Murali Harmony Cup

 Sri Lanka cricket legends Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakkara launched the 2012 Murali Harmony Cup on Saturday by opening the newly-built IODR Oval in the previously war-affected northern town of Oddusuddan in Mullaitivu Province.

The school cricket ground is the flagship venue of the 20-team reconciliation tournament staged to promote community-building and friendship in post-war Sri Lanka. The tournament has been jointly organised by Muttiah Muralidaran’s charity the Foundation of Goodness, travel company Red Dot Tours, the International Cricket Council and the Sri Lanka Army.

The IODR Oval was built thanks to the generous sponsorship of the Indian Ocean Disaster Relief Fund (IODR) and Grange Hotels from the United Kingdom. The development transformed a hitherto barren sports field into a functioning cricket facility for local children with the addition of a large pavilion, toilets, astro-turf cricket nets, scoreboard, sightscreens, an improved outfield, coconut-matting centre wicket and general beautification including the planting of trees.

“This is a wonderful development that will help hundreds of children play and enjoy the great game of cricket,” former Sri Lanka captain Sangakkara told the media shortly after ceremonially opening the venue in front of hundreds of school children, local invitees and spectators. “The children and families of these areas have suffered terrible hardships through three decades of war, but now we are blessed with peace and they deserve the chance to play sport and live a full life.”

The construction of the new facilities and the development of the ground took place in just 33 days and were only possible thanks to the encouragement and logistical support of the Sri Lanka Army. “To build this facility in just 33 days is an amazing effort by all those involved,” said Sangakkara. “In particular I would like the Sri Lanka Army. They embraced this project from day one, understanding full well the positive impact sport can play in this region.”

Tony Matharu, the managing director of Grange Hotels, the principal sponsor of IODR’s amazing social and development work throughout the Indian Ocean region, said: “IODR firmly believes in the ability of sport to reunite and educate, as well as to inject direction and purpose into the lives of a population damaged by decades of war.”

Mahela Jayawardena, who first visited the venue in October 2011 as part of a coaching program in the north and east for his charity The Mahela Foundation, hopes the new venue will encourage further development in grassroots sports infrastructure in the region and help unearth exciting new talent. “Our rural areas are blessed with abundant cricketing talent and I hope one day soon we will see cricketers from the north and east playing in Sri Lanka’s national team,” he said.

The 2012 Murali Harmony Cup is being played at five grounds across Northern Sri Lanka in the towns of Jaffna, Oddusuddan, Mankulam, Kilinochchi, and Vavuniya from 8-12 September. It is in a T-20 format, and features an Under-19 School Boys Tournament and an Under-23 Women’s Tournament. A dozen boys’ teams and eight ladies’ teams from across Sri Lanka are playing two matches every day at each ground, with the finals on 12th September at the IODR Oval in Oddusudan.

Read more from the opening of the IODR Oval here