In the past few weeks we were looking at cricket’s crystal ball striving to visualiae as to what could bring about a solution to this prevailing impasse. This is not an ailment that afflicted cricket during the past few months, but a cancer that is gradually devouring all the fat cells in Lankan cricket since [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Cricket’s survival: Think out of the box


Already no Mahela. No Sanga in his ranks in the near future. A worsening administrative structure. Could Angelo and his men keep their cool and play professional cricket in the coming moons?

In the past few weeks we were looking at cricket’s crystal ball striving to visualiae as to what could bring about a solution to this prevailing impasse. This is not an ailment that afflicted cricket during the past few months, but a cancer that is gradually devouring all the fat cells in Lankan cricket since the game went big time in 1996.

From what we learned during this traverse is that there are three main players, of whom two have, wittingly or unwittingly, become the opposing captains and the third – the self-appointed umpire.

From one side it is the stakeholders who talk about cricket growing within the system and graduating to this huge tree that has taken cricket from total obscurity to the present day professionalism. They keep asking why we need any other system when the time-tested club cricket system has supplied the required products to sustain the game at the highest level in keeping with international standards.

On the other side are the guys who have entered Sri Lanka’s cricket administration through the Interim committees. They argue that according to the prevailing system, one cannot even have the wildest dream of becoming a part of the cricket administration. They argue that the present voting system is corrupt and, for instance, if one desires to become the President of Sri Lanka Cricket, one must have monetary means beyond comprehension. As a result there have been lesser cricketers and none cricketers getting into pivotal positions rather than the cricketers who have a deep knowledge of the game and who are willing to serve the game in a fitting capacity.

Then there is the Sport Minister who knows zilch about cricket, but possesses the most potent weapon described as the Sports Law, which he has been wielding pretentiously. The Sports ministers of this country since 1996 have been dabbling with the game as if they have the necessary magic portion to cure the ailment, but what they too have been doing is, even unwittingly, only making a mockery of queens English by giving the word interim an almost a permanent meaning.

Cricket by far is the most influential game in the country and in the past the practice was a politician indulging in cricket as his past time. But, as the pendulum began to swing to and fro, the cricketers began to indulge in politics. The modus operandi of those cricketers who enter politics through cricket was to get the necessary political clout to sustain themselves in the game – an ingredient that has been generated by the prevailing system in the game of cricket today.

For us at this end the system could be explained very easily. You are rich enough to buy up the votes and those who trade in votes wholesale for positions and favour. Or you are a close ally of the political system so that the system paves the way for you, by blocking out the contenders.

Or you get close to a politician so that he would airdrop you into an interim committee, when an aggrieved party goes to the minister of sport with a tale of woes and report on weapons of mass destruction. The third option that we have mentioned is the main cause that we see as the crux of this current impasse.

From 1999 to around 2005, it was a case of the prevailing political system hunting down Thilanga Sumathipala and his administrations. Not that I am holding a candle to him, but narrating the sequence of events.

Sharp-minded Sumathipala from the time that he assumed control of the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka manipulated the system so that he would be assured of returning to power. But, while doing so he also trampled a few feet that had political mud in it. The ultimate result was from 1999 to 2005 it was a yo-yo system where it was either Sumathipala or a Sumathipala-backed faction that was in power. At the same time whenever Sumathipala came into power, those who got steamrolled by him got the political regime to get involved and set up interim committees.

Initially, even those who were appointed by the Sports Minister were people of standing. But, what cascaded after 2005 – the infamous eight-year Interim rule – was a pathetic story. The quality of the bio-data kept on going down and by 2009, Lankan cricket was gasping for breath — administratively.

Then the ICC which was following the developments intervened. From 2011 to 2015, SLC had two politically mingled administrations with some of the office bearers coming through the stakeholders’ votes. Yet, once again the system was exposed and here we are back again with yet another interim committee that seems to be in for an unspecified time frame.
This means that there are flaws in the prevailing system and the ultimate result being that there have been more hours of Interim Committee rule in cricket than the rule by elected offficials from 1996.

A pathetic situation indeed. Even if the stakeholders manage to win back their rights and elect their choice of officials in the near future, what is the guarantee that this very same sports minister or one of his successors is not going to blow the house down and appoint his own Interim Committee? They also may have one or two persons that they owe a favour or two. So the system is flawed and it is shown in the crisis over the TV rights for the Indian tour. There is only one offer and it is peanuts.
That is the prevailing status quo. Now let’s get into the arguments of both sides.

In the present scenario, Sidath Wettimuny and co say a province-based cricket structure to work along the prevailing system would be the solution. Wettimuny, who is the Interim Committee Chairman, is of the view that once there was a vibrant Provincial tournament that also had sponsors. But, from the fourth estate what we could see was an ‘ahindas’ tournament where the players were playing musical chairs at every new season.

Once there was an argument that the club structure could be slotted into the Provincial system and in return the clubs could sustain and maintain the Provinces while providing the players for the tournament too. Somehow the stakeholders keep looking at the Provincial system in a suspicious manner. The result – the moment the stakeholders come into power, the Provincial system slides into the dustbin of history.

Then what about the stakeholders — is their system fool proof and clean? King Augea’s Augean Stables would look a nippy wedding hall next to that. The present Lankan system has the biggest vote booty in the known world. But, does the status fit the structure? Do some of the vote holders play cricket? How come SSC, NCC, Colts have the same number of votes as the Colpetty Playground SC at the AGM? Does this club play cricket anymore, but for the crooked aspirant this might become a lifeline. Remember in 1996, Ana Punchihewa lost his seat as President by only three votes. This means a few manipulatable votes can change history.

Not one, there are many instances where one could point out as unacceptable situations in this system too.
It is interesting to go through the mill of the SLC’s voting plethora.  Clubs such as Police, Army, Navy and Air Force and Ports Authority come under specified categories. (* refer graphic for full details of categorised clubs)

A lot of disparities. How come a review of the structure has not come in so far? Recently there were monies distributed to the stakeholders – wonder if non-functional clubs were also invited to that party? However, as it is both systems cannot share the same bed. They are total strangers.

Referring to the stakeholders, Gamini Lokuge, a former sports minister, once said at a forum: “Once the vote is given, you can never take it back”. Then a change in the system should come voluntarily. Or else some smart one would convince the minister to bring about the change through an act of parliament. Then how would the ICC act on that direct interference. Yet, the change is needed.

The only solace that we see is to make cricket a separate entity that is run by a CEO doing the administration and a Director of Operations taking the cricket decisions.  They will represent Sri Lanka’s cricket even at the ICC.  Stakeholders in turn will vote for a five-member (or so) board of governors who will monitor if the SLC hierarchy is carrying on with the laid down policies. But, they would not have any direct influence on the day-to-day affairs of cricket.

However, SLC in turn should sustain and nurture the local game in Sri Lanka and have a strict monitoring system where the real active clubs at any level would benefit, but, inactive ghost clubs would be a thing of the past. All cricket clubs would be the same in their eyes as long as they are vibrant.

It is accepted the present system is flawed and is a breeding ground for the crooked.  Just think out of the box and you may stumble upon the right answer.

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.