Tragedy-hit Sri Lanka town ready for World Cup baptism

HAMBANTOTA, February 20, 2011 (AFP) – Hambantota, where 3,000 people died in the 2004 tsunami, welcomed the World Cup on Sunday, the latest morale-boosting step for the ambitious Sri Lankan coastal city. The stadium where Sri Lanka were due to tackle Canada is named after president Mahinda Rajapakse, who hopes the facility will go a long way in changing the face of his hometown and help its dream of hosting the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

“Hambantota was hit by the tsunami in 2004. So, with the World Cup coming, the people have a chance to celebrate and World Cup matches are a historic moment for them,” Sri Lanka Cricket secretary Nishantha Ranatunga told AFP.

Ranatunga, younger brother of 1996 World Cup winning team captain Arjuna, said the stadium will be crucial for the future.

“The Hambantota stadium is not only about World Cup matches, it will be one of the top facilities for the youth of Hambantota and the adjoining towns and I am sure it will produce a number of talented players in future.”

The ground development project is part of a makeover of the province which involves a new international airport, seaport and Sri Lanka’s first expressway from Hambantota to Colombo – a distanc