Dubai: Sri Lankan cricket fans living in the UAE joined hands with their national team members to raise funds for the development of the game in their country. In a colourful dinner function held at the Atlantis Hotel on Tuesday evening, they came out in support to ensure that the Islanders remain one among the strongest cricketing nations in the world.
Speaking to Gulf News, Presley Polonnowita, the secretary of Sri Lankan Cricket in the UAE, said: “We are all joining hands for the development of the game, especially in the rural areas of Sri Lanka. We had earlier joined hands to support Foundation of Goodness, an orphanage supported by Mahela Jayawardene, Muttiah Muralitharan and Kumar Sangakkara. We provided even cricket kits to this orphanage.”
Sri Lankans in the UAE used to be very active in the past by generating funds for Sri Lankan cricket when their national team used to regularly participate in Sharjah tournaments. “Our body was run by Saliya Senanayake and Tomlynson De Silva. Ever since Sharjah tournaments stopped and Sri Lanka stopped touring the UAE, this body had become inactive,” he said.
The new body is headed by Presley, Aaron Vedhasinghe and Amal Jayasinghe and has a mission. “In the late Eighties, many talented cricketers used to emerge from rural areas, especially from the North Eastern region of Sri Lanka. After the LTTE movement, cricket in these regions were badly affected. Our legendary bowler Muttiah Muralitharan has now taken the initiative to resurrect the game in this region and spot talent. We in the UAE want to provide him support,” Polonnowita added.
Muralitharan recently inaugurated cricket facilities in Kilinochchi in Northern Province of Sri Lanka. “Muralitharan is travelling extensively to unearth talent. Even a tournament called Murali Cup is being held to tap now talent. This function is not only to support our game in the country but also is an opportunity for Sri Lankan supporters to meet and greet the Sri Lankan cricketers,” said Polonnowita. The Lankan cricketers are on a high with a 1-0 lead in their ongoing series against Pakistan.
Sri Lankan Cricket Board secretary Nishantha Ranatunga, commenting on the UAE fans’ support, said: “Spreading the game throughout our beautiful country is something that is absolutely vital to the long-term health of cricket in Sri Lanka and this initiative is designed to help us do exactly that. The funds raised from this event in Dubai will allow us to provide facilities for youngsters to learn the skills involved in playing the game so that they can emulate the current stars of our national team and create a foundation for the well-being of the sport in Sri Lanka well into the future.”
Autographed bats and T-shirts were available at nominal prices while dinner table were sold to corporates and individuals to raise funds. “We are delighted that everyone wholeheartedly supported the Lankans, who battled a 30-year struggle to rebuild the love for cricket in the north and east of the country,” added Polonnowita.