Former President Ana Punchihewa has backs Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) to build $40 MN Homagama International Cricket Stadium, acknowledging the fact that the timing of announcing the project was indeed poorly planned, given the fact that the entire world is on standstill due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
On May 17, the Government announced that Sri Lanka’s biggest cricket stadium to be constructed in Homagama. Cabinet co-spokesman and Minister Bandula Gunawardena, Secretary to the Ministry of Urban Development Priyath Bandu Wickrama visited the proposed land allocated to build the land along with Sri Lanka Cricket President Shammi Silva.
The announcement was widely criticized, not only by the cricket fans, but also by the legendary former Sri Lanka players Arjuna Ranatunga, Roshan Mahanama and Mahela Jayawardene, who questioned the decision to construct another international cricket stadium in the country.
Succumbing to the outrage, Sri Lanka Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on May 21 suspended proposed International Cricket Stadium project following the discussion with former players Sanath Jayasuriya, Roshan Mahanama, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardana and Lasith Malinga.
“In my opinion the SLC and the government must go ahead with the project. The main reason behind my view is that the location of the proposed stadium is perfect, as it is an easily accessible place compared to any other. From anywhere in Sri Lanka except Jaffna within two hours you can travel to this stadium which is one or two kilometres from the highway” Punchihewa, who famously headed the SLC during Sri Lanka’s historical 1996 world cup triumph, exclusively told Cricket Age.
The proposed international cricket stadium at Homagama with a seating capacity of 60,000 could be easily become the largest to be built in the country surpassing that of the R Premadasa Stadium and the Mahinda Rajapaksa Stadium in Sooriyawewa, Hambantota, each of which can hold up to 35,000 spectators.
“With the growing popularity of the game in the country, we need stadiums with this much capacity. Earlier in the year, we saw the riot in Hambantota staduim, as the spectators couldn’t watch the match. So, obviously we need stadiums with large capacity” he added.
However, at the same time, Punchihewa echoed Mahela Jayawardene’s sentiment that the school cricket in the Island is in bad shape and trailing behind other countries. Punchihewa blames poor planning and lack of vision behind the downfall of school cricket in the country.
Punchihewa took to cricket administration in 1994 as a Vice-President to the late Gamini Dissanayake. Following Dissanayake’s assassination, he headed the board and launched his forceful plan, ‘To be the best cricketing nation by 2000’. He is widely credited to bring the corporate culture in Sri Lanka Cricket. His plan was not only to make Sri Lanka the best cricket playing nation in five years time, but to improve infrastructure, umpiring, coaching, domestic cricket, take the game to grass root levels and a whole lot more. When he took over the cricket administration, Punchihewa was head of Coke in Sri Lanka and he brought in his corporate skills to the Board of Control.
“Until 2000, our school cricket system was indeed the best in the world. However, in last one decade, we have been staring in the wrong direction. Allocating millions and billions for the school cricket in not going to help. The standard of the school cricket can only be lifted by a proper five year plan and a vision. More importantly, the Sri Lanka School Cricket Association (SLSCA) and SLC needs to work in tandem” the legendary former administrator concluded.