Asgiriya then, now and its future as Trinity buckle up | Sunday Observer

Asgiriya then, now and its future as Trinity buckle up

The Asgiriya Stadium
The Asgiriya Stadium

An indoor sports complex at Trinity College Stadium at Asgiriya? It’s a good idea and will help sportsmen in a big way. Indoor sports facilities are more than just places to practice, with superior playing conditions that allow everyone, from players to coaches to spectators, to be a part of the experience.

There are even more benefits in having an indoor sports facility when constructing a fabric building, like total customization, natural lighting, superior ventilation and a maximum amount of space.

Playing or training in extremely hot or cold weather is difficult at best and impossible at worst, but that’s never an issue with an indoor sports facility. Games are never subject to cancellation because of weather, allowing for business owners to turn a profit at a time when outdoor facilities can’t.

So, it is a good idea by the Trinitians to come out with an indoor sports complex at the historic Asgiriya stadium. When it comes to sports facilities, there are two very distinct features that distinguish all of them.

Is your facility an indoor facility or an outdoor facility? It is an either, or in most cases, and it is typically divided by the sports and activities you host. However, there are few people who would argue that an outdoor facility is more often a better option than an indoor sports facility. When it comes down to it, indoor sports facilities don’t have to deal with weather or even the same level of maintenance that an outdoor facility does.

We will look at some of the benefits of indoor sports facilities and why they are more versatile than outdoor facilities.

Indoor facilities are climate-controlled. For athletes, this is a major plus. Playing or practicing in extremely hot or cold weather is more difficult than playing or practicing in a controlled climate. This is true for players, coaches and fans alike. Games and practices won’t get cancelled due to rain or snow as often when your practice is in an indoor facility. Some sports are difficult to have indoors. Baseball, for instance, is a sport that is rarely played indoors. However, coaches and players still value a facility where they can come practice indoors and not have to deal with the elements.

The Asgiriya stadium has a good history and this indoor sports complex will make another chapter in history. The picturesque Trinity College ground at Asgiriya has helped all sports in a big way, especially cricket and most of the world’s great cricketers who visited Sri Lanka have played at Asgiriya.

This ground came alive due to the helping hand given by the white sahibs of the early days. In 1910 they gave Trinity College permission to put up their own ground. That was during Rev. AG Fraser’s tenure as the principal. When he assumed office as principal in 1904, Rev Fraser was conscious about the lack of a suitable playing area with 400 students and out of them 200 were boarders.

The school needed a suitable cricket field and the possible site was at Asgiriya which was 300 yards away from the school, through the temple and a five minutes’ walk. At that time it was an abandoned waste land of the War Department.

Notice of Rev. Fraser’s application on behalf of Trinity College, for the lease of the Crown land called the Military Ground was gazetted in the Ceylon Government Gazette on May 2, 1923. Permission was granted to the school to commence work, pending the formal execution of and indenture of lease.

The Government Agent at the time had said that the annual lease rental would be Rs. 30 per year. Making the ground took five long years from 1909 to 1915. He was instrumental and was behind the construction of the venue and Trinitians started work and it was opened ceremonially in 1915 by Sir Robert Chalmers, the Governor of Kandy on January 15, 1915.

On this day a cricket match was played between combined past and present students of Trinity College against Dr. VR Schokman’s team from Colombo. The first delivery was sent down by R. Ellawela to Trinity’s Richard Aluvihare and it is said that it was lofted to the mid wicket boundary. The happiest man on that day would have been the man behind this project, the principal Rev Fraser.

The first inter-school match to be played at Asgiriya was between Trinity and S. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia on February 24 and 25, 1915. This game was won by the Trinitians by an innings. Prior to Asgiriya being built, Trinity played their cricket at the Bogambara ground. The Asgiriya Stadium was one of the famous stadiums in Sri Lanka after the country attained Test status and international cricket matches were played in it until the construction of the Pallekelle International Stadium which has now taken over as the main centre in Kandy to host international matches.

Most of the world’s great cricketers who visited the country have played at Asgiriya. To name some of them. Great players like Sir Frank Worrell of West Indies, Fazal Mohammad of Pakistan, Bill Lawry, Colin Cowdrey, John Edrich, Tony Greig, Jack Hobbs, Leslie Ames, Lindsay Hassett, Sunil Gavaskar, Ajith Wadekar, Geoff Boycott, Kapil Dev, Intikhab Alam, Majid Khan, Imran Khan, Javed Miandad, Mushtaq Mohamed, Zaheer Abbas, Wasim Akram, Greg and Ian Chappell, Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Bob Simpson, Shane Warne, Vijay Merchant, Sir Learie Constantine, DB Vengsarkar, SM Patil, Sarfaz Nawaz, Moshin Khan, Ravi Shastri, Madan Lal, Basil D’ Oliveira, Sir Richard Hadlee, Brian Lara and many others.

Once when Robin Marlar the famed cricket writer, visited Asgiriya he noted that the ground was comparable with the best in the world.

The old pavilion still stands. Then after 67 years the late Gamini Dissanayake, an old Trinitian, took over the leadership of Sri Lanka Cricket, with the help of Abu Fuard who was the power behind the throne and worked endless hours, used modern machinery and within a short period of 150 days made the ground into an international stadium with all facilities.

On June 6, 1981, Dissanayake as president of the Cricket Board, cut the first sod to start work and on February 5, 1982 , the then president of the country JR Jayewardene ceremonially opened the stadium amid a vast gathering. A modern pavilion with three floors was constructed - ground floor exclusively for players, umpires and officials with all facilities. The other two floors to accommodate spectators.

A well equipped media box and a modern scoreboard was also set up. The turf wicket was prepared by TM Omardeen under the supervision of Abu Fuard who coordinated on behalf of the Cricket Board. Old Royalist Shaw Wilson, who was Trinity cricket coach at that time, became the first curator and later Trinity’s Alex Lazarus was there for quite some time.

Within a few days the first international cricket match was played at Asgiriya between Keith Fletcher’s England and the Sri Lanka side led by Duleep Mendis. The first official Test to be played at this venue was between Greg Chappell’s Australian side and Duleep Mendis led Sri Lanka team.

The chairman of the project was the late Rev. Dr. WG Wickremasinghe, principal of Trinity at that time, S. Bandaranayake, HM Halimdeen, Harindra Dunuwille, Kavan Rambukwella, Jayantha Jayawardene, Rohan Wijenayake all old boys of Trinity. Gamini Kannangara and S. Mubarak from the Water Resources Board were some of the officials who did a tremendous amount of work to make this ground an international stadium.

Asgiriya also hosted a 1996 Cricket World Cup fixture between Sri Lanka and Kenya and this writer was the Laison Manager of the Kenyan team. In that game the home side made 398, the highest World Cup score at the time. The Asgiriya Stadium has hosted a total of 22 Test matches and seven of them have been won by Sri Lanka before it was decided to shift all international crickets to Pallekele, 15 kilometers from the Kandy city.