Rex Clementine, in The Island, 2 February 2023, with this title “Galle’s splendour charms everyone in cricket”
A mouth-watering contest began this week at the Galle International Stadium between Sri Lanka ‘A’ and England Lions and the future stars will have a feel of a venue where many a great like Steve Waugh, Shane Warne, Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar and Babar Azam have had their moments, gave local fans brief pains but ended up stealing our hearts. How can you not fall in love with Chris Gayle smashing sixes to Galle bus stand and then upon reaching his triple hundred lying down on floor soaking it all in.
Everyone wants to play in Galle, everyone wants to watch cricket in Galle, most reporters rate it the best ground in the world. The press box provides you direct entry from the road like they have in Birmingham. And the view is stunning. The press conference room and the dining hall are next to each other, right behind the press box.
A survey conducted in UK with voting from cricket fans across the world saw Galle being rated the most picturesque ground in the world. Even 15 years after achieving full status of the ICC, Test cricket was secluded to Colombo and Kandy and there were attempts to take the sport to the other parts of the country.
Galle, Matara and Kurunegala were highlighted as key centers and regular four day fixtures were awarded to these venues when overseas teams visited Sri Lanka. These centers had a lot of political backing too with local politicians running the district associations.
Galle for a variety of reasons was given Test status in 1998. Matara wanted to be elevated for Test status as well. Thilanga Sumathipala declined saying only one Test venue for an outstation province. He angered a few men by the names of Mahinda Wijesekara, Dallas Allahaperuma and Mangala Samaraweera, staunch SLFPers of Matara district.
Galle’s gone through some remarkable changes over the years particularly after the tsunami when the ground was redone.
There were some challenges the authorities had to face as the archaeological department argued that the new construction covered the view of the majestic Dutch Fort. After much negotiations, a compromise has been reached between parties and cricket in Galle continues on the condition that there will be no new constructions.
As a result, Galle has been made to feel the pinch as there are no indoor nets here and a scoreboard.
Former captain Kumar Sangakkara suffered most due to the non-existence of a scoreboard. Playing against Pakistan, Sri Lanka were down to the last pair and Sanga was keen to complete a double hundred and celebrated the moment. But he had got the calculation wrong. The last man was dismissed without much resistance and Sanga was left stranded on 199. As a result, he was denied an opportunity to equal the record of Sir Don Bradman’s 12 double hundreds.
Despite winning the hearts of players and fans all over the world for its natural beauty, Galle has been also in the news for the wrong reasons. The ground’s popular curator who was loved and hailed by the players remains suspended for non-cooperation into a corruption investigation.
An assistant manager of the ground was caught on camera claiming the pitch can be doctored for the right price. Education has been done on the temptations in the game but the daily wage earners remain vulnerable.
Like all venues Galle has faced its challenges. At one point, angry politicians wanted to take away all traces of cricket from here on flimsy grounds. But the venue has survived it all. It still remains the go to place in cricket.
ADDENDUM by Thuppahi
- The aerial snap is probably the work of Dominic Sansoni; while the first photograph is one snapped by Nihal Fernando (long deceased) and thus an artwork by an artist of renown; and the striking snap of England fans watching cricket for free from the majesty of the ramparts has been snapped by David Colin-Thome….. So, one has, HERE, legacies from a trio whose all-round work for Sri Lanka will stand for eternity.
- Not many will be aware that when the tsunami hit the island, Lord Michael Naseby and his doctor wife immediately flew to the island and the Maldives to assist in the relief work.
- Then note this: “When Naseby returned to the island in early 2006, he brought a cheque for 50,000 British pounds from the MCC assigned for the restoration of the facilities at this spot. In effect, he scuttled the plans germinating in the mind of one Thilanga Sumathipala, wheeler-dealer extraordinaire, to build an entirely new stadium at some spot such as Habaraduwa – with all the benefits associated with the political and financial deals linked to such ventures” (Roberts in https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2020/03/31/for-sri-lanka-engaging-lord-naseby-and-his-journeys-in-sri-lanka/).
- Th younger generations of today may not be aware that during the first half of the 20th century the present cricket grounds were bounded by a verdant waist-high hedge and were known as the “Galle Esplanade”. The Esplanade was administered by the Municipal Counccil of Galle and was used as a space where cricket, soccer and hockey matches were played; and, on special occasions, even elephant and hackery races were held. At the everyday level in the evenings the Esplanade served as the home grounds for St. Aloysius College. As an Aloysian living in the Fort in the 1950s and a lad who was passionately involved in cricket, soccer and athletics, this space was a familiar and intimate home ground …. indeed, sacred space still, though second fiddle to the Fort ramparts.