The stadium at Galle, after the tsunami
The future of the picturesque and historical Galle International Stadium as a Test and one-day international venue is at stake following the aftermath of the Boxing Day tsunami disaster. Thilanga Sumathipala, Sri Lanka Cricket's former president and current chairman of SLC's tsunami Cricket-Aid, was skeptical that the Galle Stadium would remain a Test venue in future.
Sumathipala said that there were four major issues to consider before SLC could take a final decision on whether Galle could remain an international venue. "There is no guarantee that there won't be another tsunami," he said. "If we come back and invest here and it is damaged again, the people will blame us.
"The other issue is the sound of the rough seas in the background can cause undue disturbance in the cricketers' mind. Cricket is a psychological game and the players won't be at ease playing here. They will always have a doubt at the back of their minds about the environment.
"Thirdly, if someone creates a panic that another tsunami is coming in the middle of an international match which will be witnessed by about 15,000-20,000 spectators, anything could happen. We will be held responsible for the safety of the spectators.
"And finally, to safeguard the ground from such calamities we need to construct tall walls around. But the archaeological department won't allow anything to be built more than ten feet. That is another restriction. When you consider these four issues, Sri Lanka Cricket is faced with looking for an alternate venue.
"We will have to see whether we have a solution to remain here," said Sumathipala. "In the meantime we must work towards an alternate plan. Within the next two months, SLC must take the right decision in the best interest of the game and for its spectators."
Sumathipala accepted the fact that the ground had historical value and was raved about by past and present international cricketers as one of the most beautiful venues in the world, with the 200-year-old UNESCO-protected Dutch fort providing a dramatic backdrop, and the Indian Ocean to its right.
But Sumathipala added: "We can't let our emotions override the practical situation. I am touched and I am also keen to see the Galle Stadium is rebuilt here. But those are our emotional attachments.
"I am the one who made Galle an international venue. I have so much personal interest in this ground. My grandfather is from the South. I am a Southerner to start with. This is a ground I have played on and so have many others during their younger days. It is a ground which has more than 100 years of historical value.
"When we made it an international venue in 1997-98 we took into consideration that Galle was the capital of the South. I remember more than 100 years ago this ground was the venue for English and Australian teams to stop over and play matches on their way for the Ashes series. The value of this ground goes beyond 100 years. But these are emotional aspects. We must finally take a decision using our heads than from the heart.
Known as an esplanade where all kinds of sports were played, SLC upgraded the ground to an international Test venue in 1998 by signing a 29-year lease with the government. The first Test was played there in June 1998 between Sri Lanka and New Zealand with the venue becoming the 79th in the world to host a Test match.
Sri Lanka won that match by an innings and 16 runs, and since then it has become a favourable venue for them with an overall record of six wins, two defeats and three draws from 11 Tests. Four one-day internationals were also played here in 1999 and 2000.
Last week Australia's legspinner, Shane Warne, paid a personal visit to the Galle Stadium to assess the damage it had undergone and promised to help rebuild it through the Shane Foundation and the City of Melbourne funds. The ground holds a special place in Warne's heart as it was here that he made his comeback to international cricket (following a 12-month drugs ban). He won the match with a ten-wicket haul, and in the process he took his 500th Test wicket, and was watched by his parents.
Sumathipala said that Warne's effort to help rebuild the stadium was most welcome, but it would not in any way sway whatever decision the SLC has to take on its future. But Sumathipala added: "If we are going for a new venue, most probably through Warne, we will have Melbourne City Council assist us in the designing and planning."
"We are working on an alternative. We have spoken to the government to give us some land. It will be in the South because we need an international venue there. Within the next two months we will make the final decision," said Sumathipala. It is understood that the government has allocated a plot of land in Habaraduwa, a few kilometres from Galle, and is awaiting a decision from the SLC.