When the schedule for the 2011 World Cup was announced last Monday, eyebrows were raised about two of the venues in Sri Lanka that were allotted matches. The venues in question were Hambantota in the South and Pallakele in the Central Province. The third venue was, as expected, the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo. How did the two new venues get the nod ahead of such renowned stadiums as Galle, Asgiriya, Dambulla and SSC? Cricinfo spoke to Sri Lanka Cricket secretary Nishantha Ranatunga who is also a member of the 2011 World Cup Central Organising Committee (COC) and the tournament's Operational and Ground Inspection Committee.
Can you justify the choosing of Hambantota and Pallakele as World Cup venues ahead of other reputed grounds?
The project to build an international cricket stadium in Hambantota with lights was taken three to four years ago and its ownership is with SLC. As Hambantota is a rapidly developing city, with a port and airport to be constructed in the near future, having an international stadium with a capacity of 25,000 would be beneficial for schools around the area and for international cricket. SLC will also accrue tax-free benefits as the cricket stadium is part of the massive Hambantota project (to develop a new sea port in the city). The entire cost of the stadium is Rs 900 million (US$7.86m) and we have already invested Rs 600 million (US$5.24m) on it. It will be ready by August 2010.
Pallakele was acquired by SLC three years ago and as the ownership is with us we thought of investing into it and developing it into an international venue with lights so that international cricket matches can be hosted. The Asgiriya Stadium belongs to Trinity College and there was a crying need for a stadium in Kandy so that schools in and around the area can benefit. The capacity of the Pallakele Stadium is 25,000 and the entire cost of the project is Rs 450 million (US$3.93m). We will play the first international matches at this venue later this month when we host the Under-19 one-day tri-series with Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Why were venues like Galle, Dambulla, SSC and P Sara Oval not considered as World Cup venues?
The problem with venues as Galle, SSC and P Sara Oval is that the capacity of these grounds is less than 20,000. If we are to develop SSC and P Sara Oval with a larger capacity, lights and a bigger media box it will cost us at least Rs. 750-800 million (US$6.55m to 7m) for each venue. We cannot invest such a large amount of money at venues where SLC don't have any ownership. The ICC requirement for a media box is for a minimum of 200 journalists. With Galle we cannot increase the crowd capacity and fit lights because of the constraints of erecting buildings in front of the Galle Fort which is a world heritage site. At Dambulla there are a few technical issues to overcome like lights, and increasing the media box capacity to 200 and the spectators' capacity from the present 17,000 to 25,000. We plan to have Dambulla ready by 2012 when we host the ICC World Twenty20.
Does the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo measure up to the World Cup requirements?
Not quite but the improvements are minimal compared to the other venues. We have to increase the media box capacity from 80 to 200 and the spectator capacity from 14,000 to 35,000. We intend doing this by increasing the seating capacity of spectators in stands 'C' and 'D'. The wiring in the lighting system also needs to be redone.
Ranatunga said ICC officials would arrive later this month for an initial inspection of the venues. Premadasa Stadium will host seven World Cup matches (including a semi-final), Pallakele three matches and Hambantota two.