'Cricket should not suffer'
What made you decide to run for president in this election? It is a big challenge facing Sri Lanka Cricket. Why do you want to take it on?
I was vice-president of Sri Lanka Cricket from 1989 to 1995. Then I left for one year, and came back as president for two years. After seven years of interim committees, I was appointed chairman of the last interim committee. I have love and passion for the game. My brother and I, we have done a lot for the game. If you take the 1996 World Cup winning team, I had six of my employees playing for that team, including Asanka Gurusinha, Hashan Tillakaratne, Aravinda de Silva, Chaminda Vaas and Romesh Kaluwitharna.
As you say, it is a difficult time [to be] taking over Sri Lanka cricket. It is not only for me. For anybody taking over, it would be a great challenge. If you have passion, if you have a way of handling things, if you are honest, I think the sky is the limit.
What will be your first order of business?
My first order of business will be sitting with the committee appointed to take into account the situation, and then plan a way to go forward. India has always looked upon us as their younger brother and always treated us in whatever way we want. With their backing and with the backing of the other cricketing nations, Sri Lanka having so much of talent, it is not a difficult task to take it forward.
How important are the series against India from a revenue point of view?
From a revenue point of view, I would love India to tour Sri Lanka three times a year. Unfortunately, it is not possible. But whenever possible [we would like them to tour]. I have good relationship with India, as do other people who are in Sri Lanka cricket. So it is a matter of fostering it to go forward.
India is touring Sri Lanka in July. Are there going to be Tests or is it going to be only ODIs and Twenty20 games?
Originally it was three Tests, five ODIs and one T20. Unfortunately due to the tour programme, India wanted to play only the three Tests in Sri Lanka. After having discussions, we came to a situation where we play - to bring in more revenue - three one-dayers and three T20s. I am talking to the TV rights owners, Ten Sports, and I am hopeful of raising almost $12.5 million. That's where I have started off in negotiations and I hope I can continue that.
You have mentioned the need to cut staff costs at SLC in the past …
SLC had been run with interim committees for seven years. The committee, being appointed by the Honourable Minister of Sports, is only five members. But along with the districts and the clubs, there are 22 guys and the chairman of selectors who get on the executive committee. They will each have to take an area and run cricket. So when you have 23 members working for you on a voluntary basis, you can reduce the staff, which is about 267 people, including the coaches.
That doesn't mean that I am going to hinder cricket. What cricket needs will be given to cricket. The Sri Lanka team, 'A' team, 'B' team and the other costs of Sri Lanka cricket, the experts, coaches etc. Over that, it is a matter of taking into account what is needed and cut down on the rest to make it more viable.
Do you have a target for how much you need to cut expenses?
I would say it has to be cut down, at a minimum, to 35% or 40% from the existing level. Unfortunately, I also had to carry the can of worms for a good five months and managed to take about 12% out.
Sidath Wettimuny has a plan to revamp the structure of domestic cricket in Sri Lanka. Do you see the need to change the structure so the provinces are given more importance?
I have been talking to Sidath as well as other members of the committees, who are involved with the game of cricket. Sri Lanka is a small country compared to India, Australia, or for that matter South Africa and England. Our infrastructure is all based in Colombo. Other than that, there are other major cities of Kandy, Galle, Matara and Kurunegela, for example.
But for the game to spread to that level, it is a humongous task I would say. Anybody playing for a school in Kandy or Matara or Galle, has to come and join a club in Colombo for them to come forward. You have to have the right infrastructure. Since it is not there, they will have to get in to a bank, in to the mercantile sector or the state sector. They are all based in Colombo.
I think we have to go with the club structure. If you take the tournaments, there have been one or two coming in from [outside Colombo], but mainly it is concentrated in the Colombo district. That is the way forward.
So is there a need to develop infrastructure outside Colombo?
Yes. Now we have a fantastic ground in Hambantota. We have a ground in Galle. A ground in Pallekele, as well as in Colombo. So to get guys to play on a state level, yes. But most of them work in Colombo [anyway].
You mentioned in your 12-point plan that school cricket needs to be developed further. What needs to be done?
School cricket is the backbone of Sri Lanka cricket. When they come out of school, they are technically correct. [But] they play mostly two-day games or the big rivalry games, which are the last games of the season. That also is only a two-day venture. It has to be spread more [between formats]. Now with T20 coming in, it [cricket] has become more of a cowboy game.
We will have to come out with another structure. There was a tournament called the Lemonade Trophy, which was a 50-over encounter. We have to rejuvenate those, bring it in and get them to play more cricket. We need another 10% exposure. The rest is already there.
Bangladesh is in the process of launching the Bangladesh Premier League. Do you think something like the Sri Lanka Premier League is needed?
I feel it [a T20 league] is a needed thing. But I don't think it is the right time with India having the IPL. With most of our players going and playing there and the countries being so close, I would request the Indian board, and we have already started talking, why not play a couple of matches in Sri Lanka?
Make Sri Lanka a friendly country. Make it a venture. When they fly from Mumbai to Chennai, it is almost the same distance [from Mumbai to Colombo]. Or Bangalore to Colombo is just one hour. Just add Sri Lanka as a venue. And on the whole they will help Sri Lanka as a tourist attraction and see that Sri Lanka comes up in life.
Sri Lanka has managed to produce a number of exceptional cricketers over the years. But in the last two or three years, we haven't seen the next Kumar Sangakkara or the next Mahela Jayawardene. Is there a lack of talent coming through?
No, I wouldn't say that. To me, people like Sangakkara, Mahela will have another one or two years still. There is always a feeder to the main team. Unfortunately, only eleven can play. That doesn't mean the seniors should leave. My composition would be six-five: six seniors and five juniors. But [new] blood is coming in.
There has been concern about the bowling since Muttiah Muralitharan retired …
Talking of the bowling, losing the first Test [against South Africa] in three days, getting back and winning the next Test in four days, proves a point.
Do you think the team needed some time to come together?
Definitely. Australia dealt with it for the last one and a half years. Coming down even in their rankings. It is just like life. Up and downs are there in life.
The first-class season was postponed last month. What is the latest on the situation?
We want to start it soon and we will. Some clubs are more like defunct clubs. Some clubs are for the game. Some tend to complain. So you have to talk to them, tell them the realities and go from there.
When do you expect to pay the remainder of the player's salaries?
Within the next three months. As a mentality, if I am working, I want to get paid. So do the people who work for Sri Lanka Cricket. It is a burden, but I am hopeful I can come through for them.
Do you expect the government to help?
The government will definitely come forward. When I headed the interim committee, I showed them the way. I told them it is a social responsibility of putting up grounds. So they have to look after us.
You mentioned at the press conference that the financial situation will continue at least until 2015. Is this a long-term project?
Definitely. Anything in life is long term. You can't take it short term.
What is the total debt?
It is about 7.2 billion Sri Lankan rupees. About $70 million in debt. It is a lot for anybody to stomach but you have to take it forward.
Recently the number of contracted players was increased to 100. Do you see a need to cut down on that number?
I don't think so. Cricket should not suffer.
What about things like 'A' tours, Under-19 tours, that perhaps don't attract any revenue?
India, I have spoken to. Pakistan, I have spoken to. I am hopeful they will come through with England having one tour, we will come through with those as well.
But those don't generate any revenue. How will you balance that with cost cutting?
Well, you have to make the sacrifice [in some other area].
Tariq Engineer is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo