Ian Botham and Mahela Jayawardene opened the 2013 Murali Cup in Kilinochchi on Friday, as the five-day tournament began in five venues across Sri Lanka's northern province. The Murali Cup aims to promote unity and reconciliation as well as the development of cricket, in the post-war regions of the country, by bringing men's and women's teams from the south to play sides from the north and east.
Jayawardene, who had been one of the first public figures to visit the north after the war ended in 2009, said his belief that cricket could facilitate role in social reconciliation in Sri Lanka had only been heightened by his experience of the inaugural Murali Cup, last year.
"It's all about these kids getting together, and having fun. They have open minds, and you can see the love that the people in the north have for the game, and we should be there to foster that," Jayawardene said.
"Last year, the team from St. Peters stayed with the boys from Kilinochchi, instead of staying in the separate accommodation that they had been assigned. They made friendships and exchanged Facebook and numbers, and when St. Peters got into the final against Jaffna, the boys from Kilinochchi got into a bus and went to watch that game, specially. That's the kind of thing that needs to happen."
Botham also began his charity walk through Sri Lanka after inaugurating the tournament, the first leg of which finished in Mankulam, 29 kilometres to the south of Kilinochchi. Sourav Ganguly, Steve Waugh and Allan Border are scheduled to join Botham on later legs.
"It's a terrific tournament - one which shows cricket's capacity to bring people together, and be a common point of interest," Botham said. "It fits in really well with the idea behind the walk, which is to use sport to improve people's lives." Kumar Sangakkara will visit the tournament venues on Saturday and Sunday, before Muttiah Muralitharan arrives for the finals on Tuesday. Twelve Under-19 teams and eight women's teams will compete in 34 Twenty20 matches.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here