Warna, as he is universally known, played 10 Tests and six one-dayers for Sri Lanka in the 80s and 90s, but he is best known as the curator of the Galle International stadium. His commitment is unparalleled, first in the fulfilment of his dream to see his home town becoming an international venue, then in the diligence with which he began reconstruction work in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami.
Warna calls it an ‘honour’ that Galle is hosting Muttiah Muralitharan’s farewell Test. “We have played together, and I was the first person he called up after seeking the blessings of His Excellence (President Mahinda Rajapaksa) on his retirement,” the 49-year-old said. “He told me ‘Aiyya, I will be retiring at your ground’. I was touched and a little sad, too. I know we have lost so much play, but I am still confident that Murali will get eight more wickets and finish with 800 Test wickets.”
The Galle International stadium is Warna’s home away from home. In the lead-up to this Test, he has spent nearly 20 hours a day at the ground, not unlike in 1998 before Galle’s first ever Test when, by his own admission, he slept for no more than two hours a night for 30 nights on the trot.
“We are like a family here,” he proclaimed. “When it’s raining and we have to get the covers on, I can’t stand there holding an umbrella. I have to lead by example, which is why I am out there getting wet. I tell the ground staff that they are not coming here for work. I ask each one of them to treat every Test match like their own, which is really the open secret behind our team work. Everyone thinks this is a one-man show, but it’s not. I am the curator and I am in charge of the ground, but this is a team effort. We take excellent care of the ground staff, and you can see how committed they are.”
Warna played for Galle Cricket Club for nearly 18 seasons. “This is my ground,” he stated. “During the tsunami, an English school team was playing a match against our junior team. Water gushed in from two sides, and the ground was completely damaged. Our immediate thoughts, though, were to support the families of the people that had lost their lives in and around Galle.
“It was when I came to the ground the day after the tsunami that reality sunk in. I saw the state of the ground, and I cried. For six months, we didn’t do anything about it. Then we initiated the reconstruction process. We ran into a lot of problems, but a majority were solved with His Excellency’s grace. To me, this is more than just a ground and my staff is more than just workers.”