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Asgiriya Cricket Stadium

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Some hundred years ago, a memorable engineering feat was undertaken when a sheer cliff face was gradually transformed into one of the loveliest little cricket grounds in this or any other cricket-conscious country. The job took five years to complete. In 1982, that same hillside had undergone another transformation; this time not to make it fit for a school but as an arena for international cricket. This job however took five months to complete. If ever a cricket ground has deserved this honour of test status, that ground is Asgiriya.

The transformation of the ground dates back to 1910 when work on the ground started despite the scepticism that greeted Mr. Fraser’s acquisition of the now famous hillside as a playing field for Trinity College. Ever since his arrival at Trinity, he was very conscious about the lack of a suitable playing field. The grounds on which the Chapel now stands was the cricket ground in those days and so small it was that it is a wonder that Trinity achieved so much headway in both cricket and rugby before Asgiriya became a reality. Even the negotiations by which the land was obtained are parts of colonial history as Mr. Fraser at first pleaded for a eight acre land and then cajoled and finally threatened the military authorities into allowing us the land at a nominal rent. Then as the work progressed the hill descended as the valley rose to meet  it. The jeers finally turned into cheers. If Mr. Fraser was determined to go through with the project of leveling this hillside, his confidence in the feasibility of the project must have been considerably strengthened by Trinity’s own Mr. Jasinghe’s assurance that it could be done; that he would see to it personally that it was done. And see it done they did.

The courageous vision and determination of Mr. Fraser and  Mr. Jasinghe, was finally vindicated when on January 15th, 1915 the new ground and Pavilion were opened by the Governor, Sri Rober Chalmers.

At first sight it was a sheer hillside. But in fact, it was two hills with a V shaped valley in between. Mr. Fraser relates how “with the help of the boys and staff we started to dig down the big hill above and throw it into the valley below while the smaller and lower hill acted as a retaining wall. We then got some workmen from the villages to help and we made our eight acre field. The P.W.D. and other experts told that our soil would be washed down by the big rains but I had seen what the Dutch had done in Holland and we built similar under-surface-drains with loose stones in the field. We never had any trouble and the Australians said that it was the most beautiful ground they had ever seen and that the pitch was perfect.” The square at Asgiriya has rightly been its chief attraction. No one was really quite sure to whom should the credit go for having designed it, and its secret remained closely guarded until the fifties when it was wormed out of us for the Colts.

When the wicket was first laid in 1915, there was only the one clay strip which was thereafter gradually extended over the years by laboriously planting each tuft of grass by hand with what was known as ‘Australian Blue Grass’. The most remarkable thing about the wicket is that over its entire life it had required no attention at all to keep it playing as true as it did. All it got was its regular annual top dressing of ant-hill clay and a dash of fertilizer.

In 1982, the test cricket status was granted to Sri Lanka in order to improve the infrastructure of its international venues. It was Gamini Dissanayake’s vision, the former Chairman of Sri Lanka Cricket and a celebrated alumni of Trinity College Kandy, formally known as the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka, to upgrade Trinity’s cricket ground to international status. The renovated Asgiriya Cricket Ground was formally declared open, by His Excellency the President of  Sri Lanka, Mr. J.R. Jayawardena.

The first cricket match at Asgiriya was against the Australian cricket team in Sri Lanka in 1982–83, becoming Sri Lanka’s second Test venue, after the Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu Stadium.

Sri Lanka’s first Test win at Asgiriya came in 1998 against Zimbabwe, 15 years after the ground hosted its first Test. More success soon followed in the coming years as Sri Lanka won their first Test against Australia in 1999, which still remains the Sri Lanka’s only Test win against Australia; a game remembered for the dreadful collision between Steve Waugh and Jason Gillespie. Both players had to be airlifted to Colombo for medical treatment after being seriously injured. Waugh broke his nose while Gillespie had a broken bone in his shin.

Asgiriya has also hosted a 1996 Cricket World Cup fixture between Sri Lanka national cricket team and Kenya national cricket team with Sri Lanka making a record 398, the highest score at the time.

Asgiriya Stadium has hosted a total of 22 Test Matches and seven of them were won by Sri Lanka. Test Matches were played regularly until the last match, which was in 2007 with the English Cricket Team in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka won that Test, with Muttiah Muralitharan claiming his 709th Test wicket to go past Shane Warne as the highest wicket taker in Test cricket. Sri Lanka Cricket decided to shift all international cricket to Pallekele, about 15 kilometers from the city, but it is possible that Asgiriya will get an occasional international match.


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Location Summary

Inauguration : 1915
Initiation : Rev. A. G. Fraser
Capacity : 10,300
1st TEST : 22/04/1983 (SL v AUS)
1st ODI : 02/03/1986 (SL v PAK)

Location Map

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