Jayananda Warnaweera has seen it all. He’s played Test cricket from 1986 to 1994, admired the young potential in ex-teammate Muttiah Muralitharan, been at the receiving end of a young Sachin Tendulkar, raised the Galle stadium from scratch only to see it wrecked by the tsunami, then put it all back together again. The off-spinner turned curator, who has been associated with the Galle Cricket Club since 1978, is also the only Sri Lankan to capture more than a 100 first-class wickets for three consecutive seasons.
On Monday, he had special reasons to fret and fume about the washout. “Off-spin brought Murali and me together,” Warnaweera told TOI, “He became the first to grab 100 wickets at school level and even then he could turn the ball square. I have known him for that long, and of course later we played together, spun opponents like New Zealand out together. Three weeks earlier, he called and told me he wanted to retire only in Galle. I was overwhelmed.
“He could have chosen any venue, his hometown Kandy, at the SSC in Colombo, which was his club, but he chose to retire here. He has taken 103 wickets in 14 matches here, but thats not the only reason. This is a special honour for the southern province because he is admired like nowhere else in these parts. Murali understands the value of the special love people have for him here.”
Warnaweera is unhappy now that the rains might drown out Murali’s swansong, but the plans he laid in place are still on. “I immediately got to work on what we could give him,” he says. Apart from other mementoes and some special Murali souvenirs which are being handed out to others too, Warnaweera commissioned the handcrafting of an elephant carved from ivory. We laced it with 18-carat gold, and studded it with rubies, diamonds and sapphires.
“We are going to present this to him on the last day. It’s priceless.” As he spoke, Warnaweera suddenly removed the paper cover from an innocuous package on his table, revealing the keepsake in its dazzling glory. He couldn’t stop smiling. It would have been impolite to ask the cost.