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December 15, 2007
The newly reconstructed stadium at Galle is facing a race against time to be fit for the third Test between Sri Lanka and England on Tuesday, after heavy unseasonal rain hindered the attempts of groundstaff and construction workers to put the finishing touches to their preparations.
With just three days to go until the final Test of the series, much of the playing area was underwater, while workmen were still laying paving and building ticket-booths on the concourse in front of the new pavilion. By Saturday afternoon there was no electricity or running water inside the ground's buildings, and most of the grassy banks where England's spectators sat during the ground's last international fixture in 2003 are currently deep pools of mud.
And yet, there is no question in anyone's minds that the show must go on regardless. Of all the symbols of the terrible tsunami that devastated Sri Lanka in December 2004, perhaps none was more poignant than the obliteration of Galle's stadium. International sport is, after all, meant to be escapism on a vast scale, but the rubble and ruins of one of the most glorious venues in the world meant that no sports fan could fail to appreciate the stark realities of the disaster.
The message is that, if international cricket can return to Galle, then so too can a normal life for the thousands who were dispossessed that day. "It will be ready come what may," said the stadium's head groundsman, Jayananda Warnaweera, who has been working round the clock with an army of labourers, in a bid to overcome the atrocious working conditions. "It has been a long haul but for the people of Galle this is a celebration and we will make it happen."
For England's cricketers, the desire to fight back from their 1-0 series deficit has been subsumed by an appreciation of the bigger picture. "We're pretty much going to have to take the stance that whatever we have to play on, we'll go out there and play on it," said Paul Collingwood, who made his Test debut at Galle in 2003. "It's as simple as that.
"It's obviously not finished at the moment but they are working very hard and progressing day by day, so hopefully it'll be playable," said Collingwood. "Driving down in the bus from Colombo, the further we got down, there was a real sickening feeling, seeing the destruction that was caused. That's why it's vital to put the smiles back on people's faces and get on with it."
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