No more Tests for Sri Lanka's 'lucky' cricket venue

The Galle Cricket Stadium was one of the most breathtaking Test venues, but the December 26 tsunami has exposed its vulnerability and brought down the curtain on Sri Lanka’s “lucky” ground.

Cricket officials are looking for another location near Galle, 115km south of Colombo, for an alternative venue to the stadium that the national team had considered lucky.

They had won seven out of 11 matches played at Galle, drawing two and losing two, since the first Test match at the stadium in June 1998.

Curator Jayananda Warnaweera said he does not have state clearance to start reconstruction after the grounds were devastated by the tsunami that lashed much of Sri Lanka’s coastline and killed nearly 31 000 people.

“We can’t re-do some of the nets because they come within a 100m buffer zone from the sea,” Warnaweera said, referring to regulations preventing any rebuilding within a strip of sea-front land reserved as a “green belt”.

“We want to put up a five-storeyed air conditioned grand stand, but have not got permission for that either.”

The stadium is at the foot of the historic Galle Fort, built by the Portuguese who turned the island into a colony in 1505. Much of the structures in the fort were added by the subsequent Dutch and British invaders.

Development of the stadium is restricted because the authorities are keen that no neighbouring structures end up dwarfing the historic site.

Cricket officials said they were not allowed to put up covered stands at the grounds and establish the internationally accepted safety standards because it would have meant blocking the view of the ramparts.

The fort itself is a world heritage site and Sri Lanka maintains strict laws to protect its beauty. Ticket sales at the cricket venue had usually been less than they could have been because the ramparts offer a better view at no cost.

When a foreign television crew was once denied access to the stadium because another network had been given broadcasting rights, the crew clambered on the ramparts to have an even better camera view.

Sri Lankan Cricket officials said Galle will still be retained as a venue for premier league matches, but will no longer be classed as a Test venue.

“We will not be able to have the international safety standards that are required because of the restrictions on new constructions,” said Thilanga Sumathipala, a special envoy of Sri Lankan Cricket.

“We also have to take into account what goes on in the minds of players when they are in the middle and hear the sea lashing in the background ...
It is not going to be the same again.”

The stadium was under 10m of water when the tsunamis struck the 10 000-capacity grounds. At least one man was killed.

Warnaweera said it could take up to a year to remove the top soil and replant.

“The reconstruction is going to cost about 300-million to 400-million rupees [$3-million to $4-million],” Warnaweera said.

Sri Lanka’s national team drove to the grounds on Sunday to play softball cricket with about 300 local children and 300 from the neighbouring district of Matara who survived the tsunami.

“We cannot say we have been hit and just wait,” Sumathipala said. “The message we are trying to get across is that we have to get on with our lives. We are helping the children to get over their trauma.”

Warnaweera, who is also a former Sri Lankan Test player, says the grounds had been his life and the tsunamis had taken a part of himself.

“This is my first love ... This means I have lost a part of my life,” he said pointing to the destruction at the venue.

Cricket authorities maintain that they are not taking away a Test venue from the southern province of cricket-crazy Sri Lanka, but only trying to find an alternative venue.

They say they can’t risk the world’s most picturesque venue becoming its deadliest.—Sapa-AFP