Is Sri Lankan Cricket heading in the right direction?Hatem Rajabdeen |
Its been a shocking few weeks in the Sri Lankan cricketing circles with the immediate future of the team in the balance. It all started immediately after Sri Lanka’s loss to India at the World Cup Finals, with two of Sri Lanka’s finest batsman and senior cadres sending in their resignations, which shocked the cricket crazy island leaving most people speechless. We have to take the assumption that they were both personal decisions, however they were taken at a time when Sri Lankan Cricket probably needs them the most. The exact reasons are still not certain all though our former skipper has mentioned it was to help a new captain build a team for 2015. This followed with resignations coming from the selectors headed by World Cup winning Vice Captain Aravinda De Silva. There have also been news reports suggesting that Sri Lanka Cricket is in severe debt, which does not, help in anyway improve the situation the team is in. This has followed the bizarre removal of Kumar Sangakkara as Test Captain even after he assured the selectors he would continue towards the end of the year in series against England and Australia.
There are three other nations who are poised to embark on a new journey with new captains but the difference between them and Sri Lanka is the fact that they are spoilt for choices whereas Sri Lanka does not have that luxury. With the situation Sri Lanka Cricket is in T.M.Dilshan is by far the best option the selectors have, the only other contender being all-rounder Angelo Mathews who we can safely assume will be leading Sri Lanka at the 2015 World Cup providing he stays injury free. There are some critics who say that Mathews should have been given the nod ahead of Dilshan, as he possesses the cricketing brain to handle the top job. His ability to handle pressure situations is a rare talent that is bestowed in very few youngsters.
Sri Lankan Cricket administration is to blame itself for its current turmoil. Sri Lanka Cricket has taken off rapidly since it received test status in 1983 going on to win World Cup 13 years later in 1996. Sri Lanka has never got into the mechanism of grooming a future leader. They tried to follow the example of the rest of the world in bringing along a youngster when they named Mahela Jayawardene as vice captain, at an early stage of his career. However, when the time came to appoint a new skipper that honour rightfully went to Marvan Atapattu, given Mahela’s raw knowledge of the game at that time. But since then the Vice Captaincy kept moving on seniority instead of looking to the future, the only exception being Kumar Sangakkara. When, like Sachin Tendulkar, Aravinda De Silva failed to convert his batting exploits into leading the country he was re instated as Vice Captain instead of the selectors looking to a youngster. A similar case in point is Mahela Jayawardena taking over as Sangakkara’s deputy when a player like Angelo Mathews could have been given that role and be guided. I guess it’s a lot to ask from the players, as these decisions should stem for the administrators who run the Country?s cricketing body.
Sri Lanka Cricket is still run by an interim body, and it’s strange to see that ICC doesnt have any rulings such as the IRB in Rugby where you need elected bodies running administration. We are probably the only nation where the selectors, whose job is to pick the team and captain, have to send it to the country’s sports minister for approval, which leaves a question in your mind – do we need the selectors at all?
Moving back to Sri Lanka’s new captain T.M.Dilshan, he’s been having a purple patch in all three formats of the game over the last couple of years and his ability to change games, be it bat, ball or fielding is an edge Sri Lanka have. If he can transform his rich vein of form into his new role as Captain it would do Sri Lanka Cricket a lot more good than bad. He too will be of the assumption that his role is a stop gap one and the eventual skipper in the future is Angelo Mathews, who some of my friends have nicknamed The Iceman because of his ability to take the team out of trouble most times with his calm and cool approach to the game. He took Sri Lanka from the jaws of defeat against the mighty Aussies late last year, stunning the Australian supporters present at the MCG. Mathews will serve Sri Lanka well in the future.
Positive team selections are another area that Sri Lanka Cricket is far behind when compared to other top nations. Almost four years ago when India forced out its old cadre for young blood they were looking at the future. MS. Dhoni and his boys delivered on that trust placed in them by bringing home the World Cup. Sri Lanka should take cue from that and throw in some young blood along with the old guard, especially with future tours of England and Australia coming up. The country is not short of talent; youth skipper Bhanuka Rajapakse and Dinesh Chandimal are two players who might make the cut in the future so we might as well give them an opportunity on tours such as these. Its not easy to re build overnight, West Indies and Australia being classic examples. Retirement of key players over the last 3-4 years has left Australia, a country with an abundance of talent, to suffer over this period by losing games consistently, the reason being the younger players who came in had not been exposed earlier. West Indies have still not recovered from the glut of retirements in the ’90s.
Adding to all the events of the past couple of weeks is the recalling of Sri Lankan players form the IPL played in India. According to sources the cricketers had an agreement with the Sri Lanka Cricket Board to return by the 20th of May to join the team in the UK, which Sri Lanka Cricket has denied through their Secretary Nishantha Ranathunga in the media, specifying that the players were only given a No Objection Letter for participation. But the Cricket board has now decided to recall them by the 5th of May. The series of events behind this is still not known but it shows unfairness towards the individual cricketers as they have been signed up for IPL teams for huge sums of money and it would be unfair for their teams if they have to leave so early In the competition. Two of the cricketers, Sangakkara and Jayewardene are captains of their respective teams and it will be a blow if they have to leave the tournament early.
New skipper Tillakaratne Dilshan’s comments to the media at his first press briefing yesterday, mentioning that playing for the National Team is bigger than playing inthe IPL, may not go down well with his other colleagues playing in the IPL. After all, would this comment have come from Dilshan if he was only a player and not the skipper? The Cricket Board cannot be different in their treatment to the 7 players chosen for the tour to England. It has to be one collective decision as to when they return, be it 5th or 20th May. Preferential treatment to the two senior pros captaining in the IPL could lead to even bigger consequences, which happened years ago when former batsman Asanka Gurusinghe was recalled from a club in Australia, while star batsman Aravinda De Silva, who was playing for Auckland, was allowed to join a tour party much later, which raised a lot of eyebrows.
If Sri Lanka is to go in the right direction it has to start with an elected body at the Cricket Board, which at one time was the richest sports body in the country. It would be good to see ex-Sri Lankan players putting their hands up at a time of need to serve Sri Lanka Cricket. But all this can happen only if it’s allowed to happen.
We hope for Sri Lanka’s cricketing future that ICC play a bigger role, not only in Sri Lankan Cricket but other test playing nations to make sure Cricket administrative bodies are governed and operated as per ICC rulings. We hope for the sake of international cricket Sri Lanka Cricket comes out of this dark phase.