Paradoxically, cricket in Sri Lanka is at crossroads. Fundamentally, the game is well established and has one of the longest histories – though the country was admitted to the big league only in 1982. Yet Sri Lanka’s achievements in that short period surpass the deeds of some of the giants in the game. Yet, ironically [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Who can salvage Lanka’s cricket?


Paradoxically, cricket in Sri Lanka is at crossroads. Fundamentally, the game is well established and has one of the longest histories – though the country was admitted to the big league only in 1982. Yet Sri Lanka’s achievements in that short period surpass the deeds of some of the giants in the game. Yet, ironically can it now sustain the same intensity and vibrancy with which the country reached many a milestone not so long ago? If not what do the Lankan have to do to remedy the situation? At the same time if the authorities are honest and earnest about the turnabout could they accomplish their task and what are the drawbacks to it?

In the next few paragraphs can we take a while of yours on this subject and invite you to become a member of this Hard Task Club?
A few months ago, the Lankans displayed an impressive show in Australia ambushing a jaded Indian XI and became the second best in a tri-series against Australia. Not even a moon lapsed after travelling on hard fast wickets in the Southern region of the hemisphere and moving on to the softer wickets closer home that the Lankans failed to win a single game in the Asia Cup tournament in Bangladesh – a tournament which Pakistan won.Then at home, the Lankans had a relatively easy time against a Pakistan outfit more as a result of the batting and team woes of the visitors, but then were moored to earth rather rudely by the marauding Indians. They exposed they just did not possess the bowling prowess that it needed to compete at that scale.

At the same time, the Lankan ‘A’ team were handed a sound thrashing in Zimbabwe – nobody’s child in world cricket. Finally to add to the mounting Z-score, even the Lankan Under 19 team failed to get into the second round of the Junior World Cup tournament in Australia. All these were a successive chain of setbacks that came one linked to the other.

At this end, people kept shouting hoarse claiming, “didn’t I say so”, but up to now no one has come forward and said, “Well I am responsible; here is my resignation”. Yes, we, too, believe that there is no one single person who is responsible because we feel the whole system is too old and rotten and is wilting under its own weight and if effective changes are not brought forth what has befallen the West Indies cricket may befall Sri Lankan cricket too – plenty of talent, but no cricket vision. It’s a perpetual bottom-of-the-table situation.
It was only the other day, the former ICC CEO Haroon Lorgat while having a chat with the Sunday Times opined, “I feel that the South African Board and the ECB envisioned such situations a while ago and affected the changes and now they have broken their shackles and are top of the ladder in cricket. Now Sri Lanka is in the same position that South Africa and England were at that time. The time is ripe for you to change the act and get into new gear so that the drive ahead will become a smoother task”.

The need for a change in the system was originally seen by people in the calibre of Sidath Wettimuny, Aravinda de Silva and Michael Tissera and from time to time the Provincial Cricket system lifted it head in many awkward stances, yet as a result could not cope with the existing system where ‘vote-pounds’ and the ‘vote hounds’ have formed a kind of a Mafia that controls the game in the country. For them the ultimate result of what happens beyond the boundary is not their concern. For them what happens to their own travails in the cricketing business and how they make the most of the existing situation are more important. You take a short travel down the corridors of the cricket headquarters at Maitland Place now, you will bump into ten such people. Some of them sad to say have no legitimate reason to be there.

There is another faction in cricket who keeps on bellowing about the corruption and all other ills in the prevailing system, but, when they were handed over the reins just for a brief moment how cricket shuddered within its realms is yet known to many. Now Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage has made it public that the changes they seek to bring in should have provisions for more funds towards the development of the game and the administration must derive ways of curbing the 60% of the cricket income going to 15-20 players. I feel this is the thorniest issue in the present Pandora’s Box of local cricket. Right now it is more than fact if you say that the Lankan cricket fortunes are on a few palms in the country. The two seniors left on the platter Mahela Jayawardena, Kumar Sangakkara are the true two custodians of the game and no way that still one can challenge this situation. If the two seniors decide to call it a day tomorrow – I know for sure they can do so – the Lankan cricket will be torn into pieces irreparably. The authorities chanced it somewhat during change of captaincy in the aftermath of the 2011 World Cup, but what happened as a result is now seen.

Then during the recent central player contract issue, what went beyond the naked eye was also the same story. The SLPL was just around corner and Mahela Jayawardena spoke against the impending crisis, and then suddenly the issue was settled – who won the contest is not known, but I am sure as to who finally did.

May be the Sports Minister and the Cricket authorities have a plan behind them. But, upsetting the apple cart at this juncture wouldn’t be the most prudent solution of all.  The minister also brought the Australian situation as an equation claiming that only 25% of the income Down Under goes to its cricketers. But remember it was not even a month ago Australian cricket escaped a disastrous player revolt that nearly led to a strike over a pay issue.

The Australian Cricket is rich on its own means and could withstand some “rock-the-boats’, but for Lankan cricket which wilting under a debt-ridden administration, a rusted club system, a set of visionless selectors and a junior cricket system which is on the downward slope on full throttle can hardly afford any outbursts.

I feel the best that the authorities have done is to bring a hired hand in former ICC CEO Haroon Lorgat to act the sheriff in this lawless situation. If he can put some sense into some of the local blockheads it would be good. Yet he can only recommend. The part of salvaging and implementing the recommendations is entirely up to the Lankan authorities.

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