It will take more than a tsunami to break this spirit | cricket | Hindustan Times
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It will take more than a tsunami to break this spirit

cricket Updated: Jul 29, 2008 01:13 IST
Anand Vasu
Anand Vasu
Hindustan Times
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Even Today when the wind picks up and the waves get choppy, the residents of sleepy Galle can't help but shudder. The 2004 tsunami caused such widespread devastation and loss of life that reminders remain everywhere you go. As you drive down the picturesque road from Colombo you cross the train tracks where two carriages still lie on either side, ripped apart from the train. A little further down the road is a cemetery on the left side where row upon row of victims lie buried. Broken buildings dot both sides of the road, some abandoned, some beyond repair. But amidst all this, the Galle International Stadium has risen back to life, proving that man can overcome the greatest of disasters.

On the day the tsunami struck, a team from England, Harrow Under 19s were playing against Southern District Under 19s. When the boys saw the 15-metre wave coming at them they were first amused, slowly retreating to the safety of the pavilion. When they saw their team bus floating towards them, the severity of the situation was driven home.

They managed to climb first to the second floor of a building and then to the heights of the Galle Fort and escape to safety. Julian Ayer, father of one of the cricketers playing the game, was not so lucky.

The stadium itself was completely destroyed and Chandrika Kumaratunga, the then head of state, said that rebuilding the stadium was not an option, leaving Jayananda Warnaweera, the former Sri Lankan offspinner and still the man who matters at Galle, distraught. When Mahinda Rajapaksa took over as president, the Galle decision was overturned.

But still there were hurdles to be overcome.

Finance was a major problem, and although many celebrities promised fund, Warnaweera learnt the hard way that they did not always deliver.

"Shane Warne has promised funds in a big way. Never sent a cent," Warnaweera told the Hindustan Times. "Even later Warne sent an email saying some money was on the way, but maybe it's still on the way."

Unlike Warne, though, there were others who came good, and none more than Harriet Ayer, who, along with friends in England, managed to collect more than 50,000 pounds and donated the funds to build the Julian Ayer memorial indoor complex that houses nets, pavilions and stands.

For Warnaweera the project to rebuild the stadium became something of an obsession. "We must thank Mahinda Rajapaksa because if it was not for him, we would not have cricket here right now," Warnaweera said. "But even after we got the go-ahead there were many roadblocks. Everyone was against rebuilding this ground. We were told to take the ground elsewhere, but I said no, Galle is Galle."

But why this desperation to restore the ground to its original status? "I played cricket here. This is my home town. I came to cricket administration through this ground and this town," explains Warnaweera, almost surprised by the question. "A lot of world records are here. Warne got to 500 wickets here. If you take this ground elsewhere and give it the same name it won't become the Galle International Stadium. This is very special for me. In my young days it was a dream to make this an international standard Test venue."

"After the tsunami I was crying for days. Every day I used to come to the ground at six in the morning and leave at past midnight," Warnaweera added.

"Basically I live in this ground. It's like my home, my family, you name it."

And it's not just Warnaweera. To many in the region the fact that the stadium is back up, even if not to its complete glory, is a symbol of the fighting spirit the people of Sri Lanka have shown since the tsunami. This is one cause that even a visitor will realise is worth supporting.