Brave events unfold

David Byas, the former Yorkshire captain, is appointed coach, which makes up for the disgraceful way he is sacked two years ago.


NOVEMBER 30: The trouble with travel is that one sometimes finds oneself in a social situation in which one has no control. I remember an invitation to tea in Pakistan in which the whole of the female side of our friend's family came to watch us eat — or show willing to eat — enough food for everyone in the local town. The white middle class Englishman in me wanted to shout "Stop treating these ladies as if they did not exist" but that would clearly have been most rude in their society. Something similar happened when we were invited to a famous star's house. His wife cooked the food and was then sent to the kitchen. "Will your wife join us?" I asked. "No," was the only answer I received. Malcolm Ashton, the former England scorer now in charge of an impressive computer system and called the team analyst, knows exactly what I am talking about. He is invited to meet the local scorers and the scorers in Colombo and, although it is never spelt out, he thinks he may have to give a talk. He is so unsure that he makes no preparations. He is taken to the meeting, sits at the top table and listens for some time while the chairman introduces him several times and then sits down. Malcolm gives his talk. At the end there is no applause, no indication that anyone is pleased or displeased, or even that anyone has been listening. It is disconcerting as Sri Lanka is one of the politest nations. This week he is still totally puzzled. Did he do the right thing? Is he grossly rude? He hopes not. In any case he is a hero among his fellow scorers in Colombo for another reason. On the last visit he fills in a form stating how good the facilities were. Instead he writes a condemnation of the position of the scorers' box — at bail level 30 yards behind the boundary — and generally criticises everything they had to endure. Since that moment vast changes have been made. Let's hope his speech has similar benefits.

December 1: Rivalry within the Press corps, a motley crew, is often based on the belief that those who work for a broadsheet are more intellectually gifted than those who work on tabloids, a generic term which is often used to describe a lower form of journalism. Don't expect an argument from me; I still work for both types and make no distinction in my style of writing or in my approach to the work. A fact is a fact is a fact. Am I right? Anyway a minor revolution has seen many of those distinctions blown away as the bigger, wider papers experiment with a tabloid size. They call it "compact" but we all know they are just embarrassed to admit that tabloid is far more convenient. Suddenly those university-educated, public school-raised types who adorn the old broadsheets — The Times, The Guardian, The Independent and the Daily Telegraph — go quiet. Not before time.

December 2: After a long day of travel several England cricketers decide they will go for a swim near their Galle hotel The Lighthouse. Two or three find it hard going due to the currents and Gareth Batty, the new off-spinner, has to be rescued by the local lifeguards. "I think the worse is about to happen as I am bashed against the rocks," he admits. On the other hand Michael Vaughan, the England captain, and his Yorkshire team-mate Matthew Hoggard swim easily to the shore. The England management decide against issuing a general ban on swimming in the sea — there is a good pool at the hotel — but advise a little caution for those less able to deal with a rough sea. At the same time Nasser Hussain goes down with a malaise that seems to affect every member of the team who are also finding difficulty in dealing with the anti-malaria medicine that has become compulsory since Galle and Kandy are put back on the list that notes where infection lurks.

December 3: Back home in England brave events unfold. David Byas, the former Yorkshire captain, is appointed coach, which makes up for the disgraceful way he is sacked two years ago and raises questions about the future of Darren Gough, who is not a close friend of Byas. In fact Byas has a poor opinion of Gough's willingness to play for Yorkshire and it may mean that the former England fast bowler will move to another county. After a poor and badly disrupted season Keith Meddleycott, the Surrey coach resigns, and at Northampton the chief executive Steve Coverdale moves out in the midst of unconfirmed rumours about secret cameras in the dressing room. Mark Alleyne is the new coach at Gloucestershire and Brian Bolus chosen as the new president of Nottinghamshire but only after a split vote for a decision, which is usually a formality.

December 4: We are joined at dinner by an apparition. One Phil Tufnell, left-arm slow bowler, winner of a major television prize, well on his way to millionaire status providing always that his several ex-partners do not separate him from the money before it reaches his bank. "'ello, mate," he says in his greeting for every man, woman and child he meets. "Dunno what 'appened. Left the ground, quick rush to the hotel, lie down on the bed, must have fallen asleep." He eats a large meal very quickly. "Alright, mate," he says, "you'll 'ave to excuse me. Time to get back to bed." And off he goes. I hear he is a very entertaining radio pundit especially as no one can see the combat trousers, the tee shirt and the uncombed locks. The big event of the evening is a birthday party for John Murray, a BBC commentator who, it will be a surprise to his listeners to hear, is close to the size of Curtly Ambrose but considerably thinner and, at 37, the same age as Tufnell. A small group of musicians is found to sing "Happy Birthday", a chocolate cake is produced from the kitchen and a bottle of fizzy stuff so ordinary it is only fit to be taken with chocolate cake all make the evening go with a swing. "I find it all a bit much," says Murray. By now we are so immersed in the ways of the first Test that none of us can name what day of the week it is at the first time of asking. It is a pressurised business this reporting of the events of a cricket tour and too much for one television worker who returns home citing depression as the cause. Perhaps it is the likelihood of an England defeat that brings on his state of mind and causes his bosses to fly in a replacement from Australia having failed to recruit another working in Kenya.

December 5: Finally, a tale of true Sri Lankan hospitality. To obtain lunch at the Galle International Stadium we media types need a plastic ticket and a small voucher and as I join the queue to pick between three different sorts of rice, five different curries and a dessert of ice cream and fruit salad Phil Tufnell runs up and confesses he mislays his vital passes. "Will they give me lunch?" he demands. "These are nice people, don't worry," I say, totally unsure of the outcome between a grinning Tufnell and a security man. We need not worry. The security man smiles a welcome, the queue parts and Tufnell is escorted to the front, ahead of workers with a greater need and a more pressing hunger to judge from the amount of food they pile on their plates. "You too, sir," says one young man. "We are Sri Lankans, we need to offer you our hospitality." Thus I also find myself at the front of the queue, with an extra scoop of ice cream and a handshake. What a lovely country; what nice people.

December 6: It is six hours by coach from Hikkaduwa to Kandy, the venue for the next Test; but not for the cricketers who find a helicopter to whisk them on their way in less than 45 minutes. Phil `The Cat' Tufnell sleeps most of the way on our bus journey and as we bump and rattle over at least a dozen railway crossings I yearn for the easy train ride enjoyed by half a dozen of those close to talkSPORT on the last tour. Chris Broad, once a batsman with a bad disciplinary record and now a match referee — the classic case of poacher turned gamekeeper — goes to the railway station to book the seats and buy the tickets. We offer to pay. "No, please, it is my pleasure," he says. "The total for six of us is less than I pay to catch the bus to work every morning."