Sri Lanka news January 2, 2012

Dharmadasa favourite in landmark SLC elections

Sri Lanka Cricket is set to hold its first election in seven years on Tuesday, after a series of interim committees controlled by the political class, and at a time when the board is in financial disarray off the field, and its team displaying patchy form on it. The election itself is a fallout of the ICC's ruling that requires all member boards to be free of political interference from 2012.

A total of 147 votes are up for grabs, spread among the provincial and district cricket associations and the clubs. The election will be held under the auspices of the Ministry of Sports, and supervised by the Director General of Sports, Ranjani Jayakody. Under the SLC constitution, each committee serves a one-year term.

Upali Dharmadasa, a former SLC president, is the front-runner in the election following the withdrawal of another former president, Thilanga Sumathipala. Some reports suggested Sumathipala pulled put under political pressure but he said he'd changed his mind because his other life as an MP did not give him the necessary time for cricket. Sumathipala's board was forced to stand down in the wake of an investigation into alleged financial irregularities in 2001. In 2004, he had to pull out of the elections as he was in jail at the time for passport fraud.

Sumith Perera, the head of the Badureliya Sports Club, is the other contender for president, but is not expected to pose much of a challenge for Dhamadasa, who is confident of winning in a landslide. "I think we have about 90% [of the votes],"Dharmadasa told ESPNcricinfo. "Not only for me. But for my team as well."

Nishantha Ranatunga, who had originally decided to run for secretary as an independent candidate, has received the backing of Dharmadasa. Ranatunga was the SLC secretary when the board spent heavily on the three stadia for the World Cup. His opponent is Michael De Zoysa, but Dharmadasa's support makes Ranatunga the favourite.

Whoever wins the election has the enormous challenge of rebuilding the SLC's finances, which are reportedly US $32.5 million in debt. The SLC revamped the Premadasa Stadium in Colombo and built two new grounds in Pallekele and Hambantota for the 2011 World Cup, but the high cost over-runs are being blamed on the interim DS de Silva administration. These stadia are now being maintained by the government, with the army, navy and air force each looking after one stadium. The players were not paid at all for eight months between the 2011 World Cup final and the Test series in South Africa, and are still owed over 50% of their outstandings for that period.

On the field, Sri Lanka struggled to win a Test following the retirement of Muttiah Muralitharan in July 2010, until their monumental upset of South Africa in Durban last week. Aside from that game, their bowlers have struggled to take 20 wickets while the batting beyond Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene has been brittle and inconsistent. A lack of young talent - Dinesh Chandimal excepted - is the main concern.

"For any committee taking over Sri Lanka cricket at this stage, it is the financial situation [that is the main concern], though I wouldn't say it is a crisis as such," Dharmadasa said. "Plus we need to look at the cricket side of things. Cricket has to be given the first priority."

In the lead up to the nominations, Dharmadasa had revealed a 12-point plan for revitalising SLC. His proposals include the maximisation of revenue from television rights, to use the 2012 World Twenty20 as a starting point to develop sports tourism in the country and to develop school cricket, which is the cradle of the game in Sri Lanka.

Tariq Engineer is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo