When Galle received a new turf pitch in 1975

Upali Delpechitre, in the Island, 2 May 2012**

This report gives an account of how then Minister of Sports Hon. K. B. Ratnayake intervened to allow the Galle Cricket Club benefitted to get the First Turf Wicket constructed from the Rs.40,000 allocated to the Galle Municipality for drainage improvements in the esplanade.

The Galle Esplanade was the one and only play ground available and in use for all the national and local events organized by the public and private enterprises since its creation in 1870’s first for cricket. Horse Racing in the 1920’s were held by Gall Gymkhana club till up to 1930’s.Football, Golf, Rugby ,Hockey and Athletics have been other sports which continued till up to 1950’s.According to records and old sayings,the esplanade has been constructed by filling over a canal running across the ground linking the eastern and western sides.Management of the Esplanade: The Galle municipality is the controlling authority of the esplanade for bookings of the playground for the national events such as the Independence celebrations, School events and public sports festivals.The esplanade has been the common ground available and it served all the schools’ activities such as cricket, athletics etc; and for the two clubs to run cricket tournaments and soccer tournaments. Galle CC was maintaining the matting wicket and hired that for the school matches and other district tournaments.The esplanade is unique in the sense, where on any evening you will find people of all sorts using the ground for soccer, training athletes, soft ball cricket and practice nets by the schools and clubs.In the center of the playground stood the Matting wicket maintained by the Galle CC.

The two main buildings on the esplanade, the Galle Cricket Club and Gamini Football club stood along the Colombo Galle Road end overlooking the majestic Galle Ramparts .Galle Association Football tournaments are conducted by the Gamini Football club.

Grant from the Ministry of Sports to Galle MC: In Aug’1973, The Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs and Sports Ministry released Rs 40,000/= to improve drainage system in the esplanade to the Galle Municipality. Main functions were to prevent pooling in the low places and avoiding muddy conditions immediately after rains on the esplanade by deepening the drains and also specified that the above improvements have to be carried out without any interruptions to normal use and day to day users of the grounds.

Realising that the Galle MC, had no technical capacity to handle the job, Galle MC has referred first to the Director of Irrigation, Colombo who subsequently redirected the request to the Director of Works, Southern Region,Galle (DWSR) for necessary action. During this period The Territorial Civil Engineering Organisation (TCEO) had been set up by the then Government and Director of Works Southern Region(DWSR) was handling all development works in the Southern Region related to Irrigation, Highways and Local Government works. The above letter was referred to Superintendent Engineer(SE) Galle, and Executive Engineer (EE) Galle during November 1973 by DWSR for necessary action.

A joint inspection was carried out by SE Galle, EE Galle with the Galle MC and Club officials on 28th Jan’1974 to determine the priority items for improvements, estimating and implementation.An estimate for Rs 90,000 prepared by EE Galle and approved by DWSR was submitted to Galle MC.On receipt of this estimate, The Sports Ministry raised some observations about the inclusion of constructing a Turf Wicket in the estimate.

EE Galle, having convinced the Galle municipality officials, replied the ministry explaining the necessity of having a turf wicket as a popular request from the cricket playing schools and Galle Cricket club and how all the extra work are to be met. In the mean time, The Galle CC also was insisting the importance of having a turf wicket for improvement of the game among the Southern Region schools and had recommended to include. This prompted the Sports Ministry Official suddenly arranging a meeting in Galle during June’1974. The ministry team included Hon minister of sports Mr. K. B. Ratnayake, Mr. Madugalle Sect/Ministry of sports (Mr. Ranjan Madugalle’s father) and other officials. This meeting was held at the club premises in the pavilion upstairs. For this meeting the Hon Mayor of Galle, Commissioner Galle MC, Galle Club Officials, and other invitees representing schools and EE Galle participated.

The Secretary, Mr Madugalle at the beginning wanted to find out why the Turf wicket is included in the estimate. It was emphasized that the items were chosen at the joint inspection prior to estimating. I as the initiator explained reasons why it is necessary to provide the turf wicket as follows.

1. The importance of a turf wicket for improvement of Cricket in schools in the Galle District

2. Galle CC cannot retain any promising cricketers from schools

3. Visiting International teams sponsored through the Cricket Board are not willing to play on matting wickets

It was also mentioned that although the cost for this item has been included, as Executive Engineer Galle,I am in a position to provide the Departmental equipment without charging the hire charges and that there are many items for which arrangements are made to obtain free labour from the Prisons Department, Army Singha Regiment, and obtain most of the materials required for construction of the wicket such as brick bats from the Yatiyana Tile factory, cinder from Boosa race track free and so on. The Secretary was of the view that the turf wicket could be done later.

I gave an assurance that no extra money other than Rs 40,000/= would be called for, but needed this item included in the approved estimate to cover up my commitments. If not, I said I have to refuse to undertake the construction and improvement works.

After listening to all this,Hon. Minister of Sports, K.B. Ratnayake, instructed his Secretary to agree and allow them to include construction of the Turf Wicket also within the estimate, but mentioned that no extra money could be allocated this year and that he expressed every commitment made has to be met and wished this be completed early.

The estimated cost without the departmental charges was Rs. 90,000.

The Main items of works included the following:

Mr. Madugalle, the Secretary, then agreed to the inclusion of the turf wicket in the estimate and for the EE Galle to carry out the construction with the involvement of the MC, Army and Prisons and so on.

Preparatory Work on Turf Wicket

When the idea of constructing a turf wicket in Galle came up, Mr. S. S. Perera (official recorder for the Cricket board) assured me to find some literature on the preparation of turf wicket and accordingly he had contacted Mr. A. Mansfield from Australia and submitted some literature on preparation of wickets received by him. I am glad to inform that I have treasured these up to date.

Then we were able to contact former cricket stalwarts Mr. P. I. Peiris, then curator of the SSC and Mr. D. H. De Silva, then the Commissioner Colombo MC and curator Nomads and got their instructions on the laying of turf wickets, quality material selection, preparation, and maintenance aspects required. Mr. Peiris also made available Mr. Perumal’s services (SSC Ground boy) regarding preparation of top dressing materials, laying and planting techniques and preparing of wickets for matches for different durations and mending of repairs.

Design of the Filter bed and Construction of Turf Wicket: This was a challenge. With all above information and having studied the basic features on the foundation requirements and for filters for different playing conditions, the filter was designed using best local materials available in the area. The design adopted was to cater for efficient drainage during rains and also its capability for retaining part of water needs for 5 to 6 continuous days to assist in capillary attraction. An inverted filter using local materials used for similar designs on toe filters on Dams with a layer of charcoal and cinder in between to satisfy above conditions was adopted.

Initial planning before commencement of work included ensuring that the ground becomes available for day to day use by the schools for athletic events and soccer tournaments except for cricket. An inauguration ceremony organized by the Galle Municipality was held on the 15th July’1974.This was presided by the Hon.Mayor Galle MC, and other invitees. The main purpose of this function was for the public to be made aware of the proposed improvements to avoid any misunderstandings with ground bookings. The Army Singha Regiment, Lt. Col. P. B. Molligoda supported initial preparatory work by providing soldiers to start with.Construction work on the above works officially commenced by cutting the first sod of soil of the turf wicket by the Hon. Mayor and Club Officials.

The Commissioner of Prisons, Mr T. S. J. Kutilan, as agreed released prisoners almost daily to carry out the clearing and excavation of drains right round the ground. The municipal labour was entrusted the earth filling and levelling work of the ground.

The pitch area was excavated to a depth of an average 3Ft as the material was found to be boggy soils unsuitable. The trace of the old canal could also be traced with soils having different characteristics with sea shells identified during the excavations.

Charcoal which is supposed to be very effective for improvements to filter and drainage and difficult to obtain was supplied by Colombo Gas & Water Co. Ltd on request free of charge. Part of the above requirements was obtained from Boosa Race course by excavation of the cinder track. Material for top dressing as specified was not much of a problem. Pot clay of different grades was available in the paddy fields in and around Akmemana used for brick manufacture, canal excavations for irrigation and so on. Ant hill earth was selected from tea estates and supplied by the Cricket Secretary Mr Soysa from Citrous Group. These materials once received at the site are allowed to dry up, clean and rolled and crushed to slaky powder form and stored in a dry place, before spreading on the wicket in thin layers and rolled lightly before planting blue grass. Different mixes of pot clay and ant hill earth pre selected had been applied.

The services of the Royal College Ground-boy Mr. A.H.M. Cassim (Noor) was obtained for preparation & laying of the top dressing & planting turf during early February 1975.The Galle CC groundsman and another person Peter recruited by the Club was trained on the above works and manuring the blue grass. It took more than 3 months for the grass to take roots securely with timely manuring and watering.

Grass cutters for the early preparation of wickets was obtained temporarily on loan.Rolling the wicket required a light roller for daily use by the club. Two bull rollers were turned out by using cast iron pipes locally to be used manually. Two tarpaulins used for transporting cement to office was supplied to the club for covering the wickets when necessary.Mr. Mansfield (an Australian)’s instructions re the preparation of wickets and marking was found very useful; and they were also used as training material.

A Record of Matches played: The turf wicket was made available for play from June ’75. The first Daily News Trophy cricket match between Galle CC and SSC was played on the centre strip. The records of all matches played on this turf wicket during the first two years were closely monitored to study the behaviour of each strip. Runs scored, performance of bounce, assistance to spinners and wickets fallen at each end have been noted. This study enabled the writer to study the variance of different mix proportions used for good performance. The Mix proportion 60:40 used on the second and centre strips were found to perform better than others as far as batting & runs are considered giving equal opportunities to pace and spin bowlers when grass is shaved off. The other mix proportion of 70:30 strips showed that the roots distribution is faster and spreading easily and required good lawn movers to prepare the wickets to assist pace bowlers.

This turf wicket paved the way for Galle CC to retain young and good cricketers from Galle Schools Mahinda, Richmond, St Aloysius and attract cricketers from Dharmasoka, Ambalangoda and get more international visiting cricket teams to play in Galle. The Turf wicket was solely maintained by Galle CC, but the grounds was managed by the Galle Municipality.

The writer was the Executive Eng. Galle from 1972 -1978; Resident Engineer Gin Ganga Flood Protection Scheme (1978 -1981) and Chief Resident Engineer, Nilwala Ganga Flood Regulation Project 1983-1989. He was a playing member Galle CC from 1973, captained the winning team Daily News Trophy 1980 and captained Donovan Trophy and Sara Trophy cricket for Galle CC till 1984.

** There was a turf pitch in at the Galle Esplanade in the 1940s and early 1950s (eg. when the West Indians played there in 1949 or so); but it deteriorated and by the mid-1950s the matches were played on matting pitches. Michael Roberts 

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