Unsung heroes

As it continues to rain the prospect of cricket on Day Three at Galle appears bleak. But thanks to curator Jayananda Warnaweera and his valiant staff, play resumes. By S. Dinakar.

The giant cut-outs of Muttiah Muralitharan stare at you from all directions. Even from the top of the historic Galle Fort. The off-spinning wizard who resides in the hearts and minds of all Sri Lankans is playing in his final Test.

The occasion is bound to be special. The Galle cricket ground has an air of festivity about it. In the stands supporters with placards — ‘Muralitharan, the greatest bowler ever' — sing and dance. The arena at Galle has to be among the most captivating ones in international cricket.

The ground faces the timeless fort, with a regal clock tower, and the Indian Ocean. The breeze from the sea soothes one's senses. Cricket at Galle is a memorable affair.

The ground, much like the town that was once the bastion of the Dutch, oozes character and resolve. Ravaged by the Tsunami, it has risen again. This has been a tale of courage and commitment.

Jayananda Warnaweera, Muralitharan's former spin partner and the curator of the ground, has seen it all. He is a vibrant person, seldom short of action or words. “Muralitharan will get nine wickets here, mark my words,” he says on Day One. Eventually, the off-spinning genius scalps eight to make history. Warnaweera almost gets it right. Yet he is a worried man on Day Two. It rains heavily and although the ground is fully covered, some water has seeped through the covers in the outfield.

It continues to rain and the prospect of cricket on Day Three appears bleak. Warnaweera, fully soaked as yet another thunderstorm lashes the ground, marshals the operation along with his brave ground-staff. He is a ‘hands-on' man. And his team is arguably the most efficient in world cricket. “He will be here till 11pm and will be back again at 5am tomorrow. He will most probably sleep in the stadium,” says a Sri Lankan official.

Play, rather miraculously, resumes on the third day. At the heart of it all are Warnaweera and his valiant ground-staff. At lunch, Warnaweera greets me with a smile. He is looking forward to Muralitharan's bowling. And, he is also keeping a watch on the weather. Despite the sunshine, Warnaweera's men are ready outside the boundary with their hands on the large covers. They are quick on their feet and strong enough to move the heavy sheets swiftly. They are the unsung heroes of the cricketing fraternity.

On the field of play, Muralitharana is on the threshold of a landmark and Sri Lanka is closing in on a victory. A group of visitors from England are also rooting for the off-spinning legend.

Going into the final day, Muralitharan is just two short of the 800-mark. The security at the ground is very tight. The Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, is in the stands to cheer Muralitharan on. The off-spinner's parents, brothers, wife Madhi and son Naren too are there to cheer him.

Amidst much drama, Muralitharan scalps the final Indian wicket to take his tally to 800. The arena explodes in joy. The fireworks follow and a band plays music. Chants of “Murali, Murali” fill the air. And Warnaweera is overwhelmed with joy. His men applaud from beyond the fence. Their effort has counted too.

Let's salute the heroes — the ground staff of the Galle cricket ground.