Galle Esplanade gets Test status in April 1984:

Upali Delpechitre, in The Island, 9 May 2012

Jayananda Warnaweera, Curator, as much an institution now as W Dahanayake! 

Status of cricket-prior to Test status: Galle CC was representing Division III Daily News Trophy conducted by the Board of Control for Cricket and has been responsible for organising the foreign and visiting International cricket matches on behalf of the cricket board. All these matches were played on the matting wicket then.Gamini Sports club was responsible to organise soccer tournaments in the district.

With the turf wicket, Galle had been able to keep most of the promising school cricketers playing for Galle CC. Galle’s turf wicket (1975) enabled Galle CC to win the Div. III Daily News Trophy in 1980, having winning all four matches in the final round and beating SSC in the final at Malays ground.

Galle CC was promoted to Division I Sara Trophy in 1982, after losing to Nomads in the final played after a replay in Colombo. Galle CC lodged a petition against Nomads two Div I players during 1981.

Announcement from Board of Control for Cricket Sri Lanka: The late Gamini Dissanayake visited Galle on 23rd July 1983 to announce the conversion of the Galle esplanade into a Test Stadium. The then Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka (BCCSL) by letter early Sept1983 informed of a decision to stage that 1st Test match in Galle Vs New Zealand during March 1984; and that a visit by the board officials including President, Gamini Dissanayake would be inspecting the esplanade early Sept’1983. Arrangements have been made by the BCCSL with the Department of Town and Country Planning also to join the above inspection in order to frame the proposals. This had been confirmed by the Director Planning N. D. Dickson by his letter No: 05/3/23 addressed to the District Secretary, with copy to President Galle CC dated 13-09-1983 stating that plans for conversion to a stadium has been prepared and sent to the BCCSL.

The idea of converting the Galle esplanade to a test stadium had been raised prior to this above proposal. Two proposals had gone before the BCCSL. Brief report is highlighted below explaining the alternative sites considered giving the reasons. The MP for Galle Albert Silva had announced during his election campaign that the Mahinda College grounds would be converted as the stadium.When this had been in the air, having considered its location in a deep valley, its size and the drainage difficulties that would be experienced; the Galle CC and the District Association proposed an alternative site in Mahamodera facing Galle Road, close to and opposite side of the present Galle’s Light House Hotel. This land with 18 acres sited on fairly high ground and available for sale could have been developed with ease for a sports complex, but the land owner being a highly powerful politician was demanding a high price. The Government could not afford to meet that cost and this was the reason why the Galle Esplanade was selected for this purpose.

With the announcement of new proposal, the Galle MC summoned an urgent meeting of all sports bodies in the town and the schools representatives to consider framing the proposals. It was the unanimous decision that the stadium after improvements have to accommodate all sports activities presently in operation including national events. The present drawbacks were considered then. The esplanade as it was could not cater for a 400m track event as experienced in the national sports event held during 1975. Having considered all pros and cons, a decision was taken to carry out a survey of the grounds including spot levels and the roads for enlargement of the grounds. This survey was undertaken by Lion Frank Guruge, Chartered Surveyor and produced the plans within a week. The writer who was captaining the Galle CC at that time, was entrusted to frame the tentative proposals, taking all what had been discussed at the above meeting and have these ready for the Board’s inspection fixed for the 24th Sept’ 83.

The BCCSL and UDA officials visited the grounds. First the UDA proposals were taken up for discussion. Next Galle MC’s proposals framed by Galle CC were tabled and explained the importance of accommodating all other sports events including schools, District’s soccer tournaments and National events in the grounds and as such the necessity of enlargement of the grounds was a pre-requisite. None of the schools (boys or girls) had a playground of their own for athletics or even cricket. This had to be given priority. Main proposals for the extension of the grounds for more space included shifting the road on canal side more towards the canal, closing the inner road running parallel to the ramparts to come within the grounds to accommodate playing area for Girls schools activities, as required by Dr. Dahanayake on the request of leading girls’ schools. On the request of the Board officials, area for new turf wicket reserved for test matches had to be accommodated leaving room for a soccer pitch on the southern side and a hockey pitch for schools on the northern side. This enabled to provide a 400m – 8 lane track for the first time in the stadium.

The UDA proposals have not considered all above options. Having discussed in detail, the President Board of Control for Cricket asked me whether I could undertake the construction of the stadium work as well; but insisted that it must be ready by end March 1984 to stage the first Test match. The Board officials and Abu Fuard, marked out the location for laying the New Test Turf wicket area right opposite the new pavilion put up by the Galle MC. Abu Fuard was requested to undertake the preparation of the Test wicket and for me to assist him. Nisal Senaratne served as the coordinator. As the President, BCCSL and being Minister of Lands, Land Development and Mahaweli Development, I could not say “No” to him although I was at the time working as the CRE Nilwala project in Matara. I agreed and stated that I could do that if some machinery and equipments from Gin Ganga project are made available. Then, the Minister asked me what he should do. I mentioned that if he could speak to the Director of Irrigation, A. J. P. Ponrajah he would explain. The same night about 9.00 p.m., Ponrajah called me at home and inquired about the Minister’s request. He promptly informed me that I can have all the machinery and go ahead with the work and that he will inform for the release of the machinery and staff.

As per decisions and instructions, I framed the designs, plans and estimates. A meeting was arranged to apprise the District Minister Rupa Karunatilleke and Dr. W. Dahanayake MP for Galle. After this, the District Minister summoned another meeting to get the district officials aware of what the proposals are and get other institutions such as Galle MC, RDA, Fisheries Harbour Corporation’s to commit for the development of the stadium.

Then Archaeological Commissioner, Roland Silva with the UDA officials and BCCSL officials came down to Galle on the 29th Oct’1983 to inspect the proposals framed. He raised many observations for the enlargement of the grounds. After a thorough inspection a meeting was held which was chaired by Dr. W. Dahanayake. The Archaeological Commissioner made a few amendments to the tiers and the UDA was instructed to prepare the plans for the score board and requested that it be erected at the particular location to prevent from covering the Galle ramparts. A proposal was also made at this meeting to send the above proposals to the Minister of Cultural Affairs for action under Antiquities Ordinance No: 9 of 1940 (Cap .188).The estimated cost of the civil works improvements was Rs 4.5 Mn.

The GALLE CRICKET FUND: Then as usual, raising funds for the improvements had been discussed at a higher level. The president BCCSL issued a letter to the Chairman Bank of Ceylon to grant an overdraft of Rs. 500,000 to commence work on the stadium stating that the total cost and that Dhanayake has agreed to donate Rs. 1.0 Mn towards the project from the decentralised budget.

On a proposal made by the BCCSL; a committee was appointed to raise funds for this purpose and a list of donors was jointly prepared by the Galle MC and Galle CC. This list was forwarded to the BCCSL to send out letters signed by the President BCCSL through the Galle MC. This fund was to be managed by the District Secretary, Galle and the President Galle CC.

Construction works commenced – 2nd Oct’ 1983: The construction work commenced on the excavation of the new turf Wicket by cutting the first sod attended by Dr. W. Dahanayake,His worship the Mayor Galle MC , M. K. Anwar. Soon after, the construction work on the new roadway and the filling work for tiers and enclosure walls commenced.

The following tasks were delegated to the under mentioned agencies:

* The Highways Department- construction of the new road way on the canal side with necessary drainage structures and drains.

* Abu Fuard ( Board of Control-Cricket)– Preparation of turf wicket, supply pot clay, planting material and staff for final dressing, Irrigation to carry out the excavation and filling work and filter as per Abu Fuard’s instructions.

* Irrigation Dept- filling work on the new ground area and turfing, Construction of tiers and enclosure walls and gate at the entrance as per plans

* Irrigation Dept’ and Galle MC -Refurbishing dressing rooms in the Galle MC pavilion.

* Fisheries Harbor Corporation – two sight screens

On the 24th Jan’1984, the President BCCSL came to inspect the progress of the construction work and also to meet the donors, to address about the Cricket fund. A Souvenir “Galle Cricket Stadium” published by the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka Cricket Foundation carrying articles from Gamini Dissanake, Dr. Dahanayke MP for Galle and an article from S.S. Perera with the project estimate for the promotion of the stadium in Galle was distributed at this meeting.

The New Zealand tour which was originally had to be rescheduled and the First three day match was played starting from the 4th April in the Galle Stadium. This match could not use the new turf wicket as it was not ready and the match was played on the original Turf Wicket. Galle MC Pavilion which was refurbished under the stadium improvements was used by the two teams. Sir Garfield Sobers, who had been invited by Dissanayake as the chief guest to witness the match was present throughout the match.

The improvements envisaged in the original estimate had to be curtailed mainly due to the short period of time available for staging the first match in April 1984 and also non availability of the funds. The cost of the above works was Rs. 1.6 Mn.

Dr. Dahanayake donated Rs. 1.0Mn from his DCB funding, and four other MP’s from Galle District has contributed Rs. 100,000 each towards meeting the cost. Altogether Rs. 1,600,000.00 Mn had been the total fund raised.

When Dissanayake visited Galle on the 23rd July 1983 to announce the conversion of the Galle esplanade in to a Test stadium, Dr. Dahanayake addressed in honour of his visit and the poem related by him is quoted below.

Hail! Honoured son of Trinity Who brings to Galle a thing of beauty,

A stadium for our games and glory,

Fit monument to our ancient story.

In far-famed Halls where Fraser taught,

In truth and duty thy life was wrought;

And annals of cricket’s noble game

In letters of gold is writ thy name;

To thee our Mahaweli, loud and long,

Chants a paean of praise and song;

To thee, our hearts and voices rise,

Minister of Lanka, strong and wise

The writer was the Chief Resident Engineer, Nilwala Ganga Flood Regulation Project, Matara at the time from 1983 -1989; He was a playing member Galle CC from 1973,captained the winning team Daily News Trophy 1980, captained Donovan Trophy and Sara Trophy cricket for Galle CC till 1984.<>

Leave a comment

Filed under heritage, historical interpretation, life stories, sri lankan society

Leave a Reply