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Why Sri Lanka is special to me
- Shane Warne
An Australian cricket star appeals for help in the rebuilding of a country devastated by the tsunami
Copyright 2005 Times Newspapers Ltd. February 11, 2005
STANDING in front of the famous old fort at Galle this week, I looked down on to what I remember as one of the most picturesque cricket grounds in the world. I saw a stadium in ruins, an outfield buried underneath rubbish and rubble. The experience will go down as one of the saddest and strangest in my life.

It was here — almost to the exact spot — where I stood last March when the Australia team gathered to sing our team song having won the Test series. For me it was an extra special occasion because I had just taken my 500th wicket. Everything seems great on nights like that. To think what lay ahead.

Sri Lanka has always been a wonderful place to tour. The Test here in 1992 is still my favourite because it was the first time I felt I contributed to the Australia team. That is why I decided I wanted to help as soon as the scale of the tsunami tragedy registered.

The Boxing Day Test match in Melbourne is a highlight of the sporting year back home and there is always a special feeling to be involved. But all of us in the Australia dressing-room felt deflated having seen the pictures in the press and on the television.

I spoke to Muttiah Muralitharan, who was lucky not to be caught up in the disaster himself. We have always been mates through the spinners’ union. He thought that simply coming over to meet people would help a lot. In the circumstances, that seemed the least I could do and we started to firm things up during the fundraising game in Melbourne.

The idea of visiting Galle and Colombo has been to put smiles back on a few faces. I wanted to help the children in particular to move on and look forward. I have helped to distribute things like chocolates and biscuits and cricket sets, but the aim has gone deeper than that. I have tried to give the kids hope that better times lie ahead.

One village near Galle I visited was reduced from 400 houses to just ten. I met tiny children who have lost both parents, all their clothes and toys, but are battling on. They are the real champions of the world. To hear them laugh when we gave out books and crayoning sets, and to be so polite, has been humbling.

I never imagined anything so devastating could happen in an age when technology is so advanced. I suppose I always associated the loss of lives on this scale with the great plagues and the Middle Ages rather than the 21st century. It has been weird to stand where the tsunami hit and imagine the wave coming in at 500 kilometers an hour.

The determination and resilience of people has been inspirational. As a parent, I still struggle to get my head around the tales of mothers and fathers having to let go of the arms of a child to try to save the life of another. I don’t know if I could leave two of mine, knowing they would be swept away, to make sure the third survived.

I wanted to visit the hospital in Galle to say “well done” to the doctors and nurses who have worked tirelessly in all this. I came out in conjunction with some surgeons from Melbourne, including the man who operated on my shoulder. They have brought equipment as a donation. I hope the visit will act as a stimulus to raise funds through friends of the Shane Warne Foundation, which was set up initially to help children in need in Australia. We are joining forces with City of Melbourne to try to rebuild the children’s library and restore the Galle ground to its former glory. Any help will be appreciated greatly.

WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka