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Monday, May 16, 2011

Tillakaratne Dilshan thrills amid the chills



Choice of game

It was an easy decision to go to this one. Never before did I have such a short journey to make to a cricket match: a 20-minute bus journey to see a world-class international team for a mere £10. It makes the £70 that Lord's are charging for next month's Test look positively astronomical in comparison. After Strauss helped himself to a century on day one, I predicted a dominant Sri Lanka would rack up the runs.


Team supported
With no great loyalty to either side, I was looking for a good day's play. Early on, Dilshan had a half-hearted appeal against him and at that point I was certainly hoping he would stay in so I could see more of him in action. However, by the time tea ticked around I was desperate to see Middlesex take a wicket that didn't involve the word "retired".

Key performer
How could it be anyone other than Dilshan? He was still probably jet-lagged, and a swirling, biting wind across the pitch could have made life difficult for Sri Lanka's new captain, but he thrived on a flat track against a listless, impotent Middlesex attack to kickstart his campaign on English soil with a century. His acceleration in the morning to take himself to 69 by lunch, while Paranavithana was down the other end on half that score, was the most impressive aspect of the performance.

One thing you'd have changed about the day
The weather. It was a day of thick woolly jumpers all round. A cold wind, with heavy cloud and spitting rain, was only partially interrupted by the briefest rays of sunshine. Not much problem if you are playing, but very chilly for stationary spectators. Jumpers in the merchandise tent sold out before lunch.

The interplay you enjoyed
Unfortunately this game was not much of a contest. Middlesex were just unable to apply any consistent pressure. This was to be expected as they played many of their 2nd XI bowlers, but it meant the most gentle and sedate of introductions to English conditions that the tourists could have hoped for, and little for the crowd to get stuck into.

Wow moment
A period in the morning session where Dilshan clearly thought he was still batting for Royal Challengers Bangalore, taking 14 runs from Tom Smith's first over of the day.

Shot of the day
From that expensive over, the big shot of the day was a smashed six straight by Dilshan, over the bowler's head, over the sightscreen, out of the ground, and into a nearby residential front garden. It took a few minutes to fetch that one back.

Player watch
I sat by the players' balcony, and there was a steady buzz throughout the day as an army of Sri Lankan fans had taken advantage of the small, intimate ground, plus the relaxed nature of their heroes, to get as many autographs and photos as possible. The Middlesex players did not have much to cheer; the most animated that young bowler Gurjit Sandhu, fielding near me, got was when motioning to the balcony for liquid refreshment. He must have been tired from having to fetch the ball from the boundary so often.

Crowd meter
The large turnout of Sri Lankan fans helped boost not only numbers, but to create a bit of a buzz around the ground. I am sad to report that yet again the anti-fun police sprung immediately into action when a Sri Lankan fan dared to wave his small flag around in support. I simply do not understand why flags are banned from matches at some grounds in this country. This was a warm-up match, played in front of just a few hundred people, it wasn't televised... was he really doing any "harm" with his flag? It was a highlight, though, when after remonstrations with stewards, the flag owner offered the witty riposte: "So, will you also be confiscating that Sri Lankan flag flying above the pavilion too, then?"

Entertainment
Good selection of food on offer from the Indian stall, including those favourite staples - bhajjis and samosas. Braver folk than I sank cold beers and ice-cream on what was an unseasonally cold day in Uxbridge. I think cups of tea were the day's number one seller.

County v Twenty20
Following the World Cup and a recent diet of two matches daily of sugary IPL, this certainly looked like a return to the more patient long form of the game. Overcast conditions, the red Duke ball, and a 90% male crowd with scoring books in hand certainly gave this illusion off the pitch. On it, however, clearly no one had told the Sri Lankans, who cantered along at over five runs an over. Their innings would not have looked out of place in a 50-over game.

Overall
Seven on 10. A great, inexpensive day out for a cricket fan of any denomination, seeing two world-class players make fine centuries, even though there was nothing by way of competition or contest between the two sides. You were out of luck if you were hoping to see any wickets.

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