By Hafiz Marikar
The staging of a global event in any part of the world usually benefits the country or region where the event is held. The newly built or renovated infrastructure and facilities improve the environs and help raise the living standards offering commercial opportunities for the people living around the location.
Being the host of a global event naturally brings with it an opportunity to market the location to a global audience. The hospitable nature of the hosts and the facilities available are showcased. The success of the event manifests.
As I looked around the newly built “green filled” Pallekelle International Cricket Stadium from the impressive press box I was overwhelmed. Speaking to Sri Lanka Cricket Tournament Director for the World Cup, an individual who has worked tirelessly, Suraj Dandeniya said “Sri Lanka Cricket acquired Pallekelle stadium which was then half built and had almost been abandoned, and commenced the necessary improvements no sooner than the acquisition”.
When asked about the reasons for choosing Pallekelle as a World Cup venue, he stated that out of all the grounds, this was the best and is also situated in an ideal place which suits cricket. Dandeniya further added that the “hill capital is a major tourist attraction and many prefer the regional climate which is conducive for cricket. SLC did not also forget the fact that cricket greats such as Murali and Kumar also came from Kandy and the regional cricketers deserve an improved facility to play cricket.”
As the first flood-lit stadium in Kandy, the Pallekelle International Stadium is the legacy of the Cricket World Cup 2011 for cricketers and the public in Central Province. It can easily accommodate 27,000 spectators and has new dressing rooms for players, match officials rooms, grand and lower stands and grass embankments on either side of the pitch.
What interested me most was the sprawling media block which is a four-storey building and has separate areas for a press box, media centre, a photographers working area, media dining rooms, soundproof commentary boxes for both TV and radio and a press conference room.
According to Dandeniya who has family ties in Kandy and is a former Thomian and SSC leg spinner, “We also wanted to look at the big picture of ICC World Cup, the world’s third largest event coming to Sri Lanka and never wanted to confine the mega event to Colombo only. This is why we started building the two new stadiums in Hambantota and Kandy.”
He further added that this is also an extension of the promise of taking cricket to the provinces found in the Mahinda Chinthana policy framework of his Excellency the President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Dandeniya also stated that “President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s advice and supervision made this project a reality within a short span of nine months. His good office helped to bring many organizations together to act fast and expedite the work. Sports Minister Mahindaananda Aluthgamage and the former sports Minister C.B. Ratnayake both from Kandy encouraged and guided completion of the stadium. This facility will be an asset for Kandyans, we will see many mega events taking place here in future.”
When asked about the barrage of criticism leveled against him by certain parties he replied saying that he had proved himself and now the people would see the truth.
“I was only bothered about keeping my focus intact. The criticism encouraged me to prove myself and give them an answer which would help them to realize why they should not come up with baseless arguments. I wanted to complete the project successfully in the national interest. As I see the smooth operations of the Sri Lankan leg of the tournament to the liking of ICC, I feel proud for the simple reason that I could lead my team to deliver.”
Dandeniya said Kandy should also be thankful to Lakshman Kiriella, present Member of Parliament for initiating action towards the construction of the Pallekelle International Cricket Stadium. He added, “Discussions over a decade ago regarding an eco-friendly stadium in Pallekele in keeping with the panoramic beauty of the Dumabara Valley have now finally been realised. The Pallekelle leg of the tournament will be over by 14th Monday with the conclusion of the Pakistan vs Zimbabwe game, However it will open its gates for cricketers from Kandy to experience an international cricketing atmosphere from there onwards. This is the biggest gift SLC could give to the Central province in my opinion,” finally said the man who was instrumental in bringing this world class gift to Kandy. A big thank you to from the cricket loving public of Kandy.