I’d been looking slightly anxiously at the weather forecast for Chester-le-Street for most of the last couple of weeks. The consensus on the BBC Weather app eventually went for the white cloud, though I’d played cricket in allegedly white cloud weather the weekend before and it didn’t half rain.
Anyway, a very early start in Edinburgh saw us arrive at the Emirates Durham International Cricket Ground (or just the Riverside) on what was a dry but slightly gloomy Saturday morning in the north east of England. I must admit I’d been looking forward to this for most of the year – a day’s Test cricket (the second day of this particular match) to enjoy of a Saturday. With my cricket-liking dad and cricket-barely-tolerating brother in tow, we took our frankly excellent seats at the front row of the pavilion stand for a pretty entertaining day’s cricket.
England started day 2 on 310-6, with Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes batting. Moeen hadn’t had too much time at the crease in England’s thumping win at Headingley in the previous test, and he shouldn’t have had a great deal more in this one either. Moeen edged a high-ish chance to slip on 36, which Dimuth Karunaratne really should have held on to but spilled.
A few overs later saw an even more baffling chance missed by the Sri Lankan wicket keeper Chandimal. With Woakes on 8, he edged behind where the keeper just didn’t drop the chance, he completely missed it. While Chandimal had hurt his thumb in the first day’s play, it’s not much of an excuse for something I’d be surprised to see in Scottish club cricket, never mind at Test level.
While Woakes added a relatively small 31 runs to his total before being dismissed, Moeen was frankly a joy to watch. His 155 not out included shots to all parts of the Chester-le-Street ground, with a few lovely sixes into the bargain. His 72-run partnership with Steve Finn was particularly excellent, as following Stuart Broad going for 7, Finn blocked at one end while Moeen swatted the Sri Lankan bowling around. The be-bearded spinner’s 150 saw the declaration finally made at 498-9, and England’s bowling attack would get another opportunity to skittle the Sri Lankan batsmen for not very much.
That was an opportunity the English bowlers largely took. Dimuth Karunaratne’s day didn’t get a whole lot better once Sri Lanka’s reply commenced, the opener being comprehensively bowled by an absolute beaut from James Anderson. Mendis and Silva then provided a little of a stand against the English onslaught, with Mendis, as he had in the first Test, looking pretty tidy, one particularly glorious cover drive going for four right in front of us.
That Sri Lankan resistance didn’t last terribly long, unfortunately. The wicket of Silva, not long after tea as the north east of England started to feel positively balmy as the cloud burned away, saw the start of a collapse which saw Sri Lanka move from 44-1 to 67-6 in fairly swift order. Chris Woakes looked a particularly impressive replacement for Ben Stokes with the ball, his spell of 3-9 being rather devastating to Sri Lankan morale.
After the sixth wicket fell and the shadow had moved over our lovely spot in the stand, it started to get a wee bit chilly. As well as the slight chill in the Durham air, the surviving (at that point) Sri Lankan batsmen started to block. A lot. The hour from 5pm to 6pm must have seen no more than about 15 runs scored, and as thoughts of the train back to Edinburgh and a potential cheeky Nando’s in Newcastle on the way home, we took our leave with Sri Lanka about 80-6.
Of course England then took two further wickets before the close, and we unfortunately missed Joe Root’s spectacular diving catch off of James Vince’s initial dive. But on the flip side, we did make it to Nando’s in time.
I was reminded, as I was last July at the World T20 qualifier, what a delightful day out watching cricket with a pint in your hand and the sun on your face can be. The Riverside may be on the small-ish side but it is a lovely venue, and Lumley Castle on the hill behind one end makes for a spectacular setting.
Which is why Jonathan Agnew’s interview with local boy Ben Stokes on TMS at tea left me slightly perturbed. Only in the sense that some discussion was held on this week’s Test possibly being the last that the North East of England sees. Having also very much enjoyed my day in Chester-le-Street during the 2013 Ashes series, it would frankly be a great shame if Durham’s ground does not host any further Test cricket. It is by far the easiest ground to access from Scotland (trains take about an hour and three quarters each way), has a lovely setting as I say and gets a decent crowd in too. For this week’s match against Sri Lanka to be the last Test at the Riverside would be awful – but at least I guess I could say I was there.
England 498-9 (dec)
Sri Lanka 91-8