July 12, 2001

Sports Minister refuses to clear Sri Lanka squad

The Sri Lankan Sports Minister, Lakshmann Kiriella, has questioned the omission of off spinner Thilan Samaraweera from the squad to play in the forthcoming Coca Cola Cup against India and New Zealand.

The Sports Ministry confirmed this morning to CricInfo that Kiriella is unhappy that Samaraweera has not been given a chance after his impressive performances against Pakistan A and has still not passed the 15-man squad.

In Sri Lanka it is customary for the Sports Minister to approve the selectors squad, but this is rarely more than a rubber-stamping exercise. The intervention of the Minister is unusual, particularly so for a minor issue.

His actions though are no unprecedented. In 1994 the Sports Minister was required to involvement in a dispute over the omission of Aravinda de Silva for Sharjah tournament because he failed to pass a fitness test. The incident sparked a vehement player protest, which included the then captain, Arjuna Ranatunga, refusing to tour. Even then, however, on an issue of high importance, the Sports Minister's role was confined to involvement, rather than intervention.

Samaraweera recently captained Sri Lanka A against Pakistan and performed exceptionally well in both the Test Matches and One Day Internationals, but the experienced Kumar Dharmasena was preferred. It must have been a marginal decision, but with five pace bowlers selected it came down to a difficult choice between the two off spinners.

When CricInfo contacted the chairman of the selection committee T.B. Khelgamuwa this morning he said that he had not been notified of any intervention by the Sports Ministry.

The Ministry said that they would be taking up the matter with cricket board Chief Executive Anura Tennekoon, but did reveal as to whether they would overrule the original selection at such a late stage.