Ex-Sri Lanka Cricket secretary turned welfare crusader Kushil Gunasekera has outweighed the institution he once worked for by preparing the groundwork to provide playing boots to as many as 360 players many of whom spent their childhood amid the sound of bombs and gun-fire in the north and east of the country.
Gunasekera through his rapidly growing Foundation of Goodness (FOG) which has gained international acceptance in all the major cricket playing nations, will hand out the boots to budding schoolboy players on September 21when the fifth annual Murali Harmony Cup takes place in the once war-ravaged towns of Jaffna, Oddusudan, Mankulam and Kilinochchi under the patronage of retired Sri Lanka greats Mahela Jayawardena, Kumar Sangakkara and Muttiah Muralidaran.
The trio are trustees of the FOG that Gunasekera sees as the face of his humanitarian work which has given thousands of Sri Lankans in both the north and south of the country a future to look forward to.
“I don’t think so many players had ever received 360 pairs of boots in one delivery all at the same time. How else could you build bridges and bring people together who have suffered because of war other than through cricket in this country”, Gunasekera told the Nation on the sidelines after launching the Murali Harmony Cup on Thursday evening in Colombo.
The tournament features 24 teams made up mostly from among the less privileged schools scattered across the island that will join three of Colombo’s elite cricket-playing academies Royal College, St. Joseph’s College and Nalanda College.
“This tournament continues to foster friendships and unity between communities from all across the island”, tournament founder Muralidaran said at its launch.
Schoolboys from Galle, Kandy, Nuwera Eliya, Badulla, Monaragala, Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Mannar will join their northern counterparts in vying for the Cup.
The inaugural tournament was held in 2012 at the same venues and another top-shelf cricket-playing school in Colombo St. Peter’s College, whose players became instant hits among the northern schoolboys, won the trophy.
The Peterites won the Murali Cup twice followed by Ananda College also from Colombo doing the same.
The tournament has now grown into a much looked forward to sporting event for people in the north and east of the country who were starved of their share of fanfare and entertainment during a three-decade long ethnic conflict.
Interestingly soldiers and service personnel who were once seen as adversaries by the northern and eastern populations have played a major role in constructing the four match venues.
The tournament has also attracted many sponsors, some with overseas links that has enabled Gunasekera and the FOG to meet a cost of Rs.18 million as operational expenditure needed for the five-day T20 showpiece of which Rs. 1.6 million was set aside for players’ boots and kits.