Ever since hosting the first recorded cricket match on the island in 1832, Colombo, the bustling business capital of Sri Lanka, has been the epicentre of cricket in the country. With as many as three active international cricket grounds and two other grounds that have hosted international matches sometime in the past, Colombo remains the lifeblood of cricket in Sri Lanka.
Even though the Colombo-centric nature of Sri Lanka Cricket has not helped its cause and does not bode well for its future, the reality is that the many clubs and cricket grounds in and around Colombo play a major part in keeping Sri Lanka Cricket chugging along. One day and that day may never come, cricket in Sri Lanka might very well expand its borders to cover the whole island, but the significance of Colombo during its infancy, growth, and coming of age shall never be denied.
The sea of changes that has been sweeping across this historic city has buried underneath it many historical landmarks, and these also include some of the historic cricket venues in the city, on whose graves stand today some of Colombo’s prominent commercial developments. In this article, we take a look at five such cricket venues in Colombo that have been forever lost.
This list is by no means exhaustive and only cricket venues that have either ceased to exist or have not hosted a recorded match in the last two decades have been considered. The goal of this article is not to lament the inevitable and often much-needed changes but to recount the story of these historic cricket grounds.
1. Viharamahadevi Park
Viharamahadevi Park, the oldest and largest park in Colombo, once encompassed a cricket ground that hosted first-class matches as recently as 1995. Located in Cinnamon Gardens, close to the Town Hall in Colombo, this urban park is one of the favorite haunts of the city dwellers.
The first-ever recorded match at this venue was played in 1903 between the Nondescripts Cricket Club and the Colts Cricket Club, with the maiden first-class match being played between the touring English side, who adopted the monicker Marylebone Cricket Club when playing non-Test nations, and Ceylon in 1927. Since then, this ground played host to many first-class matches and unofficial matches, which included the matches played during the whistlestop tours by Australia and England during their Ashes tours, and several big matches between Royal College and St. Thomas’ College, and St. Joseph’s College and St. Peter’s College.
The Nomads Sports Club, which was formed in the 1960s, adopted the cricket ground at this park as their home ground, which meant this ground was also known as the Nomads Sports Club Ground. This club that won the P. Saravanamuttu Trophy, Sri Lanka’s premier first-class competition, in the 1964/65 and 1967/68 seasons, is no longer an active first-class team. The last first-class match at this venue was played in 1995 between the home team and the Antonians Sports Club, while the last-ever match was played against the Kalutara Physical Culture Center in 1998.
The park traces its origin to the late 19th century when Charles Henry de Soysa donated his land for the park, which was named Victoria Park to commemorate the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria. The Singhalese Sports Club (SSC), which was incepted in 1899, leased a plot of land from Victoria Park and turned it into a cricket ground in 1900 with matches being played beginning from the following year. Following Sri Lanka’s independence from the British, this park was renamed Viharamahadevi Park in honor of King Dutugamunu’s mother.
At the site of this historic ground stands today Nelum Pokuna, a sumptuous performing arts center completed in 2011, replacing the old cricket ground.
2. Galle Face Grounds
Would you believe that Galle Face, a seafront esplanade that is popular for its sprawling street food stalls and spectacular sunsets, was once a much larger promenade that hosted several sports such as horse racing, golf, football, and, of course, cricket? As incredible as it may sound, the Galle Face Grounds is claimed to be the first cricket ground in Sri Lanka.
In fact, the first-ever Battle of the Blues, a historic annual cricket encounter between Royal College and St. Thomas’ College, was played at this ground in 1880. The ground is steeped in history as it regularly hosted the English and Australian sides that made short stops to play cricket on the island during their Ashes tours. The English team that had just lost at home to Australia, giving birth to what would become one of the greatest sporting rivalries known as the Ashes—stopped in Sri Lanka en route to Australia to regain the Ashes and played two matches, the first of which was played at the Galle Face Grounds in 1882. Almost a decade later, in 1891, the Galle Face Grounds, brimming with 8000 spectators, would witness W.G. Grace, the most famous cricketer of his time, bat and then uncharacteristically walk off after hitting his wicket for just 14 runs.
The Colombo Cricket Club, the oldest cricket club on the island, which was founded in 1832, used this ground as their home ground until 1894 when they moved to Maitland Crescent, their current home. The ground regularly hosted domestic matches until 1983, after which cricket ceased to be played here.
The Galle Face esplanade was originally used by the Dutch to install their cannons to parry possible naval attacks by the fleeing Portuguese. The British, after conquering the maritime areas of Sri Lanka, levelled the marshy land that Galle Face once was and turned it into a racecourse, which came to be known as the Colpetty Racecourse. Horse races were regularly held here until the Colombo Racecourse was established in 1893. The governor of Ceylon in 1856, Sir Henry George Ward, commissioned the development of a promenade along the beachfront of Galle Face, and it was duly completed in 1859. This large expanse of recreational land eventually became the site of many golf, rugby, and cricket matches.
Today, the Taj Samudra Hotel, one of the oldest five-star hotels in Sri Lanka, sits atop where numerous historic cricket matches were once played.
3. Fort Ground
Tucked behind the official residence of the president of Sri Lanka is Gordon Gardens, which was once a popular public park in Colombo. It is believed to be the first public park in Colombo Fort and it once comprised the Fort Ground.
The only recorded cricket match at the Fort Ground was the annual cricket encounter between Colombo Academy, as Royal College was then known, and St. Thomas’ College, which was played in 1881. This two-day match resulted in Colombo Academy pipping the Thomians at the post by just 8 runs.
When the Portuguese arrived on the island, the site of this park was just an empty expanse with a cemetery. The Portuguese built their first church called the St. Lawrence church here and this also happens to be the place where Sri Lanka’s first Catholic king King Dom João Dharmapala was laid to rest. Following the British conquest, this land was cleared, and the tombstones were moved to the Wolvendaal Church in Pettah. It is claimed that until 1935, this ground hosted cricket and football matches even though only one cricket match has been recorded. To commemorate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee celebrations in 1887, the then Governor Sir Arthur Gordon turned this ground into a public park accoutered with flowers and fountains.
It is currently an archaeological protected monument since 1999, and has been a non-public park attached to the president’s house since 1980.
4. Havelock Racecourse Grounds
The Havelock Racecourse was a state-of-the-art racecourse in the East that was opened in 1893. Even though it was always envisaged as a racecourse, two cricket matches have been recorded as played here.
The two matches involved the Maharaja Organization taking on the Sri Lanka Air Force Sports Club and the Nondescripts Cricket Club in the Maharaja Trophy tournament in the 1978/79 season. However, these are the only recorded instances of cricket being played at this racecourse.
This racecourse replaced the Colpetty Racecourse as the premier racecourse in the city and was named after Governor A.E. Havelock. Before being turned into a racecourse, the site housed a psychiatric hospital. The racecourse was converted into an airfield during the Second World War and after gaining independence from the British, a ban on gambling rendered it moot. Following this, the state appropriated the racecourse, and parts of the land belonging to it were distributed among the University of Colombo, Royal College, and the Bloomfield Cricket and Athletic Club.
After years of neglect and dilapidation, the racecourse underwent renovations and was opened to the public in 2012. The grandstand of the racecourse is today a shopping and dining complex whereas the ground is now Sri Lanka’s first international rugby union ground.
5. Barrack Square Grounds
The Echelon Square in Colombo Fort once housed military barracks, the parade ground of which was used for cricket matches. The barracks were built in the late nineteenth century and were the headquarters of the British Army Garrison in Sri Lanka.
The first recorded match at the Barracks Square Grounds was a match between Colombo Cricket Club and Up-Country XI in 1891. All told, this ground has hosted 7 matches, the last of which was played in 1909 between the same teams. Between these two matches, the ground hosted a whistlestop tour match against England in 1894 and a match against a touring English side led by Lord Hawke in 1892.
The Barrack Square Grounds got its name by dint of the two-story barrack blocks forming a square shape around the parade ground. The square was also known as the Echelon Square and this name continues to be in use even today. After Sri Lanka’s independence, the barracks became the headquarters of Ceylon Artillery, and the Ministry of Defense was located here. However, in 1970, the barracks were cleared to make way for commercial developments.
Today, the Barrack Square Grounds is the site of the Galadari Hotel and the Colombo World Trade Center.
Source : cricketmachan.com