Brisbane cricketers go into bat for Sri Lankan students

 A life-changing cricket tour

Students Jevin Gunawardana and Blake Micallef, as well as players and families from the Moreton Cricket Club in Brisbane, travelled to Sri Lanka in April 2016 on a cricket tour they will never forget.

The boys, who had toured Sri Lanka with their club in 2015 and seen the need, wanted an opportunity to make a lasting contribution. They were the driving force behind fundraising efforts that generated $17,560 to support the Neluwa community in southern Sri Lanka with school sports equipment, playground refurbishments and improved housing for vulnerable families.

With the seed of an idea, Blake approached World Vision and spoke about the cricket tour and their desire to raise funds for schools in Sri Lanka.

The Neluwa District was identified as an area in need of support and they encouraged Blake and Jevin’s cricket team, “the Colts” to visit Neluwa during their Sri Lanka tour to play alongside their Sri Lankan peers in a six-a-side cricket tournament involving 10 local schools.  

World Vision helped the boys set up an Everyday Hero online fundraising page to support their efforts, which began in Brisbane with a “Sri Lanka Night” where approximately $1,500 was raised through a number of raffles. The boys’ expectations were surpassed as the project progressed and in less than two months an amazing $17,500 had been donated.

The fundraising was both exciting and humbling, but it did not compare to what was to be the real highlight, the trip to Neluwa and the cricket tournament.

“The day of the tournament we woke up early and prepared for what we thought would be another typical day of cricket. Boy we were wrong,” said Blake.

“After a two hour drive through the picturesque tea fields so prominent in Neluwa, we arrived at our cricket ground for the day. At first we were shocked. Never in our life had we seen a cricket oval that was grassless and merely dirt and dust. That just added to the uniqueness of the trip.”

After a traditional Sri Lankan blessing, Blake and Jevin walked through a guard of honour set by all the competitors and lit a torch to start the tournament.

Blake and Jevin (left) lit a torch to start the tournament. During the final presentation, all the local participants were presented with their own cricket bat by members of the Moreton Cricket Club.

Love of the game a uniting force 

“The first ball of the tournament resulted in a six and it was at that moment we realised we were in for a tremendous encounter,” Blake added.

After a brave fight from each competing school, Neluwa College triumphed in the final against a spirited Lankagama College.

“All the school kids came down in support. We prayed with them, played with them, sang with them, danced with them, laughed with them, but most poignantly and vividly shared unforgettable cricketing moments with them that will be cherished for life.”

At the end of the day during the presentation, each member of each school was presented with their own cricket bat, with the Moreton cricketers moved to see how grateful the students were to receive something kids in Australia take for granted.

Jevin said that after returning home to Australia, the life-changing experiences the boys had in Neluwa remained at the forefront of their minds.

“Playing cricket among the local children was a personal highlight as it emphasised the irrelevance of language barriers and differing ethnicities in being able to socialise and compete through our beloved sport, cricket,” he explained.

“We found ourselves admiring the raw talent and abilities of our new teammates and friends, whilst unfortunately being aware that they would not have access to the same facilities we take for granted.

“Nonetheless, after our collective fundraising efforts and the work World Vision was completing, we felt satisfied that we were making a positive impact on the community not only for now but for the generations to come.”