Sanath, Murali and Co. are REAL stars

THE killer waves that took the lives of over 30,000 people in Sri Lanka and rendered homeless about a million in the island nation also left a telling impact on the country's cricket scenario.

THE killer waves that took the lives of over 30,000 people in Sri Lanka and rendered homeless about a million in the island nation also left a telling impact on the country's cricket scenario. In addition to wrecking the cricketing infrastructure, the tragedy also entered the lives of many players of the country's national team in a direct and personal manner. Sri Lanka's senior most cricketer Sanath Jayasuriya, captain Marvan Atapattu, leg-spinner Upul Chandana and seamers Dilhara Fernando and Nuwan Zoysa were among the many affected by the tsunami.

Former player and ground curator Jayananda Warnaweera sitting on the rubble strewn over the Galle Stadium pitch. — Pic. AFP-

Sanath Jayasuriya looked a worried man soon after the first ODI between Sri Lanka and New Zealand in Auckland, despite scoring a crucial 43. Sri Lanka's leading batsman had heard from his wife about the tidal waves that had struck Matara, his hometown, and the worst bit of news was that his mother was still missing. Hours later, news came that she was out of danger and was at a friend's place in Matara after a brave villager had saved her life. Jayasuriya's brother too was saved, but their house in the coastal town was completely destroyed.

Jayasuriya's mother Breeda had gone to the local fair to buy vegetables when the disaster happened. Instead of taking the customary seaside road, the star cricketer's mother had taken the main road. "She usually takes the seaside route to go to the fair," said Jayasuriya. "But fortunately, she opted to take the other road as she had to pass a message to someone on the way. That probably saved her. We didn't know her whereabouts for a few hours, but finally the news came that she was safe."

But, the sea reached the main road as well. When she was dragged by the waves, Breeda shouted, "I am Sanath's mother, save me." Someone helped the local and national icon's mother to safety ignoring his own personal struggle for survival.

Chandana's mother too had a narrow escape when some of his friends managed to rescue her from the jaws of death. But, the act of bravery came at the cost of the life of one of the rescuers. Having saved the cricketer's mother, one of the rescuers went on top of a nearby roof to call for aid from his cell phone and at this point the waves struck the house bringing the roof down and killing the young man.

Zoysa lost his aunt and three other relatives while Fernando lost relatives of his wife. "Three of my wife's relatives were on the train heading to Galle when the waves struck and all of them died in the train," said Fernando.

Atapattu's father had been travelling to Colombo from Kataragama, a Hindu and Buddhist place of worship. Halfway through his coastal journey came the waves. The senior Atapattu was out of danger, but his son in Auckland was anxious because his family in Colombo hadn't heard anything from him for a few hours.

Meanwhile former Sri Lanka cricketer Asanka Gurusinghe, who played a vital role in Sri Lanka's World Cup win in 1996, escaped danger when he decided to cancel a safari he had planned for himself, his wife and two children in the Yala National Park in the south of the island nation. Gurusinghe, who now lives in Australia, had made the bookings in the Yala Safari Hotel on December 25 and 26, but cancelled the booking at the last minute because he could not find an extra room for a relative. It proved to be a blessing in disguise. Most guests holidaying in the hotel were killed and the hotel too was completely destroyed. Among the dead in the hotel were Jaliya Jayasuriya (no relative of Sanath), a former secretary of the Sri Lankan cricket board, and his two sons.

The tsunami brought personal disaster for the captain of the Sri Lankan basketball team, Chaminda de Alwis, who was holidaying in Galle. Though he managed to escape with injuries, De Alwis lost his wife, kid, father and mother.

Seven active cricketers in various grades were confirmed to be dead. Also among the dead was Sujeeva Kamalasuriya, who in 1984 captained Ananda College, where former captain Arjuna Ranatunga and present skipper Marvan Atapattu studied. Several school cricketers have gone missing and the houses of most cricketers from the coastal areas have been destroyed. "Some junior cricketers are still missing and many other players who were living in the coastal belt have lost their houses and cricket equipment. Sri Lanka Cricket will do everything to help these needy young players," said Aravinda de Silva, the vice-president of Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC).

Record-breaking off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan has been working to help those affected by the disaster in his capacity as an ambassador of United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP). The spinner has been travelling around the war-torn eastern part of the country helping the victims through the WFP as well as through the charitable foundation he founded with team-mate Chaminda Vaas and philanthropist Kushil Gunasekara. Muralitharan revealed that batting maestro Brian Lara, Andrew Flintoff and Robert Key, his team-mates in Lancashire and Kent, and Indian spinner Anil Kumble have spoken to him to pledge their personal support to help the tsunami victims.

Sanath Jayasuriya, probably, is narrating to Sachin Tendulkar about how his mother was caught in the tsunami and dragged by the waves before being rescued. — Pic. AFP-

"Brian had a long chat with me and he was moved by what has taken place," said Muralitharan. "He promised to personally help the victims through our foundation. Andrew Flintoff and Robert Key also phoned me from Cape Town to assure their assistance and Anil Kumble too spoke to me and pledged his support.

I have been working in my capacity as an UN Ambassador with the WFP and they have promised food worth $32 million, which should be sufficient to feed the needy for six months. We've been moving around the eastern part of the country monitoring the distribution of food and ensuring that it didn't end up in the wrong hands. I'll be very disappointed if people try to gain undue advantage through these relief supplies."

The picturesque Galle International Cricket Stadium, one of the four cricket centres in the country where Muralitharan has performed his wizardry with the ball, has been completely destroyed by the tidal waves. The stadium, situated a stone's throw away from the Indian Ocean, was one of the first places to get affected when the waves struck. Many stands have been completely destroyed and only the two dressing rooms, located in the upper tier, have survived the ravage. Aravinda de Silva said that SLC would start reconstruction work in the stadium soon and that he is hopeful that the stadium would be able to host one of the Test matches when the West Indies arrive to play a two-Test series in July.

The Sri Lankan cricket team came forward to help those affected by the disaster by announcing several relief measures. The players have started two camps for the displaced in Matara and Dambulla, which house about 600 displaced civilians. The players' efforts have been supported by SLC.

Together with the cricket board, the players will put up four cricket villages with each village comprising 50 fully equipped houses. The cricketers will also foster 1000 kids who have lost their parents for over a period of 10 years by giving 1000 rupees a month to each. "Hopefully, one of those kids will one day rise up from these tsunami hit villages and walk into the middle to play for the country and that could be the ultimate joy for us," said Thilanga Sumathipala, the Chairman of the Relief Aid Fund established by SLC. The cricket board also had written to 72 cricket boards all over the world asking for assistance and it was stressed that all of these boards had responded positively. While a representative from the Emirates Cricket Board donated a cheque of $25,000 on the day the effort was launched, other contributions were on their way, it was said. Several Sri Lankan expatriates too had come forward to help the victims through the fund put up by SLC. Ten doctors from Australia, including surgeon David Young, who has successfully done several operations on leading cricketers like Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne, are in the island carrying out medical work in the camps put up by SLC.

Sri Lankan cricketers, in association with SLC, have also drawn up a multi-pronged action plan to raise funds for tsunami victims.

Sending the players abroad as ambassadors, inviting the corporate sector to the refugee camps guided by cricketers and requesting them for sponsorships, staging a charity cricket tournament, which will be telecast live around the world, sale of merchandising goods and creation of a web page are all part of the plan.