The Dawn of Red Ball Cricket in Polonnaruwa – 1982 – by Dr Gamini Goonetilleke
The First Red Ball Cricket match in Polonnaruwa – 5th December 1982
“This story is about the introduction of red ball cricket to Polonnaruwa. It is an event that took place thirty eight (38) years ago and is not an easy task to recollect everything in detail. I also wanted to include some photographs as they an integral part of any story. I must admit that I could not find all the photographs taken at that time. However, those that I was able to find, depicted our youthful looks and including these photographs in the story was fully worth at the end. Being one of the pioneers, I have done my best to gather my thoughts in this short article to bring out the salient aspects of this important historical sports event for the benefit of sports lovers, especially those interested in promoting the game of hard ball cricket throughout Sri Lanka with one clear message: there is plenty of talent out there”
“A Dead City with No Sporting Activity”
The Ancient City of Polonnaruwa was “dead” as far as sporting activities were concerned. We could walk and see the glorious architecture of the monuments of the ancient city complex, do a relaxing walk along the bund of the majestic Parakrama Samudra or even make an occasional visit to a hotel in the tourist resort, relax, swim and enjoy a drink or two with friends. We were trapped with nothing much to do after work. We were interested in some sporting activity. To be previse, the villagers did play a game called “Elle” (softball). However, that was not our game!
Sports play a vital role in modern contemporary society. It is an integral part of life, essential for the physical and mental well-being of individuals.
Cricket Enthusiasts Meet in Polonnaruwa
Fortunately, in the 1980’s, the people who came to serve in the District of Polonnaruwa in various capacities were interested in sports. We teamed up very well, also drawing together the “top” people in Polonnaruwa and discussed the formation of a club. There was unanimous support for this cause. The sole purpose of the club was not only for fellowship, but the greater ambition was to introduce “hard ball” or red ball cricket to the District of Polonnaruwa. Although red ball cricket was popular in Sri Lanka, the game was not played in this District at that time. We were fortunate that another sports enthusiast and a professional planter had come to work in Polonnaruwa at that time as the CEO of a private company. He extended his unstinted support and being a good organizer in all aspects later became the “live wire” and first secretary of the club. He was also able to obtain the support of his company and this became very useful as we did not have any resources to embark on this project. He is none other than the amiable and flamboyant personality from the hill capital of Kandy, Ranjith Ellegala.
“ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL BOY”
The Pioneers Begin Discussions
Initial discussions towards forming a cricket club were very favourable with support from all concerned. The Government Agent of Polonnaruwa, Mr U G Jayasinghe and the Additional Government Agent, Mr Palitha Elkaduwa extended their unstinted support for this idea.
Ranjith Ellegala together with his company assistant Karunasena Gamage played a key role in getting the initial formalities organized. Dr B F S Samaranayake and Dr Gamini Goonetilleke represented the doctors in the District. Mr M T Perera (Ted), the Manager of the Bank of Ceylon at Polonnaruwa was given the task of looking into the financial aspects of the club. The Politicians in the District gave their blessings for this worthy cause to uplift the sporting activities in the rural District of Polonnaruwa. Many sports enthusiasts in Polonnaruwa also participated in this discussion. They are too numerous to mention due to lack of space, but their names are listed in the PDCC committee which you will see below.
The Birth of the Polonnaruwa District Cricket Club (PDCC)
The Task of the PDCC Committee
The first task of the PDCC committee was to organize the facilities and obtain the basic cricketing gear. The only ground that was suitable to play cricket was the ground at Royal College Polonnaruwa situated in the New Town. We obtained permission to use this ground through the courtesy of Mr Palitha Elkaduwa, the Director of Education and the Principal of Royal College, Polonnaruwa. Thereafter a lot of hard work went into getting the facilities organised to play the game:
- The ground that was in a neglected state was cleared of all the weeds.
- The dilapidated pavilion was repaired.
- A cricket pitch was laid on the ground.
- A matting made out of coir was obtained and placed on the pitch to play cricket.
- Cricketing gear was obtained through a sponsor.
- The side screens were erected with old gunny bags, painted white and fixed to Bamboo poles.
Many sponsors came forward to help the club in various ways. They saw things moving fast and helped us to achieve our vision to “break new ground” in Polonnaruwa. Everything fell into place in double quick time. I THANK THEM ALL.
Training – 1982/83
With all the facilities being organized at break-neck pace we had to start training to prepare for the forthcoming tournament as we were expecting membership in the Cricket Governing Body in Sri Lanka. I was given the task of being in charge of training. I had played some cricket at school and for the Colombo University, but I was never a coach. But I took charge of the team and made it clear that attending practice was very important. Everyone respected my plea and this paid dividends later on. The first captain of PDCC was Gamini Jayasundera, ably assisted by A G Dingiribanda, H (Biggy) Pussawela, Col. G H De Silva (later Army Commander), Nimal Paul Perera and a host of other talented players.
The First Red ball Cricket match in Polonnaruwa
5th December 1982
This was a limited over’s match between the members of the PDCC in the public sector and the private sector. The public sector team was captained by Dr Gamini Goonetilleke while the private sector team was led by Ranjith Ellegala. Being the first red ball cricket match in the district there was a good gathering of spectators. The public sector team won the first encounter and it was decided to have this encounter annually.
Membership-The Board of Control for Cricket
Sri Lanka – 11th July 1983
This was also made possible by the efforts of three people with the support of Hon. Minister Gamini Dissanayake who was the President of The Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka in 1982. Ranjith Ellegala was a close friend of the President of the Board. After preliminary discussions with the President, Ranjith sent his emissary, Mr Gamage to meet the President of the Board. At that meeting Mr Gamini Dissanayake had inquired from Gamage about the mission and vision of our club. Mr Gamage’s reply was perfect “to introduce Cricket to Polonnaruwa, promote the game among schools and for fellowship”. He decided to accept our request. The next step was to get two sponsors. Once again Ranjith came to our help and got the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) and Ted received the support from Moratuwa Sports Club to propose and second our membership to the Board. The proposal was passed without objections and the PDCC was made an Associate Member and admitted to play in the Division Three tournament. The immense contribution made by Ranjit, Ted and Gamage must be acknowledged.
The First Match in Division 111 Tournament
Polonnaruwa – 25th September 1983
he first red ball cricket match in the Division 111 cricket tournament for the Pure Beverages Trophy was played in Polonnaruwa on the 25th September 1983. Our opponents were the Old Thomians Cricket Club from Mount Lavinia. This was a strong team with leading old Thomian cricketers. They were under the impression that the match would be a “cake walk” for them as they had never heard of cricket in Polonnaruwa before. They were mistaken for they suffered a severe defeat and we won the first ever Division 111 cricket match played in Polonnaruwa. There was jubilation and celebrations all over and our hard work had paid rich dividends.
“Dream it, believe it, achieve it”
Celebrations after the Match
Celebrations erupted all over the ground. Our efforts were appreciated by all those present. The First President of the club and the coach of the team were carried shoulder high by the supporters of the club who were jubilant. This was followed by dinner for the team and the members of the club hosted by the Manager of Araliya Hotel, Polonnaruwa Mr N J Perera who was an old Thomian himself. He too was happy!
The Annual General Meeting – 1983
At the Annual General Meeting held on 10th December 1983, I was elected the President of the club for 1983/84. There was tremendous responsibility placed on me to take the club and cricket forward. Furthermore, we also had to prepare for the forthcoming tournament which the club was facing for the second time and had to do better. The captain of the team in 1984 was P L H R S Pussawela (Biggy) and Ranjith Ellegala was the coach.
Improving facilities and Coaching Camp – 1983 /1984
A coaching camp for schoolboys was held on 27th and 28th March 1983. To improve standards of cricket we embarked on a coaching camp with the help of the Board of Control for Cricket and sponsored by Richard Pieris & Co. Initially concrete pitches were built at the Royal College grounds and we obtained the services of cricketing greats and coaches from Colombo for the coaching camp. The “King of Local Swing” Mevan Pieris was one of the coaches who trained our fast bowlers. Two of our members, namely A G Dingiribanda and Gamini Jayasundera were sent to Colombo to follow an official training programme for cricket coaches and umpires, which they completed successfully.
Introducing Cricket to Schools and Inter School Cricket Tournament- 1984
Cricket was introduced to the leading schools in the District followed by the first ever Inter-school red ball cricket tournament in Polonnaruwa sponsored by the Chairman and Board of Directors of Hotel Amalin Nivas Polonnaruwa. Six Schools participated in the tournament. The final match was between Royal College, Polonnaruwa and Minneriya Central, Minneriya played on 30th September 1984. This was a great event and organized in the manner of a “Big Match”. There was tremendous participation of people living in Polonnaruwa for this inaugural event for the Amalian Challenge Trophy. The chief guest was Mr Amaleen himself, the Chairman of Amalian Nivas Hotel, Polonnaruwa.
Cricket spreads to the Adjoining District of Anuradhapura
With the formation of the Cricket club in Polonnaruwa, the game of cricket spread not only in Polonnaruwa but also to the adjoining city of Anuradhapura. Mr T K Dassanayake, The Government Agent of Anuradhapura at that time took the initiative and the Rajarata Sports Club was established. This resulted in something more interesting with the two clubs playing against each other annually for the Government Agent’s Trophy. That brought Comradeship among people working in the two districts as well. The first red ball cricket match between the two teams was played on 4th November 1984 at the Central College grounds Anuradhapura. I was President of the PDCC and also selected to play for the team. The match was heading towards a tense finish. I was the last man and we had to get one run to win the match in the last over. I got it with two balls to spare! The PDCC carried away the trophy!
Time to say “Good Bye” to Polonnaruwa and Cricket in Polonnaruwa
In April 1988 the time had come for me to leave Polonnaruwa as I had received a transfer to Gampaha after serving the Polonnaruwa Hospital for six years and four months as the only surgeon in the hospital at a difficult period in the history of our country. For me it was a balancing act, “playing cricket and performing surgery to save lives”. The effort was fully worth as I together with the other members had achieved something lasting for Polonnaruwa in the way of sporting activity which was our aim. It was team effort to the core. My departure was preceded by a farewell party with the presentation of a memento and speeches as usual.
POLONNARUWA DISTRICT CRICKET CLUB
PICTORIALS OF HISTORICAL EVENTS
Club Officials, members and players posing for photographs at the pavilion and grounds
INTERSCHOOL CRICKET IN POLONNARUWA – 1984
2ND ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING OF THE POLONNARUWA DISTRICT CRICKET CLUB
HELD AT AMALIAN NIVAS HOTEL, POLONNARUWA 23rd MARCH 1985
FAMILY SUPPORT AT MATCHES
The families of the committee members and players extended their support to the team in many ways. Their presence at the matches and cheering encouraged our players to do their best under difficult conditions and also gave colour and a carnival atmosphere at the grounds. The family members included – Kishanthi, Rosy, Anula, Therese, Manique, Shelendra, Shamala,Roshani many more …. and our children… Their encouragement paved the way for the progress of the club in an unprecedented manner
A BIG THANK YOU TO ALL
“Success is not measured by what you accomplish, but by the courage with which you have maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds”
“I dedicate this story to all the pioneers of Red Ball Cricket in Polonnaruwa”