Suriyawewa is the hometown of some notorious gangsters in the country. The area was also notorious for many nefarious activities; cannabis and hooch were freely available until the Special Task Force intervened and cleaned up the area, a decade or so ago.
When former President Mahinda Rajapaksa wanted an international cricket ground in his electorate, Sri Lanka Cricket did a case study and chose Suriyawewa.
While the stadium was under construction around 2010, it took you nearly nine hours to reach it from Colombo. Now, thanks to the Southern Expressway, you can get there in a mere three and half hours. If it is a day game like the Afghanistan-Sri Lanka matches to be held on Friday, you can travel to the ground and return home the same day. Not for the reporters though, whose work starts after the game is over.
Even after getting out of the expressway at Suriyawewa, you tend to marvel at the roads that lead to the ground and the nearby airport. Even the common man feels like Michael Schumacher or Ayrton Senna when behind the wheel on these roads.
Initially, the idea of an international ground in this godforsaken area looked like a left field choice. Not anymore.
There is no better place for playing cricket than Suriyawewa, which is hot and humid. The British and the Aussies love it. That’s why England chose this place for their pre-Test camp when they came here amidst COVID in 2021.
When former leg-spinner D. S. de Silva was handpicked to head the cricket board in 2009, many wondered why. The reason was that President Rajapaksa knew here was a man who could make his wish come true– an international cricket stadium in the Hambantota district.
However, DS may have not presented all the facts to the President. It was thought that the stadium was built on an ICC grant to the SLC. But that wasn’t the case. Eventually, the SLC couldn’t pay the State Engineering Corporation or Ports Authority that built the stadium. President Rajapaksa had to intervene and he wrote off the debts.
The ground was built for the 2011 World Cup, but it fell behind schedule. When Minister of Sports Mahindananda Aluthgamage broke the news to the President, he reportedly launched into a tirade.
Aluthgamage, despite all the criticism he gets, headed straight to Suriyawewa and camped himself at the ground for several weeks to ensure that ICC’s demands were met by the next deadline.
To Aluthgamage’s credit, the project got necessary approvals. It must be mentioned here that some of the leading venues in India like Calcutta were rejected. Calcutta is India’s first ever Test cricket ground and it is the backyard of cricket supremo Jagmohan Dalmiya.
Once the airport at Hambantota came in, the construction of an international stadium close to it made some sense. Teams have flown there directly ahead of cricket series.
More and more teams are exploring the possibility of playing there because cricket boards can afford chartered aircraft. Sadly, due to politics, matches were not played there for some time But authorities are realising the immense potential there and have started treating the ground fairly.
COVID was a good wake-up call, and with options for venues being few and rare, Suriyawewa proved to be a godsend. With a wildlife park in close proximity and other tourist attractions around, we will see more games being played here in years to come.
Obviously, the interest for cricket in the area is tremendous as quite a few time fans have crashed the gates and usually it is house full with 35,000 fans rooting for the Sri Lankan team. Authorities will do well to ensure transportation facilities to fans as many of them walk back home after games across thick jungles.
Lot of cricketing talent is emerging from and around this area as well. Pramod Madushan, Kasun Rajitha, Dilshan Madushanka are all from the Hambantota district. It should be found out why Hambantota produces mostly fast bowlers.
The school that produced a Sri Lankan Test captain in Suranga Lakmal, Debarawewa Central has fallen on hard times and is struggling to make ends meet as cricket equipment is so expensive these days. While international grounds in Hambantota are good, it is of little use if schools in the area cannot afford to play there.
Taking a leaf out of President Rajapaksa’s book, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ensured the Gujarat Cricket Association built a stadium in his beloved Ahmedabad. The IPL final three days ago was played there but there is criticism about the Narendra Modi Stadium as some boundaries are less than 60 metres.
No such problems at Mahinda Rajapaksa International Stadium as every boundary is at least 100 metres. This indeed is a superb facility. There’s seating capacity for over 300 journalists and more importantly the hospitality that you get deep down south is out of this world.
Little known World Cup snippets
by Rex Clementine
The Cricket World Cup is just around the corner and the national cricket team has enjoyed both unprecedented success and unexpected lows over the previous 12 editions of the competition. One-time champions, Sri Lanka were also runners-up on two occasions and semi-finalists on one other time.
Their campaigns in 1999, where as defending champions they were knocked out in the first round and the 1987 tournament where they failed to win a single game remain disappointments.
Some records like the Upul Tharanga – T.M. Dilshan partnership for the first wicket worth 282 runs still stands and so do the ten-wicket drubbing that Sri Lanka handed England in the 2011 quarter-final, Chaminda Vaas’ hat-trick in the first three balls in Pietermaritzburg and Kumar Sangakkara’s feat for most dismissals.
These are well documented stories but today we will take a look at some narratives that have hardly received the attention of the public.
The 2015 World Cup schedule was so tough that on one day Sri Lanka were playing in New Zealand and the next day they were in Australia before flying back to New Zealand and then back to Australia again.
Having won their game against Bangladesh at MCG, the team was rushing back to the team hotel to pack their bags to catch an early morning flight to Wellington across the Tasman sea.
Man of the Match T.M. Dilshan attended the press briefing and he was asked how tough it was for his team to constantly travel between the countries while some other teams didn’t have such demanding schedules. The task was made tougher given the strict quarantine laws in both countries.
As Dilshan was about to answer, team manager Michael de Zoysa (bless him), interrupted and said, “I know it’s tough, but we don’t care because we play England next. England is a bye.’
When England batted first and made 309, it looked as if Michael had to eat his words, but his boys made a mockery of the run chase reaching the target with nine wickets and plenty of balls to spare.
During the 1996 World Cup, Sanath Jayasuriya had ended the career of a few bowlers – Manoj Prabhakar of India and England’s Richard Illingworth and Dermot Reeve never played again.
India were so obsessed with Jayasuriya that their entire team meeting ahead of the semi-final was how to stop Jayasuriya. In the end, Jayasuriya was dismissed in the third ball, but Aravinda de Silva counterattacked to take the game away from India.
In the finals of that tournament, as Asanka Gurusinghe and Aravinda de Silva were building a nice partnership, a drinks break was coming along and coach Dav Whatmore called up 12th man Ravindra Pushpakumara and wanted some vital information passed onto the two batters. As if Whatmore’s advice weren’t enough, all the senior players too chipped in urging the 12th man to say various things to the two batters.
Pushpa listened attentively but as he walked onto the field he thought for himself the run chase is going so smooth and why would he interrupt it. So, the only thing he said to the batters was, ‘well played aiya’ and returned to the dressing room without passing on any message.
Sir Garry Sobers was Sri Lanka’s coach during the 1983 campaign. The team was training at Headingley and Ashantha de Mel was swinging the ball to deadly effect and not many were able to put bat to ball.
Amused by the batters’ struggle, Sir Garry, who was nearly 50 at that point, asked for a single pad, a pair of gloves and started smashing de Mel all over. He wasn’t even using a bat. He had taken out a stump! The players were marvelling his skills even at that age.
Another West Indies genius Brian Lara was caught behind in the 2003 World Cup encounter in Cape Town, but umpire David Shepherd turned the appeal down. The umpires then told the Sri Lankan fielders that it is Lara and they should know better that he walks if he nicks it.
During the drinks break when the Sri Lankans told Lara what Shepherd had said, he explained how it works. ‘I do walk yes, but I don’t walk when I am the captain maan.’
Sidath Wettimuny in his international career hit only one six. It came in a World Cup fixture against England in 1983 at Taunton. His girlfriend was coming to see the game. Sidath had told her that the moment he spotted her, he will be hitting a six towards her. Ian Botham was bowling and Sidath took a chance and for once the man who put a lot of emphasis on batting with a straight bat didn’t mind taking a chance with a cross batted heave towards mid-wicket. Things people do for love!
The inaugural World Cup in 1975 was a baptism by fire for the new kids on the block. They had been hammered by West Indies by nine wickets and Pakistan by 192 runs but against Australia they put up a far better show.
Chasing 329 to win in 60 overs, Sri Lanka were well placed with Duleep Mendis and Sunil Wettimuny being involved in a decent partnership. Ian Chappell, the Australian captain then called up his main weapon Jeff Thomson and both batters had to retire hurt after being hit by the quickest bowler at that time.
As Mendis was recovering from the nasty blow to his head in a London hospital, a policeman visited him in the ward and asked, ‘Excuse me sir. Do you want to press charges against this Thomson.’
Smith and Starc sizzle in damp squib
Steven Smith did the thing he loves most in the world.Mitchell Starc did the thing he can’t help but do. And Australia did the thing they are forever known for. A warm-up game that had shrunk to 23-overs-a-side still contained plenty of positives for the five-time ODI champions. They were on course to beat the Netherlands until the weather beat them to the punch.
Having spent most of the evening frustrated by the rain in Thiruvananthapuram, it felt like it would almost be cruel to ask Smith to wait any longer. Australia won the toss when play was possible and a man who has an emergency cricket bat in his hotel room just in case he feels like practicing a flick or two at 3am was out there opening the innings.
Smith has been conscious of upping his power game lately, to the point that he seems to have bulked up these last couple of years. The BBL witnessed this shifting of gears first when he scored back-to-back centuries in January and a little bit of that was on show here as well. He launched three sixes and four fours during the course of a half-century where he was scoring at a strike rate of 130.95, all while watching his team-mates falling in pursuit of their own big hits.
Netherlands barely get to play any cricket with the top teams so while this may officially be an unofficial game, to them it was worth so much more. They’ve broken into a World Cup of just 10 teams and they were only able to do so because they dispatched the once mighty West Indies. Logan van Beek (2 for 35), Bas de Leede (2 for 25) and Roelof van der Merwe (2 for 12) presented the quality with which they were able to get here, picking up six wickets between them.
Australia finished on 166 for 7, with gains for those who will be manning crucial positions in their lower-middle order in the World Cup as well. Alex Carey was promoted to No. 3 and he made 28 off 25. Cameron Green came in at No. 5 and he hit 34 off 26. Starc strode out at No. 6 and helped himself to 24 off 22. Then someone just had to go and give him that shiny new white ball.
Workload management has meant Starc has played just four ODIs in 2023, and just one in the last six months. Australia need him with more overs in his legs. He managed three, getting so much banana swing that there was a moment – after he had clean bowled Wesley Barresi with a worldie that swung in to pitch on off stump then seamed further to clatter into middle stump before the bat even had a chance to come down – when he was like, “huh, so that still happens in one-day cricket? Good to know.” Dude quietly got a hat-trick – lbw, bowled and bowled – before he was taken out of the attack.
Australia have an anomalous squad for this World Cup, with only one specialist spinner. They’re relying on their big three quicks to get wickets and maybe Mitchell Marsh, who got a 4.2 over work out in on Sunday, to keep the runs down when needed. Glenn Maxwell’s form with the ball will come as a welcome boost and whenever Travis Head is fit and ready he’ll be able to pitch in a few offbreaks himself.
PS – The game was called off when more rain arrived with Netherlands on 84 for 6.
Australia 166/7 in 23 overs (Steve Smith 55; Roelof van der Merwe 2-12, Bas de Leede 2-25) vs Netherlands 84/6 in 14.2 overs (Colin Ackermann 31*; Mitchell Starc 3-18)
Kalinga, Aruna, Nadeesha qualify for Asian Games finals
by Reemus Fernando
All three Sri Lankan sprinters qualified for the finals of their respective disciplines to give country’s track and field campaign a positive start at the Asian Games on Friday.While Kalinga Kumarage and Aruna Dharshana qualified for the men’s 400 metres final, Asian Championship gold medallist Nadeesha Ramanayake reached the finals of the women’s 400metres.
Ramanayake clocked the third fastest time in the heats to qualify for the finals where Bahrain’s Oluwakemi Kujidat and Salwa Nesar are the strongest contenders for the gold medal.
Competing in the third heat Ramanayake clocked 52.67 seconds to finish second behind Oluwakemi Kujidat. Ramanayake’s time was the third fastest in the heats in the final analysis. While former world champion Salwa Nesar was the winner in the second heat, Shereen Samson of Malaysia won the first heat in a time of 52.89 seconds.
Both Salwa and Oluwakemi Kujidat were not in the fray when Ramanayake won Sri Lanka the gold medal at the recently held Asian Athletics Championship. Ramanayake will have a tough ask today when she competes for Asian Games glory.
In the men’s category 400 metres, Kumarage clocked 45.57 seconds to win his heat, while Aruna Dharshana finished third in his heat in a time of 46.07 seconds.\Kumarage’s 45.54 seconds is the third fastest time in the heats, while Dharshana enters final as the eighth fastest from the heats.
All three sprinters will be eager to create history when they compete in the 400 metres finals. Sri Lanka has not won a medal of any colour in track and field at these Games since 2006.
Sri Lanka won two bronze medals at the Asian Games in Doha. Susanthika Jayasinghe in the women’s 200 metres and the men’s 4×400 metres team of Sugath Thilakaratne, Rohan Pradeep Kumara, Prasanna Amarasekara and Ranga Wimalawansa were the last medallist for Sri Lanka in track and field at these Games.
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