The ruins of a once majestic fort built by the Dutch may be a testimonial to the three decades of civil war that this region has seen,but Jaffna now is on the path of rebuilding. And as it takes its first,tentative steps towards normalcy,one of the projects on the agenda of the Sri Lankan district is cricket a game that gave it rare solace through those long troubled years.
With the weight of the Sri Lankan Cricket Board behind it,associations are being formed in Jaffna and plans being put in place for matches with other provinces as well as age-group games,even an own premier division team, and finally,Jaffnas first international cricketer. Muthiah Muralitharan and Russel Arnold have been the only Tamils to have played for Sri Lanka.
Jaffnas cricket connection goes back 125 years,and through the civil war,the game went on,albeit at a smaller scale. The matches were held on torn mattings,the region celebrated its own Muralis,Jaysuriyas,Vaas,and Malingas,even held its own little World Cup.
Realising a potential that could one day come handy,the Sri Lankan Cricket Board (SLCB) passed on equipment to the war-torn region through the army.
We used the armys help to train some coaches there,and also send some equipment from time to time. We knew that even during war time,there was some cricket going on… So when peace time started,we started going there, says Malcom Perera,Coaching Manager of Sri Lanka Cricket.
Board officials have an interesting anecdote,of visiting Jaffna once to catch a game,flying in on an army helicopter and spending considerable time in a bunker.
Initially we conducted programmes to train coaches and now there are 25 qualified coaches in Jaffna district. We distributed equipment to cricket-playing colleges in Jaffna,kit bags worth Rs 3,00,000 and cricket matting to all schools in Jaffna. Now Jaffna schools have got an organisation the Jaffna School Cricket Association in addition to the Jaffna District Cricket Association. They are affiliated to the school cricket bodies in Colombo,so whatever tournament is conducted in Colombo,same tournaments are conducted in Jaffna by the schools cricket association.
D S De Silva,Sri Lanka Cricket Chairman,says this in more ways would help people from various sections of the society understand that all are equal. The response from kids,he adds,has been huge.
Among those coaching in Jaffna is Ravindra Pushpakumara,a former fast bowler and member of the Sri Lankan 1996 World Cup winning team,who is the provincial coach. As many as 18 schools play cricket in Jaffna St Johns and St Patrick being the major ones and the district is playing the Under-15,Under-16 and Under-19 matches. They will then be grouped along with other provinces in the north and north east to play provincial cricket.
Sri Lankan skipper Kumar Sangakkara dropped in recently. We recently found a junior player bowling as quick as Malinga, says Perera.
Muthiah Muralitharan had visited Jaffna in 2002 during a ceasefire between the Sri Lankan government and LTTE, to a rapturous welcome. The worlds highest wicket-taker in Tests is excited about the changes taking place. I would definitely want to go back there and see, he says.
Our priority is to get a few turf wickets ready at the earliest, stresses De Silva. They are also planning to build a stadium with the requisite training facilities,a project in which they are being helped by expatriates living in Dubai and