New Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews (R) and Suranga Lakmal stretch during a practice session at the Galle International Cricket Stadium yesterday, two days ahead of the first Test against Bangladesh. Photo: AFP
“You may spend most of the time catching flies,” predicted the quick-witted hotel reception girl when she came to know that we were here to cover the first Test match between the visiting Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, starting tomorrow. She was only half-joking as it was raining in the morning and an uninterrupted Test is unlikely according to the weather forecast and the record of Galle, situated on the South-western tip of Sri Lanka.
The conditions here are favourable for an enjoyable holiday on the coast, but certainly not as favourable if you are a cricket fan. Of the last five Tests played at the venue dating back to November 2010, four have seen interruptions in play. But you never know what the weather gods have in store -- a few Bangladesh cricketers, including dashing left-hander Tamim Iqbal, took the opportunity yesterday for some practice at one of the most scenic venues in the world, where they are going to play their first international match on tour. For any first-timer, the eye-catching venue of the Galle International Stadium is an amazing sight, with the Indian Ocean visible on two sides of the ground and the famous clock tower of the 16th-century Dutch fort towering above.
There are only a few among the current Bangladesh tour party who have been here before -- batsman Mohammad Ashraful who was part of the Under-19 team in the 2000 World Cup and current selector Habibul Bashar who came here in 1993.
Bashar recalled his visit with the national team here in 1993 as part of their preparation for the 1994 ICC Trophy. “Previously we played most of the matches in
Colombo but this time, getting a chance to play Test in Galle should be a fantastic experience,” added Bashar.
The former Bangladesh captain noticed a lot of changes in the stadium as it was rebuilt after the Tsunami which devastated the venue on 26 December 2004. “But the beauty of the stadium remains the same,” said an excited Bashar.
The national selector however was a little surprised to see the amount of grass on the pitch, which has always favoured the spinners. Sri Lankan spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan had great success at this venue where he brought an end to his great career by taking 800th wicket in 2010 while another spin genius, Shane Warne, took his 500th wicket here. The last Test played here between Sri Lanka and New Zealand in November last year was also dominated by a spinner as left-armer Rangana Hearth took 11 wickets to script a 10-wicket victory for the home side.
The venue has also been a stronghold for Sri Lanka as of the 21 Tests played here, the hosts won 12 and lost four. Spin legend Muralitharan has great success here, taking 87 wickets in the 11 games he played here.
“Traditionally Galle always favours the spinners but I was surprised to see grass on the pitch. It may be removed later,” said Bashar, adding that they have some headaches with their pace attack.
The chief curator at the stadium, Jayananda Warnaweera, however found no reason to stick to their old policy of preparing spin-friendly surfaces when Muralitharan is not around.
“You may see something different this time because Murali is no more with the team,” said Warnaweera, who had a great contribution to make the ground ready once again for international cricket in 2008.
So, it's not yet certain what kind of conditions await the Tigers but one thing is for certain, they will not find a more picturesque venue to turn the tide of their poor results in the country.