A part of the team – it was an optional session – made the long drive from the distant Heritance hotel in Ahangulla, some 35 kilometres from Galle, only for a brief indoor stint because damp practice pitches and a wet outfield prevented them from going through even fielding drills.
Only Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni spent batting time indoors, against local spinners supplied by the host association and facing throw-downs from coach Gary Kirsten and conditioning expert Paddy Upton.
In any case, it is debatable if, had an outdoor session been possible, they would have faced two of the three pace bowlers in the 16-man party – Ishant Sharma and Abhimanyu Mithun both had long bowls in the three-day practice game in Colombo, and the batsmen would have had to make do with Munaf Patel and the two young quicks travelling with the team for experience, Umesh Yadav and Jaidev Unadkat.
By the time the Lankans arrived in full force in the afternoon, the sun had beaten down harshly enough for the home team to have a complete session. The Lankans looked in great heart with Muttiah Muralitharan his usual effervescent self, as yet seemingly untouched by the emotions of being exactly a week away from retirement from Test cricket.
Contrary to the last time the two teams did battle here, in 2008, India and Sri Lanka occupy the same hotel this time. However, the long journey from the Heritance hasn’t gone down too well with many members of the Indian team. Last time around, the Indians were put up at the Fortress, no more than 10 kilometres from the ground, and the Lankans were at the Lighthouse, even closer to the venue. It is learnt that a last-minute revision of plans, and an altered itinerary to accommodate the practice game, left Sri Lanka Cricket with no option but to settle for the distant hotel. Already under fire from various quarters within Sri Lanka for not insisting on the use of the Umpire Decision Review System, SLC put on a brave face when this issue was brought up.
“I haven’t received any official complaint from the Indians,” said Nishantha Ranatunga, the secretary of the SLC. “In any case, it is SLC’s right to decide on hotels.”
With India unlikely to lodge an official complaint, this issue will not gather steam. India’s displeasure at having to travel 50 minutes one way each day for seven days in understandable, but then again, it’s the same for both teams, isn’t it?