Chaos threatens to engulf SL again
For almost 18 years, there was hardly a better time to be a Sri Lanka cricket fan than the past two weeks. The WT20 party hurtled seamlessly into the Sinhala and Tamil New Year in one uninterrupted sequence of exploding firecrackers, and the nation drew deep from the taste and noise of success. But two weeks is all you get. As the head coach contemplates jumping ship, euphoria has begun to dissolve with the onset of monsoon rains, leaving behind hardier features of the Sri Lanka fan's existence: frustration and uncertainty.
The full story behind Paul Farbrace's potential departure is not yet clear but, while he had been well-regarded within the team, unconfirmed tales of discontent with SLC have already begun to emerge. Before taking the job, Farbrace had spoken of an "affinity" for Sri Lanka and its players since his time as the team's assistant coach from 2007 to 2009, and perhaps he will have known that to thrive in Sri Lanka, an affinity for chaos is also required. Chaos is what he got when Sri Lanka set out to the World T20 with central contracts unsigned, only to win the tournament, before senior players publically slammed board officials minutes after the team had landed.
That Farbrace will have been offered a bigger salary by the ECB is almost certain, and even if SLC was not crippled by debt, it could hardly hope to match the England board's financial might. Sri Lanka's cricketers play unpaid for months because they feel it is their duty but a foreigner is not bound by such virtue. SLC has also confirmed Farbrace is on a six-month probationary period, which may mean Farbrace can walk out of his contract with few repercussions, though SLC secretary Nishantha Ranatunga said on Sunday that the exact legal consequences have not yet been worked out.
If Farbrace is appointed England's assistant coach, Sri Lanka will be in considerable strife. They are weeks from undertaking their biggest overseas tour of the year, and fewer than 12 months out from a World Cup they have built methodically for since 2012. A recent history of ODI success in Australia and their general global tournament form has the team believing they can win back-to-back ICC titles, but to make a dramatic change to the coaching staff at this stage may be counter-productive. That said, so often in Sri Lankan cricket, the team triumphs not only in spite of upheaval, but seemingly because of it.
"Upheaval motivates the players," Kumar Sangakkara recently said of the World T20 win. "It's a really strange position to be in, because I actually don't know what would happen if everything is hunky-dory and we have nothing fight about or argue about."
Among the most dispiriting aspects of Farbrace going to England is that Sri Lanka would yield significant strategic ground to an opponent they are desperate to defeat. Sri Lanka might have hoped Farbrace would provide intimate knowledge of England players he has coached in the past, as well as of the Headingley surface on which they will play the second Test, but that steel-capped boot would have switched feet. Farbrace knows exactly what quicks Suranga Lakmal and Shaminda Eranga can do. He knows which weaknesses Dimuth Karunaratne is working on, and the scoring areas Lahiru Thirimanne likes.
Sri Lanka's coach is expected to be in Colombo on Monday and, if he has not yet made up his mind, the board will have one final crack at convincing him to stay. They had similar negotiations with Graham Ford last year, who was unmoved by the board's pleas, after he chose not to renew his contract following a two-year stint. Ford cited family reasons for his departure, before taking a job with Surrey, but had spoken glowingly of the group of players he "had the pleasure" to work with. Whatever Farbrace's reasons for considering the England job, the players themselves are likely to have only enhanced his brief experience with Sri Lanka.
As many on social media noted, there might be a karmic symmetry to Farbrace quitting on short notice, after having made no efforts to communicate with the board. In January 2012, Geoff Marsh was dumped by Sri Lanka, also after having little over three months in the role. He said at the time: "I only had one meeting with the board, and that was the goodbye one."
SLC has already paid, literally, and metaphorically for that sacking, having recently had to cough up an undisclosed sum for suddenly terminating his employment. The reputation the board earned with that decision, in addition to its limited funds, had made the hunt for a new coach more arduous in the wake of Ford's departure.
If Farbrace goes, they will begin the process of searching for the team's seventh head coach (including two interim appointments) in four years. Perhaps having won the World T20 will make the next search easier. Perhaps SLC's reputation has been so irreparably damaged internationally, the board will have to appoint a head coach from within the country - a move it decided against in December. Perhaps the uncontracted players will ignore the tumult as usual, or maybe it is the episode that snaps even their fortitude. Wild turbulence has shaken Sri Lankan cricket for some years now. It is little short of a miracle the entire machine has not crashed.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando