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In the wilderness, a cricketing oasis

cricket Updated: Feb 19, 2011 01:32 IST
Amol Karhadkar
Amol Karhadkar
Hindustan Times
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More than its beach and a seaport, Hambantota --- one of the most underdeveloped areas in Sri Lanka despite being the hometown of President Mahindra Rajapaksha --- was known to the world for its wildlife.

However, with the president and his son having planned a makeover of the province, a new international airport, a new seaport and Sri Lanka’s first expressway from Hambantota to Colombo — a distance of around 220km — will come up by the end of 2012.

But more than the infrastructure development, now on, the city will be famous for having constructed one of the most well planned cricket stadiums in the sub-continent.

During the six-hour drive from Colombo to the stadium, located in the Sooriyawewa village, lush green with paddy fields and scrubby bushes, one wonders how can World Cup matches be played in the middle of nowhere.

But all the doubts are erased once you enter the stadium, which will host Sri Lanka’s maiden outing in the tournament against Canada on Sunday. It would not be an overstatement to refer to the stadium as a marvel as it has come up on land that was full of scrubby bushes till about 18 months back. “Had it not been for the Sri Lankan army, the stadium wouldnt have been ready till now,” Lt Shanaka Ratnayake, who has been overseeing the development ever since the land was identified in June 2008, said.

“After getting clearances from various government departments, work finally started on May 16, 2009, and had it not been for the excessive of rain, we would have hosted Sri Lankas two ODIs against West Indies in November last year.”

“With the incessant rain, we were doubtful whether we would be able to host the match but once the rain stopped, we had to give an extra push to get things in shape,” Ratnayake said. “Around 80 army personnel were pressed into service and the efforts have paid off.”