at Fernando and stones at Johnston
By Dr. Michael Roberts
Cricket in Sri Lanka is a national asset. It is a major revenue
earner in foreign currency. It is the only team game at which we
compete reasonably well at the highest levels. It brings honour
and recognition to the country. It is a focus of attention, if not
devotion, across class and ethnic divisions. It has also served
as a palliative during the last twenty years of political calamity
and deadly conflict.
But it has been
badly served by some of its leading administrators in recent years.
Minister Johnston Fernando looks as if he is joining this line of
maladministrators and the present Interim Committee is being tainted
in the process. He is rendering the organization of cricket in Lanka
into a global joking point. In the interests of cricket, this article
throws brickbats at Fernando and stones at Johnston. Let me present
my criticisms in point form.
1. Those who
serve on the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka do so in
an honorary capacity and are, for the most part, well-meaning men.
Given the importance of their brief one would have thought that
the Minister Fernando would meet them at some point. Yet, up to
the end of March 2002 (I was in Lanka till then), he had not had
the basic courtesy of arranging a brief consultative gathering with
the two Malalasekera Committees.
2. Between December
2001 and July 2002 we have had four Interim Committees for the BCCSL,
admittedly with some overlaps. This must surely be a world record.
How can a stable long-term policy can be secured through ever-changing
3. The third
Interim Committee under Hemaka Amarasuriya's generalship was not
only a large body, but included diverse 'fictional' groupings. It
was a case of mixing accharu with polmallun! A benign interpretation
would be that it was a well-intentioned an effort to bring conflicting
A more likely
explanation is that it was designed to force one of the parties,
the 'Triumvirate' of Wettimuni, Tissera and Gunasekera, an effective
working group that had established a rapport with the Sri Lankan
cricket team, to resign. That eventuated in May, as anyone could
predict. If this was the Minister's design, then it says little
for the Minister's sensibilities. If he was merely listening to
voices in his ear, then, he proved himself to be a fool.
4. In effect,
the timing of this change in the Interim Committee and the resignation
of Wettimuni and company on the 13th May 2002 meant that the Selection
Committee changed in the middle of the critical tour of England.
The timing could not have been worse. Touring England is not like
a series at home, or a visit to Sharjah or even to India or Pakistan.
Players require a span of time to acclimatize. Players who fare
well in Asian conditions are not necessarily suited for the seaming
wickets that one often encounters in that land.
This meant that
there had to be a greater mesure of continuity between the squad
for the Test matches and those for the ODI series that followed
- greater continuity than normal. Albeit with some changes. Given
the absolute necessity of an all-rounder who could bowl medium pace,
I surmise that Eric Upashantha was earmarked for that role and was
part of the squad as a lead-up to the ODI series. There may have
been question marks around his capacities, but he had toured England
before and could swing the ball. In effect, he was potentially at
least, Lanka's version of Dominic Cork.
He was pitchfork
into the Third Test because of injuries to key bowlers and failed
miserably. The de Alwis Committee then ditched him. Given the basic
requirements for English conditions, this was a foolish decision.
At the very least, someone like Dulip Liyanage, Gayan Wijekoon or
Jeevaka Kulatunga should have replaced Upashantha (or, better still
been selected with Upashantha for the ODI squad instead of Gunawardena
and Wickramasinghe). The point I make here is that one cannot have
two different committees slecting teams for one foreign tour.
5. The selections
of the ODI squad were further aggravated by the thinking that informed
the de Alwis Committee's decisions. I shall review that subject
elsewhere, but the Minister also seems to have got into the act.
If valid, this would be another record! Only in Sri Lanka: a Minister
becomes a cricket specialist overnight. Would he tell his mother
how to cook her (or even his) favorite curries? Can a politician
tell an army captain which personnel to include in his commando
team? To repeat: only in Sri Lanka.
6. In overview,
it seems that Minister Fernando bends with the wind, that is with
the voices of powerful men who happen to whisper in his ear, kusu
kusu with some pandam perhaps. Swinging with the latest wind like
a strand of bamboo will not serve our cricket interests at all.
My information (and I was in UK in June) is that, unlike previous
occasions, the morale of the team was affected by the happenings
in Sri Lanka on this occasion in May -June 2002.
Fernando has learnt from his errors. Recently at least he had the
sense to sit down together with Dav Whatmore and Jayasuriya as well
as the Selection Committee for deliberations on the future. Nor
has he given into a carefully orchestrated campaign, with journalistic
support, to replace Jayasuriya as captain with Aravinda de Silva.
In any event, he would, hopefully, have seen clearly how his choices
upset the balance and effectiveness of the ODI squad in English
as I write, indeed, after the previous segment of this essay had
been drafted, another contretemps - ho hum yet another ho-ha one
could say with resignation - has developed over the composition
of the Test teams for the two Tests against Bangladesh. This development
arises from disagreements between the Selection Committee and the
captain Jayasuriya on the policy of resting key players. In the
result the Minister has been called in as adjudicator, or rather,
interested parties have utilized the ministerial channel to push
their own barrow. In effect, one has a good illustration my Point
is an unseemly and unholy mess. All manner of 'old cricketers',
- whether well-intentioned, partisan or relatively unbiased as the
case may be - are getting their earful of advice across the media
waves or the ministerial corridors. It's a rugger scrum of selection,
lots of push and shove - not merely from two sides but from all
sides of the compass! An unbecoming melee in mud with some of the
mud being generated in the sky. As this problem escalated, just
yesterday Johnson Fernando went public in complaining about the
meddling of "interested parties."
Wow! He has
convinced himself that he is not an "interested party".
In brief power has penetrated his head. People in power think they
are disinterested and know best. This is a dangerous delusion. The
fact is that even well-intentioned parties tendering advice are
in some sense interested bodies of people with a particular line
to push. This applies to my intervention as well.
The key problem,
of course, lies in the constitution of the Sports Law, and within
its framework, in the powers vested in the Minister in affirming
selections. Every Tom, Dick and Harry, or if you prefer the indigenous
version, every Perera, Silva and Fernando - not forgetting a real
live captain Jayasuriya - runs to Minister Johnston Fernando - not
forgetting a real live captain Jayasuriya - runs to Minister Johnston
Fernando when they think a wrong has taken place. Team selection
is being made into a bargain counter.