Has the ECB played an unfair game?
Less than an hour after Paul Farbrace's resignation was announced, Nishantha Ranatunga, the mover and shaker of the Sri Lankan board, made a comment that exhibited the feebleness of SLC's present place in the cricket world. When asked what he thought of the ECB approaching Sri Lanka's head coach with a job offer, without consulting SLC first, Ranatunga's reply was docile. "That's another board's issue," he said. "It would be unfair of us to comment on that."
It is a revealing choice of words, because to many, "unfair" would be having a man who has worked intensively with Sri Lanka's players across all three formats and been privy to every scrap of long-term strategy the team has devised, suddenly move to an enemy camp with whom Sri Lanka will do battle next month. "Unfair" might be being left so far out of the loop that, hours after Farbrace had been strongly linked with the assistant-coach position in the English press, SLC's CEO was rubbishing those reports as "speculation and rumour".
"Unfair" may be choosing a well-regarded second XI county coach to fit a slim budget, only to have him bought back months later, after Sri Lanka had facilitated a considerable rise in his value. That Farbrace assisted in the winning of the World T20 and Asia Cup is almost indisputable, but the groundwork for those triumphs had been done long before his ten weeks with the top side. Sri Lanka's limited-overs tournament record is testament to that. It is believed Peter Moores specifically requested Farbrace be installed as his deputy, but it seems unlikely he would have done the same, if Farbrace had remained at his county job.
SLC cannot afford to voice their frustration at the ECB in public, because at present it has the weakest grip on its future of the top eight teams - among the Full Members, only Zimbabwe is worse off. SLC took a surprisingly principled stance on the Big Three takeover in January and February, and now it has the most grovelling to do. Pakistan provided the other abstention in Singapore, but their finances are in less disarray, and they had been surviving without India tours in any case. A much larger population, and hence revenue-generation capability, also helps.
And it is in light of this ICC shake-up that the ECB's act of soliciting another team's coach deteriorates from free-market aggression to oligarchic hypocrisy, as Rex Clementine has already suggested in the Sunday Island. The ICC had said the ECB, along with CA and BCCI, would provide "leadership" to the cricket world, in its new order.
Leadership entails some level of obligation to those outside the leading group. A team like Sri Lanka, which, even accounting for gross financial mismanagement from their own board, regularly makes better use of their limited resources than most sides, would presumably be deserving of the greatest goodwill from the game's financial giants. Instead, by "stealing" Farbrace, in Martin Crowe's words, the ECB has actively injured a smaller, poorer cricket nation, regardless of its intentions.
Even if SLC had not squandered enormous amounts on stadiums for the 2011 World Cup, it could never hope to near the ECB's budget for coaching staff. There were more backroom attendants on England Lions' recent trip to Sri Lanka than SLC regularly sends with its national team.
After Farbrace's move had been confirmed, Lawrence Booth wrote: "You wonder how the ECB would feel if, three months down the line, India made a raid for Peter Moores." To align that thought even closer to Sri Lanka's reality, what if, following the victorious 2009 Ashes series, Andy Flower had been pinched from under the ECB's noses, just ahead of the return tour, by CA?
For Sri Lanka, the upcoming tour to England is as big as any Ashes. They have already been done the indignity of having one Test lifted from their schedule and placed in India's loaded lap (and for that, SLC largely has itself to blame). And they will tour in early summer, as they almost always do, when they would clearly prefer to visit drier decks in July and August. Sri Lanka will have hoped the pace their cricket has gathered this year might intimidate an ailing opponent, but the Farbrace switch has levelled the field.
There is no doubt SLC has damaged its reputation as an employer, of coaches and players, over the past few years, and they will now embark on another search, soon after the last, difficult one ended. Yet as the larger nations set themselves to pull away even further financially, pumping up pay not just for national coaches, but for men in charge of IPL, county, Sheffield Shield and Ranji teams, it is the new order that sides like Sri Lanka must become accustomed to.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando