Pitch report – Galle International Stadium

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We run the rule over the venue for the Test series opener between Sri Lanka and Pakistan in Galle.

<b>Established:</b> 1984<br><b>Capacity:</b> 35,000<br><b>Floodlights:</b> No<br><b>Ends:</b> City End, Fort End<br><b>Home Team:</b> Galle Cricket Club<br><b>Head Groundsman:</b> Jayananda Warnaweera<br><b>Test History:</b> 23 Tests; 12 home wins; 5 away wins; 6 draws<br><b>Last 10 Tests:</b> 6 home wins; 2 away wins; 2 draws<br><b>Last 10 tosses:</b> 9 batted first (7 wins, 2 draws); 1 bowled first (1 draw)

<b>Overview</b><br>Rated as one of the most picturesque grounds in world cricket, the Galle International Stadium is cornered on two sides by the ocean – and overseen by a 16th century Dutch fort. After making its Test debut in 1998, the ground was largely destroyed by the horrific tsunami which struck the region in December 2004.

With politics at boardroom level of Sri Lankan Cricket casting doubt over the ground's future, it took donations from the likes of Ian Botham and Shane Warne – who had taken his 500th Test wicket here – to get the stadium's redevelopment back on track. It eventually completed its recovery in December 2007, when England took on Sri Lanka in the 12th Test to be played at the stadium.

Before the disaster Galle had been a stronghold for Sri Lanka, who had only lost to Australia and Pakistan as the spin-friendly pitch worked in the hosts' favour. Not surprisingly, then, Galle has been a successful venue for the veteran Muttiah Muralitharan. The ground will be remembered as the venue of the off-spinner's 133rd and final Test match, a game in which he claimed a match haul of eight wickets to end his career with a record 800 Test scalps.

<b>Last Time Out</b><br>Fast bowler Dale Steyn defied expectation and condition to lead South Africa to an historic triumph in Galle less than three weeks ago. Steyn clinched nine wickets across both innings on a pitch that insisted seamers would not succeed. Batting-wise, the left-handed JP Duminy and Dean Elgar showed success beckoned, provided patience preceded.

<b>They Said</b><br>"There was not as much reverse today as on the third afternoon, to be honest. With the wind the ball comes in, but the third afternoon it was reversing quite a lot. Even on this slow track, it was their fast bowlers who took wickets." – Sri Lanka captain <b>Angelo Mathews</b> last month.

"The Sri Lankan seamers are very good exponents of their own conditions The minute the ball started getting soft, they started changing their paces and bowling the odd cutter." – South African batsman <b>Dean Elgar</b> last month.

"Yes, the wicket is good and the batsmen have adapted, used their feet, swept, reserve swept, handled situations, and handled bowlers differently." – Sri Lanka batting coach <b>Marvan Atapattu</b> last month.

"It's not the fastest wicket in the world but if you can get pace through the air and bowl with a bit of aggression you always stand a chance. It's the kind of wicket where you have to bowl the ball in the right areas more often." – Proteas pace ace <b>Dale Steyn</b> last month.

<b>Happy Hunting Ground</b><br>More than a fifth of the veteran <b>Mahela Jayawardene's</b> 11,493 Test runs at a whopping average of 71.78 have come at this ground, including seven centuries and 11 half-tons. This will be the stalwart right-hander's final Test at this ground. The second half of the prolific old guard, the left-handed <b>Kumar Sangakkara</b> has amassed 1,566 runs in 33 innings here, averaging a smidgeon more than 50.

Bowling-wise, spinners <b>Rangana Herath</b> has reaped plenty of reward in Galle, snaring 51 victims – and twin 10-wicket hauls – in nine games. His ground average of 26.31 is considerably stronger than a career aggregate of 30.41. Fellow slow bowler <b>Saeed Ajmal</b> has taken 10 wickets in two matches here.

<b>Weather Forecast</b><br>Rain, unfortunately, has been predicted for the build-up and the series opener's five days. The inclement weather, hopefully, will prove seasonally patchy – and not bring a negative influence for extended periods. The retention of the covers amid plenty of sub-continental humidity, though, is bound to temper the nature of the pitch. Temperatures are expected to peak at 30 degrees Celsius and trough at 25.

<b>Conclusion</b><br>23 tosses have brought all of 19 decisions to bat first, with captains opting for the contrary often ending on the losing team. History, then, suggests batting first is a definite advantage.

The pitch traditionally is best for runs on day one and two amid even pace and bounce. Exposure to the searing Sri Lankan sun causes the surface to deteriorate at a steady pace – and spin generally starts to dominate from day three.

It is, therefore, crucial to score big runs in the first innings before the turning ball, with catching vultures crowded around the bat, comes into effect. Reverse swing, meanwhile, will be on offer for those seamers willing to scuff the ball early.

New Zealand enjoyed swing and seam under heavy overhead skies in 2012. Therein lies the hope for the team bowling first in potentially heavy weather.

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