Life at Asgiriya goes on spinning and bouncing
In 1910, the Principal of Trinity, Rev. A.G. Frazer took the momentous decision to acquire eight acres of land for the school. As the Trinity Centenary Magazine (1872-1972) puts it, “they constituted then what appeared to be a sheer Hill-side, and few shared Frazer’s great joy that at last we had acquired a suitable playing field less than five minutes walk from the school.
Many others scoffed and sneered at this seeming folly, the only justification for it being that the land was obtained free from the Army”.
This playing field, some seventy years later, was converted to a test match venue through the indefatigable efforts of late. Gamini Dissanaike and the hard work of his able lieutenant Abu Fuard. It is now 9 1/2 acres in extent and it has been got on a 99 year lease from the government.
Cheek by jowl with the old ground was a house peopled by the Abeyratne family. I believe it is the site of the present old Trinitians sports club for siblings Roger and Lucky Abeyratne, the ground was, in effect, an extension of their back-yard. The relationship goes further, for Roger and Lucky have been the curators of the Asgiriya International Stadium from 1995- to 2003, and from 2003 to the present time.
As for credentials, Roger played in the Trinity cricket team for two years but was better known as a flanker with his Alma Mater and later on for Kandy SC, UVA and Kelani Valley. The younger Lucky featured in the Cricket, Hockey and Boxing teams at Trinity and then was a member of the formidable Tobacco side in the Mercantile A Division tournament.
Discussing the preparation of a test match pitch, they felt that, given fair weather, ten days were sufficient. It’s a case of watering and rolling (with a lighter roller), allowing it to dry and plenty of rolling at half hourly intervals when the wicket gets consolidated, the heavy roller is used and the moisture taken out. The National Curator Anurudha Polonowita makes the final adjustments two to three days before the test.
Twelve labourers belonging to the school perform all these tasks and an extra five are recruited for rolling the week before the test.
Lucky says that as centre wicket practice is not allowed now at any time prior to the Match, his task has been made easier. If not, three wickets had to be prepared. In passing let me recall that I was once asked by an important Board official in Colombo to ask the Asgiriya Curator to prepare two tracks for practice before a major test match. One, similar to the test strip and the other very different the latter for the visitors. The curator, a man of great integrity and character said “nothing doing, I’ll prepare one track for both teams”. In consequence, Asgiriya acquired a bad name and a few leading cricketers were not well disposed to playing there.
The Abeyratne’s are adamant that it is cheaper to play a test at Asgiriya rather than at some other centres which have to be maintained for a year just for five days of cricket. In fact, a former president of the BCCSL has said as much.
The rub with Asgiriya is that the ground is used daily by about 200 students for cricket, rugger, hockey and athletics. The extension of the rugby season has not helped matters. When a test match comes up, the Trinitians have to go elsewhere for their practices and this means time and money.
Asgiriya has seven strips and the centre three is set apart for test matches. A far greater volume of cricket is played here at present and with mid week matches, the time available for replanting etc. is minimal. Eight schools play their “Big” and one day matches at Asgiriya and the fee charged is quite low says the curator.
The Board has provided Asgiriya with a pitch cutter, a ride on mower and one large cover. It also pays Rs. 75,000 per day for a test match. The Abeyratne’s come back with the question of overheads. Electricity and water bills are met by the school.
The Sri Lankan cricketers have had some highs as well as lows at Asgiriya. Being bowled out for 91 by the Kiwis, being humbled by Chappells Aussies, being Waquared for 74 and more recently, being demolished inside three days by Inzamamo's team.
That fantastic fifth day rear guard effort by Mendis and Dias, a win for Jayasuriyas men over Waugh’s team (something that seldom happened even else where) and that gripping test against the protest in Arjuna’s farwell to Asgiriya come to mind.
In conclusion, I asked the Abeyratne’s if they felt threatened in any way by the now on, now of Pallekele stadium. They say that life at Asgiriya will go on, with or without test matches. The authorities will be able to hire the ground more often. Both feel that from the point of view of accessibility, Asgiriya is the obvious choice. - AK