Sri Lanka news January 5, 2012

Sri Lanka not playing as a team - SLC secretary

The main problem with Sri Lankan cricket at present is that the players are not playing as a unit, Nishantha Ranatunga, the newly elected secretary of Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC), has said. Sri Lanka have struggled since reaching the 2011 World Cup final in April, losing Test and ODI series against Australia and Pakistan, and went nearly 18 months without winning a Test until their defeat of South Africa in Durban last month.

"The body language and the performance shows they are not playing as a team," Ranatunga told ESPNcricinfo. "It is an important issue for the board to address."

The win in the Boxing Day Test at Kingsmead, Sri Lanka's first ever in South Africa, represented a big turnaround in fortunes, and Ranatunga acknowledged the team had played well, with everybody contributing. He believed they have the talent to be consistently competitive but "they need to make sure they play for the country and not for individual performances."

Ranatunga's comments follow those made by the Sri Lankan Sports Minister, who said in Parliament in December that disunity and miscommunication were causing the losing streak. "At this moment, senior players stated that there's a communication gap between the captain and the main coach," Mahindananda Aluthgamage said, according to the Associated Press. "It was also highlighted that there was a communication gap between the main coach and the other coaches, that there was no proper understanding between the senior players and the new comers, and that the captain does not get the fullest support from the senior players."

SLC held elections for the first time in seven years on January 3, with Ranatunga standing for secretary as an independent candidate. He said his priorities will be to make sure the team performs well and that "proper selections are done" for all Sri Lanka teams. He also plans to focus on the Under-19 World Cup because Sri Lanka needs to find "two or three talented players for the future", as well as on organising the ICC World Twenty20, which will be held in the country later this year.

Ranatunga was also the interim committee secretary from 2009 to 2011. That committee increased the number of contracted players from 26 to 100, a move he expects will pay big dividends for Sri Lanka. "Out of these [additional] 74 players, 12 have already played for Sri Lanka," Ranatunga said. "You don't expect the players to work from 9 to 5 and then come and train and get into the national side. You need to make them professional cricketers. Then only the competitive levels of cricket will go up."

It is for the same reason that Ranatunga supports the implementation of a strong provincial cricket structure. Under the current system, the club cricket season is the primary season, while provincial cricket (Sri Lanka has nine provinces) is played whenever a gap can be found in the calendar. Colombo dominates the existing system because it has the infrastructure and is where most of the big cricket clubs are located. Players from further afield must therefore move to Colombo in order to pursue their cricketing careers, which is not always a possibility.

"We have found a lot of cricketers but we would have missed quite a few as well," Ranatunga said. "So it is the duty of the board to make sure that you give equal opportunity to outstation cricketers and have a system to bring them into the proper streamline. I am a firm believer of provincial cricket because the talent is there."

However, Ranatunga cautioned that it will take three or four years to put such a system in place and that the existing club structure should not be relegated to second-class status. "I don't think we should degrade club cricket because the infrastructure is already there. But you need to play a tournament where 70 of your best cricketers compete and get themselves selected to the national level rather than 150 players playing and getting into the national side."

11:45 GMT, Jan 5: The January 5 entry said Sri Lanka has seven provinces. This has been corrected

Tariq Engineer is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo