No one has shown as much commitment to the Galle International Stadium as Jayananda Warnaweera has. It was his heart and soul until the morning of December 26, 2004. The tsunami came and destroyed all what he had worked for since 1998, the year when the stadium hosted its inaugural Test match.
To see it spring to life on December 18 when it hosts the third Test between Sri Lanka and England, almost three years to the day after the devastation, is something Warnaweera is unable to describe in words.
"To me this is the rebirth of Stadium," he said. "The satisfaction I get to see the stadium come up again and host cricket matches is something which words cannot express. It is not something that you expect and get but something like an act of God. My dream of having an international stadium in Galle was washed away by the tsunami but it has now been reborn."
The stadium looked splendid with the Galle Fort providing the ideal backdrop to a unique international venue. It was bucketing rain and Warnaweera, in three-quarter trousers , was supervising the work to get it ready in time. However, part of the ground was submerged in water and he blamed the cricket authorities for not taking timely action in getting the pumps fitted to draw the water out of the ground.
He was, however, confident that the stadium would be ready in time to host the Test match.
"The question is not whether we can complete the stadium and the ground in time for the Test, but it has come to a point where everything must be completed before Tuesday," said Warnaweera. "You cannot expect every aspect of the stadium to be 100 percent complete, there will be a few small snags here and there, but to host the Test match we have addressed all the requirements."
Warnaweera said that in the past two months or so there were between 600-1000 people from five companies working around the clock undertaking construction at different sections of the stadium.
"Work on the ground has been completed almost 100 percent, but after the Test there are also other small details to be attended to," he said. The new-look stadium comprises the media centre, pavilion and dressing rooms, the Galle Municipal pavilion and the grandstand.
"This is unusual rain," he mused. "In normal circumstances if it rains we can recommence the match after the rain in about 30 minutes because we have installed a good drainage system. The academy side played a match here and there was a fair amount of bounce on the pitch. Unlike SSC [Colombo] only one captain will criticise the pitch because it is result oriented.
"To a great extent it will help the spinners. I cannot predict exactly how the wicket will play until you really play on it. It is only after about five matches that you can really assess how this wicket is going to play. My advice to both captains is to bat first if they win the toss. They might have to take into consideration the weather because if it rains like today there could be moisture underneath."
Warnaweera, who has virtually lived all his life at the stadium, said: "I played cricket for Galle cricket club for 25 years. In those years we used to make the wicket to suit our bowling strengths. As a player I used to do the curator's job as well. When in 1998 Galle became an international stadium it was no big deal undertaking the curator's job and preparing a Test match wicket. This is my first home. When I come here at 6am I go home at midnight. I go home only to sleep."
Warnaweera, 47, played 10 Tests and six ODIs for Sri Lanka between 1986 and 1994 and is the secretary of the Southern Province Cricket Association (SPCA) and curator of the stadium which has been leased by Galle Municipality to Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) for a period of 33 years till 2040 (an amended lease was signed this year). To put the stadium back on its feet SLC spent nearly Rs. 500 million.
The maintenance of the stadium has been entrusted to the SPCA and the Galle Municipality. "If you want to maintain the stadium to international standards you have to put in a lot of hard work and effort, think that it's your own and that it belongs to you. The most important thing in a stadium is not its construction but the maintenance of it. It is not an easy job you have to spend 365 days here," Warnaweera said.
Recalling the Tsunami Warnaweera stated that when it came they had never ever heard of it before.
"I was on the ground when it happened. Suddenly the water came and submerged the entire stadium. After it happened there was nothing we could think of. We were speechless for some time. Cricket and the stadium suddenly became a thing of the past as we tried desperately to save people from being drowned and being washed away by the tidal wave. The entire town was full of floating bodies and broken wreckage.
"After the tsunami left its trail of destruction our initial reaction was to check on the whereabouts of the people at the stadium. There was a cricket match taking place at that time and we had to send home the players who thankfully survived the ordeal. But we had a problem because some of the players had their homes destroyed and had nowhere to go. For the next three months after the tsunami we couldn't think of anything else but be involved in relief work to those affected.
"When I saw the state of the stadium there was only sadness. I thought to myself why God had been kind to spare me. Shouldn't I too have gone with the tsunami? With great difficulty we had to make up our minds and come to terms with reality. I had great belief that one day I would get a chance to put the stadium back to where it was.
"Although there were obstacles in the way like wanting to shift the stadium to a different location and from the archaeological department who were against any construction of buildings obstructing the view of the Galle Fort we were able to ride the storm and commence work on restoring it to its original condition.
"The Galle Stadium was too historical to be moved elsewhere. It produced the first bowler in Test history to take 500 wickets (Shane Warne) and from Sri Lanka's point of view this is a lucky ground having won 80 percent of the Test matches played here. We have lost only to Pakistan and Australia," he said.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president, is scheduled to open the pavilion which has been named after him on Monday. It is in appreciation of the role he played in getting this stadium back that he is being honoured.
"Several people tried to shift this stadium elsewhere," Warnaweera said. "The only thing they couldn't do is fix wheels onto the stadium; otherwise it would have been gone elsewhere. We are greatly indebted to the president."