Unlike any other previous interim setups, the last Interim committee led by Sidath Wettimuny, during the short period it was in power, mooted many innovations pertaining to cricket. Most significant among them was the Zonal tournament which promised to give the game a new aura, thus transforming the local cricketers into sportsmen who stand to [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Michael hits out at new SLC bosses


Michael Tissera and Mahela Jayawardene had certain things in common -- upgrading the flagging local tournament was a strategic priority - File pic

Unlike any other previous interim setups, the last Interim committee led by Sidath Wettimuny, during the short period it was in power, mooted many innovations pertaining to cricket.

Most significant among them was the Zonal tournament which promised to give the game a new aura, thus transforming the local cricketers into sportsmen who stand to earn millions of rupees yearly.

At the same time, it was done with the idea of easing the clutter and cricket congestion in Colombo, by taking the cricketers to their bases where they belong.

Ironically, with the elections being held and a new administration taking over the reins, cricket in the island has turned topsy-turvy once again. The Zonal tournament has had an inglorious ending. The upgrade of facilities – another proposal by the previous cricket regime — also has been put on hold.

At the same time, the introduction of professionals into the cricket administration is also meandering. Nonetheless, it is said that some of the powers-that-be in the new administration are on inspection tours in England and Bangladesh. Taking all these reverberations into consideration, we feel that all’s not well with the ‘pillars’ at Maitland Place.

With these in mind, we asked former National captain and a livewire of the last Cricket Committee, Michael Tissera to comment on matters pertaining to stakeholders and the ideal cricket administration. We started by asking – “With the World Cup win in 1996, the game in Sri Lanka really exploded, but did the local tournaments keep pace with the international demands?”

Tissera’s assertion was that local cricket did not grow with the demands of international cricket. He said, “As it progressed, the tournament got more diluted because politics came into it. With more clubs being given votes, the administrators had to please the voters.

Then the clubs which were taking part in the tournament also started to grow in numbers. I remember at one point it had grown to twenty, before coming to the present 14.

When we talk to some of these club officials they say we played soon after school, but, now it is two different competitions altogether.

Young school leavers like Arjuna Ranatunga and Roshan Mahanama played the game in a more leisurely pace. Today with all three formats, the game of cricket has become a real professional entity. Then you have to change the local format to suit the international requirements – we have failed in that bid.

“We have been trying to change this format from 1999. When we were in the first interim committee, we got that Provincial Tournament working and it was a great success.

But, as soon as the Interim Committees’ term ended, the normal committees came and put an end to it. Then once again it came into the focus with Sidath Wettimuny playing a lead role.

There were even sponsors to back the tournament and again it was a successful tournament. But once again it was stopped. At that point even the sponsors were asking why?”

Tissera, a former national skipper, said the Wettimuny-led Interim Committee thought at least this concept would catch on and the Zonal tournament would move ahead. “This was going to be played involving the clubs.

It was the clubs which was going to operate these teams. But again the new administration says they do not have the money. I think it is a load on nonsense, because according to Wettimuny, the costs were budgeted in. I am really disappointed because I believe that we have to give the cricketers all the facilities to do well. I do not think that we are doing that.”

Both the Musings and the doyen of Lankan cricket agreed that since gaining Test status, the local club circuit did not grow or shape itself to suit the needs of the international call. Tissera explained, “Leave alone the growth, I think the local cricket has been diluted. Yes, more clubs are playing cricket. I think we have quantity, but, quality is much to be desired.”

Then the Musings pointed out that the Lankans are short of a solid first class tournament and at the same time we lack proper facilities in our main training centre. Yes, the Lankans may win the odd T-20 tournament, but we asked what the Lankans would have to do to come on par with other full-member countries in the circuit.

“Inevitably,” the former Lankan cricket captain said “that is what Sidath and crowd were trying to do. They went all out to improve the facilities in Galle, Pallekelle and Khettarama where nets and the swimming pool were to be built.

Then they were going to have indoor nets in Pallekelle and Galle. It was earmarked to have trainers and coaches at these facilities so that these young cricketers need not come to Colombo.

In time as I said Trinity and Richmond producing the best school teams then why do these boys come to Colombo to play their cricket? Obviously they would stay around Kandy or Galle. Why not give them the facilities so that they can stay there and play their cricket?

“That is where they brought this Zonal tournament; they wanted the clubs involved so that they would not feel the pinch so much. Subsequently after it was played for a few years the player would have improved and played Zonal sides and remained there.”

Then the question was just because they have a Zonal tournament how were they going to sustain themselves in the game?
The answer was: “It was all in the budget.

They had worked it out; those cricketers – if they had played their club cricket and the Zonal tournament — could have earned something like 750,000 to one million rupees a year. Then that would sustain them throughout the year. This was going to be followed by sponsorships.

“However, the Zonal interests and the interests of the stakeholders will be different. The stakeholders do not want to give up their hold and probably feel that the Zonal cricket will take precedence.

I think that should be the fact. Because your major tournament should take precedence over the club tournaments. I think that is what they are worried about and that is why they are not going through with it”.

Then what should be the ideal governing system, Musings asked. Tissera’s answer was: “Sidath Wettimuny has given the Sports Minister and the Prime Minister an idea of what the constitution should be.

I think first to get the clubs to about 50 or 60 and then have about nine elected from the associations and then on top of that have a board of governors — finance, legal, cricketers etc and any major expenditure — which is costing a ten million or more to go through the board of governors.

“I think these are some of the parameters of this proposal. Whether the Government would go ahead with this proposal, we do not know. The Sports Minister should push this if he thinks it is worthwhile. Then if this is passed in parliament the stakeholders would have to abide by it.”

He said he even felt that the Sports Minister should not have got involved with the incidents that took place during Sri Lanka’s last tour of New Zealand. There should have been an inquiry mooted by the SLC and the inquiry panel should have found out what was going on.

Tissera added: “I feel that the Sports Minister should not get involved in these matters. But, he should have asked why the SLC President go for the ACC meeting instead of the more important ICC meeting which was taking place at the same time.

At the same time SLC Treasurer Shammi Silva is making a tour of England to inspect wickets during the Sri Lanka tour. What’s there for him to look at grounds which have more facilities than all our grounds?

Do you go in the winter to look at grounds? These are the things on which they are going to waste their money instead of giving the local cricketers better facilities”.

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