Anuruddha Polonowita is a remarkable man. Few will realize the amount of time he has spent and the sacrifices he has made to make Sri Lanka a top cricketing nation that it is today. Usually it is the players or the president or secretary of Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) or the national selectors who hog the limelight, but Polonowita in his own inimitable way has done for Sri Lanka cricket what most officials can only dream of doing.
He has served Sri Lanka cricket for 53 years in virtually every position (except president). In 1994 while still a vice president of SLC he undertook the task of qualifying himself as a curator, an area which no one even bothered to address because it was such an arduous job and one which hardly attracted attention.
“I think it was an area that was most neglected. I had retired from the Colombo Municipality and had a lot of free time on my hands so I thought of taking up this job professionally,” Polonowita told The Nation.
“I was involved with the development and construction of the Khettarama Stadium 25 years ago. I did the pitches and ground and it was during that time that President R Premadasa asked me what I wanted. I told him I would like to go to Australia and do a course in curatorship,” said Polonowita. “Within two months it was arranged and I was sent to Australia for three months and I did my curatorship and came back. With that knowledge behind me I thought I should take up the role as curator which was a challenging one and today I am proud to say that I have a curators department since 2000 where seven graduates with agricultural degrees were recruited. They were trained under me and now they are recruited as curators at stadiums owned by SLC,” he said.
After almost two decades at the job Polonowita is finally calling it quits. He has not only served in the capacity of curator but in several other capacities as selector, manager, coach etc. “I will be 75 this year and I have served SLC for 53 years. Now I‘ve decided it’s time for me to step aside and allow the others to continue,” said Polonowita.
“I have trained the youngsters and they can take over from me. I am 100 percent confident they will do a good job. They have done a good job upto now and they will continue to do so. There won’t be any problems because I have paved the way for them to take over whenever I resign,” he said.
Sri Lanka Cricket plans to felicitate Polonowita at the end of the second Test between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh at the R Premadasa Stadium. The Test is due to start on March 16.
“I have been involved with the stadium from its inception so it’s only appropriate that I am being felicitated there,” he said.As curator the challenges Polonowita faced was when cricket was played during the monsoon seasons.“Most of the time we play our cricket during the monsoon periods. Our season should be December to March end. It is the same time that countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Australia and New Zealand also have their seasons at home so they won’t come during that time. Today the money comes from TV rights and it is the money we have to spend on the development of cricket, players and all that so we have to play all these matches during our monsoonal periods between May-June and September-October,” said Polonowita. “That’s how I started to get covers to cover the entire ground. Some people questioned why the entire ground should be covered if it was not done a lot of matches wouldn’t have been played or completed. During the monsoon heavy rains continue and if we don’t cover the ground entirely there won’t be any play at all. Even our roads go underwater during heavy monsoon rains,” he said.
The curator is also under pressure to produce a pitch suited to the home team so that it can make use of home advantage.“All the time any curator is under pressure from the start of the match. The pressure is when it comes to home advantage. The players and coach demand certain pitches, which we have to cater for and that’s a big strain on the curator,” said Polonowita. “We always want to get the advantage more than anything because we want to win and I have always obliged. That’s why we have won about 80 percent of the matches played in Sri Lanka. All countries do the same. When Murali (Muralitharan) was there we used to take all the grass out and sometimes we brush it and play on clay surface. He has taken most of his wickets at home because we always cater to the needs of the national team.
“One of the most interesting matches was the Test against South Africa at the P Sara Oval in 2006 it went on till the final day. The match was fluctuating all the time and the second innings became like a one-day game with wickets falling all the time. We won by one wicket. That was one of the most exciting games I witnessed. It was a good Test match,” he said.
“When you do a job it’s not the appreciation but the outcome of the pitch is what I always treasure. I do everything for the sake of Sri Lanka cricket not for any individuals. The outcome should be victory for the country. That was my aim and at the end of the day Sri Lanka cricket has come out on top. Many of our cricketers have been recognized as top class batsmen and bowlers. The curator is at the receiving end anywhere in the world. I undertook that challenge and I think I have done a great job to my way of thinking.”
Polonowita was critical of the number of matches being played throughout the year in Sri Lanka which has resulted often in poor pitches being produced. He puts it down to the number of clubs playing in the Premier division not having a ground of their own. “We have 20 Premier clubs but only 10 clubs have grounds so how are we going to manage the affairs? If you want to improve the standard of cricket, a club should have a ground of its own. We have only the Khettarama Stadium for practice purposes. Now they are playing junior and provincial tournaments in various age groups, we have the under 19 pools, the ‘A’ team pools, women’s team pools, fast bowlers and spinners clinics, all that we are managing at Khettarama. It’s a big task and it’s a strenuous thing to give good pitches because the demand is so much,” said Polonowita.
“We play cricket the whole year so we must really appreciate our curators for maintaining these pitches. If you take the other countries their pitches are used only during the summer so they have 7-8 months to prepare the ground and pitches. We have only one month, two months or sometimes only three weeks. When we play a Test match we have already played at least 10-12 matches on that same pitch whereas in other countries they play a Test match only on one pitch. With all these drawbacks we have produced good pitches and our batsmen and bowlers have broken world records and become world recognized,” he said.
One the challenging tasks Polonowita faced was when Sri Lanka hosted matches during the 2011 World Cup where he had to shuttle between Sooriyawewa, Pallekele and Colombo (R Premadasa Stadium) at odd hours of the day to ensure the pitches and grounds were to the satisfaction of the ICC. “Many think that the curator’s job is a cushy one. When you undertake it only you will know the exact gravity of it. There’s no time for anything especially during a tour you are out all the time and you have to see that a perfect pitch is prepared. The demand comes when some say to leave grass and some say they want it cut. In the end we have to balance both and prepare a good pitch,” said Polonowita.
“I am very thankful to my wife for keeping me going. She used to say ‘I see you only on TV’ because by the time I come home at 1 or 2 am she’s asleep and by early next morning I am gone. I have really sacrificed my whole life for cricket. It’s a tough job at my age. I managed to undertake that demanding task because I have been taking care of myself physically. I am a vegetarian and take my vitamins and do my exercises regularly. It has given me strength to go on for such a long time,” he said.At the end of the Bangladesh series Polonowita will take flight to Australia for a reunion with his family (son and two daughters). “We will all be getting together after a long time.”“When I come back I want to still help my school Ananda College. I brought it up to the very top now it has gone down. I want to do something as long as I can. Already I have gone and done the pitches for them for the current season,” he said.
Source - The Nation ( 2013/02/17)
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