By Goutham Chakravarthi | September 24, 2012
With the ICC Women’s World Twenty20 also taking place in Sri Lanka, the Galle International Cricket Stadium is a hive of activity these days. The man responsible for getting the stadium in shape for the women’s league matches starting later this week is former Sri Lankan Test cricketer Jayananda Warnaweera. Apart from being the curator at the venue and the secretary of the Southern Province Cricket Association, Warnaweera is also on the executive committee of Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC).
The cricket ground in Galle was devastated during the tsunami. © AFP
You played for Galle Cricket Club, and you were among the first to represent Sri Lanka from here. Who are the others?
Like New South Wales in Australia or Mumbai in India, Colombo is the cricket epicentre for Sri Lanka. I played cricket from here for two-and-half decades and was the first to break into the Test team from Galle. It paved the way for others like Champaka Ramanayake and Upul Chandana later. Even Marvan Atapattu is from here. Now, Upul Tharanga from Galle is in the national team as well. So, we have consistently been producing Test players from Galle from the time I broke in. Unfortunately with Galle, like with other outstations being limited in terms of opportunities, a lot of these cricketers move to places like Colombo after school and in search of job opportunities.
Are there steps taken by SLC to ensure talent remains in their regions?
There are various measures being evaluated to ensure we retain people in the local provinces. Chief among them are proposals at the provincial level where eligibility for representing the province will be earned only if you represent a club from the province. There are many such ideas being considered and we hope to provide long-term solutions.
We are about a week from the start of the women’s league games, a lot of work is being done here at the stadium already; how is the interest with ladies cricket here and what kind of numbers do you foresee for these games at Galle?
This is an ICC event and all ticket-related things are handled by the ICC. The good thing is these games are free of charge for the spectators. Sri Lankans have been known to follow the men’s game more and it is the same everywhere. But we still expect to see five to six thousand people to show up at the ground for every match
How do you rate Sri Lankan women’s chances?
In Sri Lanka, not many women play cricket although the interest seems to be on the rise. Understandably, the interest is more in Colombo area than in outstations like Galle. The hope is that with this World Cup being here, and if we do well, it will hopefully generate a lot of interest in the women to take up the game.
You were instrumental in getting the stadium ready first in 1998 and you then played a pivotal role in getting the stadium ready post tsunami. How difficult was it?
The tsunami left the stadium in ruins and we had to do a lot of work to get it up and running. Upwards of 500 million rupees was spent to have the stadium renovated. There were obstructions from the archaeological department that the new building construction would block the view of the historical Galle Fort. I am glad that we were able to get past all that. It was the ground where Shane Warne got to 500 wickets and my good friend Murali retired here a hero after getting the last Indian wicket to get to 800 Test wickets. There are many happy memories at this ground.
Being a former Test player, would you have liked to be part of these T20 tournaments across the world? Do you fancy them?
Personally, I am not a great fan of T20 cricket. Test cricket will always be the pinnacle not T20 cricket. Not even one-day cricket. You need skill and endurance to succeed in Test cricket and that is not the case with T20 cricket. Yes, commercially it is great for cricket. But from a personal stand point, not my choice.
When I run through your stats, I see that you regularly bowled 30-odd overs in an innings. Yet we see today’s bowlers, with all the coaching and scientific approach, spending more time recuperating than playing. Why is that?
In my time, fitness had to do with match routine not gym routine. Unfortunately, most of the youngsters are gym-fit and not match-fit. We didn’t know much else to do other than to bowl for long hours. We built ourselves to bowl and last sessions and days. Perhaps today’s bowlers are not that match fit.
Who are the best young players coming out of Sri Lanka that have caught your eye?
Dinesh Chandimal. He has the ability to be a very good player for Sri Lanka. I hope he can go far and achieve a lot. Also, I am impressed a lot by Akila Dananjaya. He will be a very good bowler for Sri Lanka.
Who were the best players you played against?
Vivian Richards comes to mind first and then Mohammed Azharuddin. Among bowlers, there were many — Kapil Dev, Michael Holding, Imran Khan and Wasim Akram to name a few.
Who was the most difficult batsman you bowled to and why?
Mohammed Azharuddin. He was wristy and aggressive; and was very difficult to set fields to. He had good hands, and could put spinners off their lines and lengths quickly.
The best captain you have played with or against?
Imran Khan was the best and so was Arjuna Ranatunga. I would rate Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara amongst the best captains in the recent times as well.
As a former off-spinner, who do you pick as the best off-spinner in the world currently?
Both Saeed Ajmal and Graeme Swann have been very good for their teams in the last few years. Both are very fine spinners. I am also very impressed with R Ashwin, as he seems to have a lot of variations and seems an intelligent cricketer. With age on his side, and the maturity experience will bring him, he will be a bowler to watch out for in the years to come.
Do you agree with foreign coaches coaching national teams? It seems to be the norm with all international teams these days?
I do not have a problem with local coaches coaching the national team. Sometimes, language can be a barrier for foreign coaches to communicate with the team, especially the young ones. Some teams with good and bright seniors can overcome this. Sometimes, it is seen to be an advantage, as it is seen as not showing favouritism as well. The best man for the job should always coach any team.
Finally, who do you think will win the World T20?
It is a very open tournament. South Africa are a strong team and so are Pakistan. Sri Lanka have the team to win and so do India.
Goutham Chakravarthi is a freelance journalist, podcaster and founder of The CouchExpert.
© Island Cricket