England wicket-keeper Alec Stewart but today he showed another dimension to his cricket, batting at number seven.
His rearguard, unbeaten 87 off 184 balls lifted the visitors from a tricky position of 103 for 5 to a commendable 321 for 8 at close of play. One of Surrey’s two debutants in Galle, Foakes kept the innings together with proper straight-batted cricketing shots. He was disciplined in defense and chose his strokes cautiously and decisively.
“My game plan is more knock and nurdle. That first session, the amount it stuck and turned, potentially if we hadn’t have been aggressive, it could have been 30-4, 30-5. The guys went about it really well. The way Keaton played, especially, up top, taking the game to them, throwing them off their lengths, worked quite well.” Foakes said.
England’s initial plan of dominating the Lankan spinners backfired in the first session. They tried out one too many sweeps which resulted the dismissal of Ben Stokes. But after the luncheon break, England found their mojo, in countering the Lankan spin attack.
Jos Buttler and Sam Curran were especially careful not to be frivolous in their approach in the final two sessions. Foakes managed to string together three fifty plus with Curran, Buttler and Adil Rashid.
Foakes, by simply treating every ball on its merits, ensured that England did not, after all, squander what was a very good toss to win.
He is after all not a stranger to Sri Lankan conditions. He has previously played here during a couple of England Lions tours, as well as domestic stints in the past five years.
“Obviously coming out here a few times, you get good experience. On the Lions Tour, it was really good. Also, I played for Colts Cricket Club for a while, where Dilruwan Perera and Akila Dananjaya play. I got to learn a little bit about them which was fantastic, which definitely helped me. Also, the thing you can’t really prepare for is the heat, unless you’ve done it. I think playing in this sort of heat a few times really helped.” Foakes said.
Sri Lanka had the opportunity to keep their foot on England’s throat when they were 103 for 5, but they spread the field, dropped a couple of chances and gave away too many singles to the lower middle order batsmen.
Akila Dananjaya, the third spinner for the hosts, tried too many variations and served up plenty of ‘hit me’ balls as the Englishmen negated the spin and bounce which the Lankans had got initially. As the day progressed, the haplessness creeped into the hosts’ performance.
Early on, Sri Lanka wasted both their reviews in ridiculous fashion, even before Herath came onto the attack. Fireworks later marked his arrival at the bowling crease.
Niroshan Dickwella, the wicket-keeper was the culprit both times as he persuaded the captain Dinesh Chandimal to take up the reviews. Mind you, Sri Lanka has a poor history when it comes to DRS.
“There was not much help for the spinners as we would have hoped for in Galle because the pitch was covered due to rain.“ Dilruwan Perera, who was the most impressive bowler for the hosts taking 4 for 70 told after first day’s play in Galle.
Sri Lanka captain Dinesh Chandimal went off the field with a groin strain, a couple of times, and the team management will take a decision on his further involvement after going through the scans.
All in all, England has definitely made a statement with the bat, racking up their highest score on a single day in Sri Lanka. With the pitch expected to hold true to itself, at least for a day or two, this game could well be a cracker of an encounter.