With the 17th century Dutch Fort as its backdrop and surrounded by the vast Indian ocean, the Galle International Cricket Stadium is one of the iconic cricket grounds in the world.
Its scenic beauty often gets it compared to Newlands in South Africa and Queenstown in New Zealand, two other venues that players and fans love watching cricket at.
To its credit, Sri Lanka Cricket has invested heavily in the ground and the board has hosted prominent Test matches here although there is some reluctance to play limited overs cricket due to the fact the number of fans that could be accommodated is limited.
Galle was not in the international cricket radar until 1998. There were First Class games held here and touring cricket teams had played the occasional game and it was former board President Thilanga Sumathipala who decided to elevate the ground to international status.
Soon, through global telecasts, fans saw the venue and it proved to be a major tourist attraction. There have been occasions when England played here and over 7000 Barmy Army fans turned up for the game. England received more support than Sri Lanka during Galle Tests. With all the fans not being able to be accommodated, some were quite happy to witness the action from the ramparts.
Sumathipala did have ambitious plans to host England day – night Tests in Galle and he had spoken of bringing down cruise ships that would be docked at sea nearby the stadium and spectators could go back to the ship straight after the game or even watch the proceedings from the ship deck, not far away from the actual action. Those proved to be wishful thinking as the former board chief had to make an exit. There are still provisions for authorities to cash in on such projects.
The venue can be used as a tourism project too. Several school and senior teams from overseas prefer playing in Galle when they make cricket tours to Sri Lanka. Hiring the ground with several formalities is not so easy and if authorities take steps to address the issue, the venue can attract tourism and much needed foreign exchange. In order to attract school teams from countries like Australia and England, the names of players who have done so well here like Joe Root and Shane Warne can be used. India remains another market that cricket tourism has not tapped into.
The archeological department has resisted moves to put up any more new constructions as it would block the view of the Dutch Fort from the road. As a result, there’s no permanent scoreboard at the ground and except for the Mahinda Rajapaksa Pavilion and Galle CC Stand, the rest of the stands that are put up are temporary ones and will be removed after the game. Having said that lack of stands has never been an issue as fans are quite happy to watch from the grass banks or the Fort. However, hosting of limited over games remains an issue. We are yet to see how the venue would look when games are played under lights.
Galle has witnessed some iconic moments in the sport. Sanath Jayasuriya almost scored a hundred here before lunch against South Africa. He went berserk against an attack led by Shaun Pollock and finished on 98 at lunch.
Shane Warne made his comeback here in 2004 after his drug ban and made it memorable, becoming the first spinner to claim 500 Test wickets. He also finished with a match bag of ten wickets and helped Australia to record a come from behind win.
Chris Gayle’s whirlwind 333 remains the highest score by an overseas player in Sri Lanka. That was some batting by the Universe Boss. Dismissed cheaply early in his innings, Dhammika Prasad’s wild
celebrations were short lived as it emerged that it was a no ball. Gayle punished the bowlers from thereon with a couple of gigantic sixes landing at the nearby bus halt.
Galle has always produced pitches that provide results. They hardly go the full distance with spinners dominating. Murali and Rangana Herath have taken more than 100 wickets at the venue. Of the 37 Tests played here only six have been drawn and that too due to inclement weather. In the last ten years, there has been just one draw in 20 Tests, which is pretty impressive.
Galle used to be a Sri Lankan fortress in the early days. In the first 20 Tests here, Sri Lanka had won 12 and lost four. But more recently, teams like England and South Africa have played spin better and have had good fortune. England for example have won their last three Test matches here with Joe Root scoring heavily. Australia in the ongoing series seem to be heading the same way.