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  Tuesday, 10 September, 2002, 16:31 GMT 17:31 UK
TMS tales from Sri Lanka
Test Match Special producer Peter Baxter
Lock-out: TMS hits a snag in Sri Lanka

The arrival of a BBC commentary team in Sri Lanka for the ICC Champions Trophy will inevitably evoke that most powerful image of Jonathan Agnew, barred from the ground in Galle, viewing a Test match from the ramparts of the fort.

I, meanwhile, sat in the dust at the locked gates under the stern gaze of the militarily-uniformed security guard.

That won't be happening this time.

Last year, having not been given the opportunity to bid for the commentary rights, we had somehow also upset the Board President who felt that he ought to be getting rights money even from those who were not allowed to commentate.

When we arrived on the second morning the gates were closed in our faces, Sri Lankan Board officials refused even to talk to us and it took half a day and the diplomatic skills of the ECB chief executive, Tim Lamb, to get us in.

Jonathan Agnew watched the action from afar
A unique commentary position for Aggers

That tour gave us a good view of what is a beautiful country, from the south at Galle, where fishermen perch on poles in the surf, to the the wooded hills round Kandy.

Then there is the wilderness near Dambulla, where rises what should be considered one of the wonders of the world, the Sigiriya rock, which once supported an impregnable palace high above the surrounding jungle.

This time, though, the hazards of driving the busy roads will be concentrated in the city.

The 15 matches will all be staged on two grounds in Colombo. England's pool games, the semi-finals and final will be floodlit matches at the Premadasa Stadium, built on reclaimed land not far from the port.

Here, as England slumped to a rather embarrassingly one-sided defeat 18 months ago, a disgusted rat was seen scuttling from the BBC commentary box in protest.

Let there be light

By that time we had reasonable facilities, although the electrician had discovered that the only effective television aerial was his own finger, thrust into the socket.

Sinhalese Sports Club ground
Sinhalese Sports Club: One of two Trophy venues

And at the end I had to work furiously to put together a highlights programme before the power was shut off for the night.

A couple of days before, at the brand new stadium at Dambulla, in the centre of the island, I had not been quite adroit enough, being plunged into darkness with my script only half written.

Pleading with the local telecom restored the broadcast lines, but the programme had to be recorded by torchlight, with an unpromising reliance on batteries to power the equipment and the de-rigging of the broadcasting box afterwards was accomplished by feel rather than vision.

"I don't suppose you know a pub on the road back to Colombo that might have a cold beer," I said to the driver, as, sweaty and filthy, I lugged the last heavy bag down the hazardous marble staircase.

Resourceful and amazing chap that he was, he did!

Scene of victory

The day-time matches this time are at the Singhalese Sports Club ground, where England won the third and final Test on that 2001 visit, to take the series 2-1.

The scenes of celebration from the many travelling England supporters will stay in my mind for a long time.

The obvious natural talent of the youngsters playing on the outfield during the lunch intervals had been impressive throughout the match and had indicated a rosy future for Sri Lankan cricket.

The other thing I remember from that match was the security guard who, all smiles, approached me on the first morning of the Test.

"Do you remember me?," he asked. "I kept you out of the ground at Galle."

This time he welcomed me in. Sri Lanka is a place of great contrasts.

12 leading teams do battle in Sri Lanka



Pool 1

Pool 2

Pool 3

Pool 4



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