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No light at the end of Sri Lanka's tunnel

As long as the country's cricket is in the hands of politicians and the self-serving, there is little hope for the team

Hilal Suhaib

January 26, 2012

Comments: 57 | Text size: A | A

Mahela Jayawardene speaks to reporters upon his team's arrival in Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka, April 3, 2011
Jayawardene is back in harness, but presumably not for long © AFP

In 2009, an ODI series loss against India at home was sufficient cause for the Sri Lankan selectors to entertain the idea of a change in captaincy. Just days after the defeat, Tillakaratne Dilshan was named captain for Sri Lanka's maiden Twenty20 international on home soil. Mahela Jayawardene, who up until that point had been Sri Lanka's captain in all formats, found himself sidelined. Shortly after, Jayawardene announced he was stepping down as captain. Two years and two captains later, Sri Lanka have been forced to go back to Jayawardene, hoping that he can somehow change the fortunes of a team that is facing an unprecedented decline.

Dilshan, fans and pundits argue, was never captaincy material. But the selectors had few other options, when Kumar Sangakkara unexpectedly resigned at the end of the World Cup last year. In fact, during the World Cup, Jayawardene served as Sangakkara's deputy, before tendering his resignation once again.

While there isn't a better candidate now than the 34-year-old Jayawardene, one wonders who will lead Sri Lanka come the next World Cup. In all likelihood, barring injuries, vice-captain Angelo Mathews, 24, is the likely candidate. The question then begs to be asked: when should he be given the reins? The need to groom a captain for the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand will be foremost in the minds of the new selectors.

In the wake of successive series defeats in ODIs and Tests, the shake-up was inevitable. The sports minister, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, who has taken a keen interest in cricket, said that it was the "responsibility of the Sri Lankan government and the sports ministry" to enforce "stern and appropriate action" in order to make Sri Lanka "the number one team in the world". Sacking Australian coach Geoff Marsh when he was just three months into his two-year term is a part of that plan. Perhaps his replacement, Graham Ford of South Africa, was unaware that by accepting Sri Lanka's offer to replace Marsh, he would become their fourth coach in 12 months.

Scattered among the many lows of late, were moments of brilliance in trying circumstances, which offer proof of what the Sri Lankans are capable of. But events beyond their control, including being unpaid for almost a year, have hindered them. The way forward is murky. Ford and Jayawardene will have to contend with many of the issues their predecessors faced - inconsistent, politically motivated, and at times even bizarre, selections, interference from the ministry of sport, and catastrophic administrative blunders orchestrated by unqualified government henchmen. Unless cricket administration in Sri Lanka is completely rid of government control and interference, and rid of administrators who have been riding the gravy train for far too long, Sri Lanka will continue to be a team on the decline.

The way forward is murky. Ford and Jayawardene will have to contend with many of the issues their predecessors faced - inconsistent, politically motivated, and at times even bizarre, selections, interference from the ministry of sport, and catastrophic administrative blunders orchestrated by unqualified government henchmen

"Good teams like Australia usually have got strong or good management backing the team up. That's an area in which we can improve here," were Trevor Bayliss' parting words. The former coach said that he was "amazed how well the players do, with all the distractions put in front of them". The distractions, though, appear to have finally taken their toll; the World Cup finalists have lost four consecutive Test and ODI series since Bayliss' departure. The administrators, and the politicians who back them, bear much of the responsibility.

In an attempt to arrest the slide, the selection panel headed by the multi-skilled Duleep Mendis, who had been employed by the board in various positions for over a decade, and is rumoured to be making a return as team manager, was replaced by the sports minister last week with a new panel. Ashantha de Mel, who was sacked in 2010 amid allegations of political bias and favouritism, was reappointed as chief selector by the sports ministry. The move prompted an outcry from journalists of several independent English dailies on the island.

During his previous tenure de Mel was the only selector to travel overseas with the team on every tour, but was seldom spotted observing upcoming talent at domestic games. The former fast bowler has also served on one of Sri Lanka's many interim committees in the past, and was employed at one time by the government as the chairman of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, where he was removed after the country's supreme court faulted him for entering into "iniquitous" contracts.

Similarly, at the recent cricket board elections, two men with ties to the government, Upali Dharmadasa and Nishantha Ranatunga, were elected uncontested for the post of president and secretary. Ranatunga was the secretary of the dissolved interim committee that is responsible for the dire financial state the board finds itself in today. He, like de Mel, has also been employed by the state in the past, serving as the director general of a state-owned television station.

Although a new coach and captain have been appointed, the board is still firmly in the hands of men with poor track records, seemingly positioned there by politicians. Despite the recent overhaul, there appears to be no end in sight for Sri Lanka's troubles.

Hilal Suhaib is the founder and editor of Island Cricket

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by playitstraight on (January 29, 2012, 0:55 GMT)

Now that the selectors, coach, and captain have been duly sacked, Sri Lanka can move forward positively. Hopefully the selectors make good decisions, unlike the ones Duleep Mendis made.

Posted by   on (January 28, 2012, 16:47 GMT)

if it is any other player will be drop from the tour but it is mahela the captain. no government influence.Angelo the vp not a alrounder now ,with bat what he doing Perera has done more vp.When Dilshan getting runs ,minster wants change .after all we won last two games with 300 runs to get.three four months not enough to get know team couch.if we are not careful what happened to India will happen to SL.

Posted by   on (January 28, 2012, 6:01 GMT)

What a pathetic situation. Lets get it right. More than the players & the coach, will this be a the biggest eye opener to SRI LANKA CRICKET. If SL Cricket's authorities has got shaken up with current decline, then we are in the right track for WINNING. If not, take my word, we will keep hearing cash traps, mismanagements, political interferences, sackings & resignations. All the best to JUSTICE.

Posted by   on (January 28, 2012, 4:29 GMT)

Good stuff Hilal! I certainly agree with this"Although a new coach and captain have been appointed, the board is still firmly in the hands of men with poor track records, seemingly positioned there by politicians. Despite the recent overhaul, there appears to be no end in sight for Sri Lanka's troubles."

Posted by Malij on (January 28, 2012, 4:25 GMT)

I do not agree with people saying that Mahela and Sanga didn't help Dilshan. If that is the case, even Dilshan didn't help himself. Out of the two, Sanga had scored couple of centuries during last couple of months. But Mahela was out of form. This can happen to any player. It is up to the Captain to get the moral support of the players. And I do not believe that cricketers can under perform for ever. The entire cricket team didn't perform well during last couple of months. This could be attributed to several factors. The major factor was blatant political meddling. Too much cowboy cricket and cricketers getting burnt out (eg. T 20 - a former minister getting involved in signing players for T 20), players not getting paid for several months( SL Cricket bankrupt dancing to politicians tune), appointing inept men as selectors (No one was groomed to take over after Sanga,), politicians getting involved in selection matters (Jayasuriya playing till 40, dropping of Samaraweera) ......

Posted by   on (January 28, 2012, 2:42 GMT)

Pretty good article. I think our administration is trying to out do the Pak cricket administrators.Sympathies to Geoff Marsh.Hilal only thing is I dont think anybody is going to make any use of your well constructed article.@taniap sorry to say it's too little too late. Nobody in the board has any clue of what they are doing.Starting with school cricket our structures have crumbled beyond rrepair.We solely rely on talent. The day the talent well dries up it would be dooms day, and cricket would be just part of our history.

Posted by Rooboy on (January 28, 2012, 2:26 GMT)

They'll be ok once they find a new baseball pitcher to replace the one they had

Posted by Philip_Gnana on (January 27, 2012, 14:05 GMT)

SL Cricket after the World Cup win 1996, was never ever going to be The Cricket that we all know of. Once persons with vested interests got themselves into the boardroom via the politicians , seeds of political and monetarism were sown deep. The situation that we see the SLC in at the moment is now there for everyone to see. The seeds sown have now all come to fruition and is spread like a Cedar tree. The job for Mahela and Ford is going to be rocky as usual. But, with Mahela at the helm we have as astute captain and tactician. Dilshan was tried and it did not pay off. Dilshan can concentrate on his playing once again that is where SL needs him most. It was creditable of Mahela to have taken on the reigns once again. It is sad that Marsh could not benefit from this recent change. Changes in the selectors was long overdue. Having De Mel back is good as he always had youth in his mind. Ford will soon learn for sure how things are going to be. It is a poisoned chalice. Philip Gnana,UK

Posted by Shan16966 on (January 27, 2012, 11:17 GMT)

"No Light at the end of the Tunnel" that is all we supporters understand. No offence Mahela, but why on earth would you put yourself in the unsavoury position? We would have loved to see the senior pros gather around a NEW captain. It might have been 2 moths or 12, but a new captain was in order. To think we do not have captaincy material in the national side is a shame, moreover a worry. Angelo, yes is too young. with the kind of things happening at present he might end up being another Botham if made captain. Look for alternatives!! Why the incoming/outgoing captains had to state there was no political interference is also strange.Everyone knows that there was, is, and will always.C'mon selectors, what about Thilan/ Tharanga???

Posted by   on (January 27, 2012, 10:33 GMT)

I totally agree with Lord Elsworth. Cricinfo please investigate. Mahela and Sanga did not help Dilshan. If I were Dilshan I will go and play IPL like Chris Gayle. Cant we find good administrators like Ana Punchihewa? Marvan you speak with a golden tongue.

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