Galle's spirited groundstaff
When yet another shower lashed the Galle International Stadium at 2.15pm, even though the Indian bowlers would have been relieved, it was a cruel heartbreak for the groundsmen who had worked hard to get the ground ready - despite heavy showers at consistent intervals - for a 2.30pm inspection and a possible 3pm start. If ever a ground was going to have any action after torrential rains, both overnight and during the day, it is Galle.
What they lack in drainage facilities, the groundsmen here make up for with a massive human effort, acumen and anticipation. They work on the principle of not letting the ground get wet in the first place. On match days, around 150 people work under Jayananda Warnaweera, former offspinner and the chief groundsman. At times Warnaweera gets assistance from inmates from the nearby Boosa detention camp, who are watched over by special security guards as they go about their work. In Warnaweera they have a leader who puts his heart and soul into maintaining the ground, his ground.
It’s his home, he says. He is found here more often than at his house. When the tsunami swept the ground in 2004, it took away all the hard work he had put into maintaining it. The fish tank outside the ground, the model of a hand rickshaw, and other artefacts he had personally got here, were gone. He was at the forefront when the stadium was rebuilt after the devastation. During a Test match, he hardly goes home.
On the first day of this Test, which began with the felicitation of the retiring Muttiah Muralitharan, Warnaweera was dressed in a shirt, trousers, tie and a sunhat. In the third session, when rain arrived, the suit gave way to a t-shirt and a lungi as he worked along with his men, long after everybody was gone.
On the afternoon before the match, in bright sunshine he sent MS Dhoni, who was waiting for his turns at the nets, off the ground, saying rain is expected. Around 10 minutes later, Dhoni was halfway through the captain’s pre-match press conference when it started pouring. The ground had been fully covered by then. That’s how well Warnaweera knows the conditions. Had he acted 10 minutes later, we would have lost perhaps the whole first session on the first day. Instead the game started just half-an-hour late. Even during the day’s play, by the time it started raining heavily, the army of groundsmen had charged onto the ground and had covered half of it already.
This is perhaps the only ground in the world that is covered in its entirety when it rains. Heavy truck tyres keep those covers from getting blown away in the strong wind. After the end of the first day, a tired Warnaweera made his way back to his office well after the journalists had finished filing their stories. When asked if we had lost the first session of the second day, he said “no”.
He had incredible confidence in the hard work of his men, but rains put paid to the optimism. It was a near-miracle that within 15-20 minutes of the first sighting of the sun, stumps were being erected and the umpires were looking positive. Suddenly then the clouds opened up again, forcing the spirited groundsmen to bring on the covers yet again, and that no amount of hard work can fight against.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo