In less than three weeks' time, Sri Lanka will commemorate the third anniversary of the worst natural disaster ever to hit the island's shores. On Boxing Day 2004, more than 35,000 lives were lost and a further half-a-million people were left homeless when a gigantic earthquake off the coast of Indonesia sent waves of up to 30 metres crashing into the country. The devastation was apocalyptic, particularly along the Southern and Eastern coastlines, but in the years since, many lives have been pieced back together, often with aid from overseas.
One such project has been initiated by Surrey County Cricket Club. Six months after the disaster, Surrey held a Tsunami Relief match at The Oval, between an Asian XI and the Rest of the World. Stars such as Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar took part in the event and helped to raise £1 million. This week, in the break between the first and second Tests, a party of British journalists got a chance to see just how effectively that money had been used.
The village of Magonna lies approximately an hour and a half south of Colombo. It is accessible from the coast road, via a long and bumpy dirt track that winds through rice plantations and coconut groves, before opening out into a wide open plain that, until last year, was nothing more than bushland. It is here that the Surrey Cricket Village has been created. It is a haven of 45 new-built houses, perched on a hilltop and providing sturdy shelter for some of the worst affected survivors. Each of the residents lost not only their homes and livelihoods, but at least three members of their immediate family.
The centrepiece of the village is a gigantic cricket pitch, carved from the hillside and very similarly proportioned to The Oval itself. As yet it is incomplete - the square is in place but the outfield is currently brick-red clay and is awaiting a layer of top-soil and grass seedings. On Friday, the pavilion was officially opened, in a grand flag-raising ceremony attended by the Sri Lankan sports minister, Gamini Lokuge, as well as Paul Sheldon, Surrey's chief executive, and Roger Knight, the former MCC secretary who was Surrey's captain between 1978 and 1985.
"I first came here in February 2005 when it was just acres and acres of bush," said Sheldon in his opening speech. "It is a truly amazing transformation." It could be more amazing still when the pitch is finally put in place - from the evidence of the signs on the pavilion, and the fully-tooled up shed of groundsman's equipment further round the boundary's edge, Surrey has grand intentions for its new development. It is not inconceivable that one-day internationals will be held here in the near future.
There is already a strong international flavour to the village - with familiar names adorning the various streets (or "Mawathas"). "Alec Stewart Mawatha" is the most striking. It runs along the hillside behind the pavilion - ramrod straight as you would imagine, though as yet lacking a touch of tarmac. Further around the corner, where the red-slated roofs of the houses genuinely look as though they could have been lifted from suburban Woking, is "Graham Thorpe Mawatha", and there is plenty of local recognition as well. Malinga Bandara and Upul Tharanga, both of whom grew up locally and are in the squad for the second Test, have been honoured with streetnames as well.
Sri Lanka is not the only cricket-playing country to have benefitted from Surrey's charity. The Oval Cricket Relief Trust was established out of recognition that many of the countries that play the game are also susceptible to terrible natural disasters. Grenada, whose stadium was flattened by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, and Pakistan, which suffered a catastrophic earthquake in the weeks before England's tour in December 2005, have both received aid, as has the town of Bhopal, which still feels the effects of a dreadful industrial accident in 1984.
It may seem scant consolation for the thousands whose lives have been transformed by disaster, but every little helps. For 45 families the impact of Surrey's involvement has been immediate, but for many more in the region, cricket offers a route out of poverty that few other professions can provide. As the local community begins to capitalise on the first-rate facilities being created in Magonna, maybe one day, the streets will have to be renamed to reflect the talent that has sprung from this initiative.
Andrew Miller is the former UK editor of ESPNcricinfo and now editor of The Cricketer magazine