By S.R. Pathiravithana  In every sphere of life there are certain people who are institutions and who have contributed to the cause immensely, yet, personally they remain almost anonymous. Even in cricket there are several such personalities and Sri Lanka Cricket’s Chief Curator, Anurudha Polonowita, who is bidding adieu to the game on March 31 [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Polonowita bids adieu to his valentine wickets


By S.R. Pathiravithana 

In every sphere of life there are certain people who are institutions and who have contributed to the cause immensely, yet, personally they remain almost anonymous. Even in cricket there are several such personalities and Sri Lanka Cricket’s Chief Curator, Anurudha Polonowita, who is bidding adieu to the game on March 31 after a 53-year association, is one such figure.

At his alma-mater Ananda Collage he took to the game when he was only ten-years-old and then went on to captain the school in every age group before being invited to lead the Combined School’s XI. He did not stop at that, he came back to the school to guide the younger brood as coach and at some stage cricket personalities in the calibre of Arjuna Ranatunga, Nishantha Ranatunga, Upali Dharmadasa, Mohan de Silva and Dhammika Ranatunga have received his tutelage at some stage.

Pic by Amila Gamage

Prior to confining himself to the grassroots cause of cricket he represented the country at the highest level and even created the Nomads Sports Club and then led them to the unbeaten Division One Champions in 1968.

His valentine date with cricket was not confined to the above. After his exploits on the field he served as a Vice-President of Sri Lanka Cricket and in several other positions which include the position of Chairman of the Selection Committee and Manager of the Sri Lanka cricket team on more than one occasion.

Besides all these contributions to the game of cricket, Anurudha Polonowita will go down in history as the curator that he was, along with his contribution to that aspect of the game.

Polonowita then explained his association with the blade of grass and clay along with some interesting anecdotes during his final love affair. He said, “I got interested in grounds and wickets in 1994 when I was the Vice President of Sri Lanka Cricket. At this point I saw the matters pertaining to the wickets were still done by the labour force in each respective ground. I knew there was a bigger theoretical and a scientific aspect in this art and travelled to Australia (on a scholarship obtained from the Colombo Municipality where he was employed as Director Play Grounds) and did a three-month course learning the inner aspects of the job of a curator. Thereafter in the year 2000 I was invited by the board to take over as curator and then I started the curator’s department at SLC. Then I recruited seven graduates with a degree in Agriculture and trained them in this fine art. Down the thirteen years of the existence of this department each one of them has been detailed into the grounds that are controlled by Sri Lanka Cricket.”

Prior to that Polonowita cut his teeth on ground management when he got involved with the transformation of the Nomads grounds at the Viharamahadevi Park (where the Nelum Pokuna is now situated) and the huge project of building the R. Premadasa Stadium at Khettarama, which they completed within a period of six months.

At this point Polonowita came out with a little story that was uncommon to us. He said the idea mooted by then-President of Sri Lanka R. Premadasa was to build a complete sports complex at this place. But halfway through the project the president changed his mind and wanted it to be a cricket stadium. This is why he explained at the Khettarama Stadium the main pavilion is situated in the middle of the ground, unlike the other cricket stadiums where the pavilions are built closer to the sight-screen.

Polonowita then went into the start of his employment at the SLC. “When we formed the curator’s department there was no grounds which were administered by the board. At that time however I was in-charge of the Khettarama ground in my capacity as Director Play Grounds at the Colombo Municipality. Then during the tenure of Jayantha Dharmadasa, the Khettarama Stadium was taken over by the board.

“After the Khettarama Stadium, came the Dambulla Stadium which came under Thilanga Sumathipala, the next was Pallekelle Stadium which we brought over from spinning legend Muttiah Muralitharan and the final was the Sooriyawewa Stadium. I was responsible for the pitches at all these venues. Even when the international matches are played at private venues I take over the wickets about two months before the given game and dress it up to the requirements. Anyway it is quite a task and very expensive to maintain a cricket ground at peak level. It costs a couple of million a month. All our grounds are kept at peak level and with about three day’s work any of the grounds can host a game”.

Then we sailed on to the crux of the discussion. We asked what it means to a curator when it comes to what it’s called the home advantage and if he could explain some interesting incidents in that regard. Polonowita explained, “Before a Test match or an international match we have a meeting with the coach and the captain and thereafter we prepare the wickets according to their specifications. “I remember once Coach Tom Moody and the captain of the Sri Lanka team asked us to make a flat…flat wicket for a game against the visiting South African team. In that game two of our batsmen went on to put up a record partnership and Sri Lanka posted a huge total and won by an innings, in spite of South Africa making over 400 runs in the second innings”.

“However in the aftermath both the captain and the coach came out and made statements condemning the pitch. I was flabbergasted. Then the Director of Cricket Operations at SLC was Bandula Warnapura. I complained to him about this unjustified statement and he summoned both parties. Even at that point Moody was saying that wickets of that nature were not good for the game. After his statement I asked him whether they did not make a request to prepare a flat…..flat wicket. He acknowledged, and then I asked him what sort of a wicket that they wanted for the next game. He said he expected a good bouncy wicket and that was given for the game. This time the game went like a pendulum. It was a high scoring game where South Africa scored well in both innings, but Sri Lanka who trailed in the first innings came back to win the game by one wicket. However after this game Tom Moody came up to me and thanked me for the wicket that I prepared”.

“During my tenure I have prepared 83 Test pitches and over 170 ODI wickets and I must say they were done according to the wishes of the respective captains and coaches and the success rate is over eighty per cent.

“During the time of Muralitharan we used to shave the wicket of any semblance of grass and he always had the advantage over opponents. Anyway making a wicket according to your strength is the prerogative of any home team and it is no secret that every country does it,”. Polonowita concluded with a smile.

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