Thailand’s cave rescue mission could be described in many ways, with even a thousand superlatives, perhaps, fitting in with a perfect meaning. But, right now, we are ready to discuss only the lesson that this harrowing experience the boys went through has taught us. A lesson for posterity that could be remembered by future generations. [...]


Changing of the cricket constitution imperative

Through the eyes of a stakeholder

Dinal Philips looks through the eyes of a stakeholder - Pic by Amila Gamage

Thailand’s cave rescue mission could be described in many ways, with even a thousand superlatives, perhaps, fitting in with a perfect meaning. But, right now, we are ready to discuss only the lesson that this harrowing experience the boys went through has taught us. A lesson for posterity that could be remembered by future generations. Simply put, the lesson is: ‘for any job there is a specialist’, and if the task is handled by them, you can rest assured the results would be positive.”

In Thailand, what they faced was a perilous task, where many lives were at stake, yet the government machinery accomplished the tasks within their limits of authority. The elite Navy Seals gave their expertise within the limitations of their skills, while the men who really knew the proposition they were faced with, devised a plan and conducted a humongous task with pinpoint precision.

Just pause for a second and imagine, can’t we take this experience as an example and scalpel our cricket to shape. A job which would be accomplished only by precision fingers.

A majority of the cricketing brethren will concur that cricket needs a change of face, because the game is in peril right now.

As a result, this time we decided to look at the impasse through the eyes of a stakeholder. A stakeholder who has seen the game of cricket as a club official, a past president of a club and a man who handled many a chore for Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) in his capacity as a legal luminary. Dinal Philips may not have played the game at the required level but, he is definitely an all-rounder of sorts.

Philips started his narration by saying that he first got involved with the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka in 1996, when he was hired to draft some contracts for the Board. He said, “In 1996, I was requested to come in, to draft various contracts and streamline a few processes. There I saw what was taking place. In 1996, it was not too bad. We had a great bunch of cricketers. ‘A’-team tours were taking place. Junior cricket was not too bad. But unfortunately, later, the whole thing fell apart, when the office bearers of the Board began interfering with the day-to-day activities of the Board. They set themselves to sit in and dictate terms to the staff there. The way the earlier constitution was drafted — I had a hand in that too — there was a CEO brought in, to attend to the nitty-gritty of affairs. But, the powers of the CEO was completely dwindled by certain persons who parked themselves within. They did not go to their respective offices they were engaged in before. They were honourary people and they had to attend to their day-to-day work, but they decided to leave their real-life work aside and parked themselves full time at the Board. Without taking policy and implementation by the Board officials, they began to run the Board, when there were paid officials to do that part of the work for them. This led to a general deterioration of cricket in this country.”

Then we asked how Philips got involved with the administration of the Tamil Union Cricket & Athletic Club. He said, “I have been a life member of the Tamil Union for a long time, but I am not really a club man. At one point of time, there was an election and they were looking for office bearers, and I came in as the Assistant Secretary of the club. Then Club President Prakash Schaffter said, “Dinal, you are interested in cricket, why don’t you get involved with cricket here?”

Getting back to the game of cricket in general, in a local aspect, Philips says that school cricket tournaments are another reason for the deterioration in quality and standards. Formerly Lankan school cricket was of a very high standard. There were players such as Arjuna Ranatunga, Aravinda de Silva, Roshan Mahanama, Asanka Gurusinha and Chaminda Vaas who all played for Sri Lanka shortly after leaving school, and they performed at the highest level. There they used the two full days play to build innings, bowl long spells. In short, it was a different approach altogether”.

We asked him how he saw this situation through the perspective of a stakeholder. Philips explained, “Again it is very difficult for a stakeholder, individually, to take it up, with this current situation. People who hold office view any kind of constructive criticism as something that is said against it, and then they are hell-bent on punishing that club, and then, funding may not be there. Your players may not get selected. So everybody opts to stay quiet and allow the wagon to move on.”

Nevertheless, players themselves also should begin to think professionally. When they eventually get the big break, they must learn to manage themselves by keeping to correct regimes in all aspects. An international cricketer’s lifespan is short, 10-12 years at the most. So they must know how to manage it. “I have worked with them at grassroots level, but I am glad that one or two boys I mentored — I drilled it so much into them to the point of being a pest, but now, they have invested their monies wisely and lead a very stress-free life. A good point in case is Suranga Lakmal. When he came into our club, being a chena cultivator’s son, he was short of funds to upkeep himself. But, S. Skandakumar and I looked after him and attended to his welfare for about three years, and then he found his feet. There, I sat and spoke to him and said, “You look after yourself physically, the stream of cash will follow you”, and the very thing has happened.

Philips is not a follower of the Provincial Cricket doctrine and describes it as a political vehicle for someone’s use. He is of the view that they should go back to the old system where we had a very competitive club cricket tournament. It should only involve 10 clubs the most, and automatically the quality of cricket will improve. Then it will be possible for the authorities to improve the facilities of the clubs too. Then there will be a good tournament with clubs that have good bench strength.

Still for all, he feels that, to get cricket back on track, a change in the constitution is imperative. He says cricket, at present, is like a patient who is suffering from a terminal illness and, if timely action is not taken, the game of cricket in this country would die. He added, “We have spoken reams on this subject and now we are taking it up from the angle of a stakeholder. The greats have already spoken about the situation. Some of the most respectable administrators have aired their views. So now it is up to the Minister of Sports to make the right decision. The constitution really needs to be addressed. It should be made open to persons with some sport or commercial and corporate background — a person who will come in and do the policy planning and the financial administration. Practical areas could be handled by former players who have engaged in the game, which is also very important.

“We are talking about a Rs 1 billion industry. Then you can’t let a person who has played just a little club cricket, coming in and doing the administration. You need checks and balances. You need corporate governance, you need CAPEX expenditure, and all these are serious issues. Cricket is only a sport, but the management of it is a billion rupee industry”.

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