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SL look to sever ties with Hathurusingha, Rumesh Ratnayake named interim coach

The hefty cost of Chandika Hathurusingha's contract could become an issue for the board Peter Della Penna

Sri Lanka cricket has installed Rumesh Ratnayake as interim coach for the Test series against New Zealand, as they attempt to sever ties with head coach Chandika Hathurusingha.

Hathurusingha has been under substantial pressure in 2019, with Sri Lanka's sports minister in particular suggesting that the team is not producing results consistent with the size of Hathurusingha's remuneration package. That pressure has been ratcheted up since the end of the World Cup, with minister Harin Fernando repeatedly casting aspersions on Sri Lanka's win record under Hathurusingha. Essentially, he has stated publicly that Hathurusingha does not deserve a salary that according to Fernando amounts to "$40,000 per month".

The problem, for the minister and for SLC, however, is that Hathurusingha appears to have a strong contract - one that is supposed to take him up to the end of 2020. If the board sacks him, it runs the risk of having to pay out a large severance package. The termination of Geoff Marsh's contract in 2012 had also led to SLC having to shell out a substantial sum, after Marsh threatened legal action.

In a press conference ahead of the New Zealand series, SLC president Shammi Silva described the recruiting of Hathurusingha as a "mistake". Silva had himself been part of the SLC executive committee that had pursued Hathurusingha for the role for months, and then made the decision to offer him his current remuneration package, as a means of luring Hathurusingha away from his role with the Bangladesh team.

"We've been watching the coach's performance for over a year and a half, and it's based on that that we've taken this decision," Silva said. "I was also in the board that recruited Chandika Hathurusingha, and we've made some mistakes. But if we are to do right by cricket in future, we have to correct those mistakes.

"We have given Chandika a letter, so we'll wait for 14 days for the reply. After that we'll take action."

Hathurusingha confirmed that he had been given a letter by SLC CEO Ashley de Silva, but said the letter did not say he was sacked.

"As far as I'm concerned, my contract with SLC is still there," Hathurusingha told ESPNcricinfo. "The letter doesn't say anything about termination of contract or anything like that." It is understood, however, that the letter details specific areas in which SLC feels Hathurusingha did not perform as expected.

Although results under Hathurusingha have been far from stellar, they have been significantly better than they were in the year before he arrived. Sri Lanka became the first Asian team to defeat South Africa in a Test series this year (New Zealand and West Indies had not won in South Africa either), and had most recently whitewashed Bangladesh 3-0 at home, in an ODI series. There have been harrowing defeats as well, however - against England at home last year, and in ODIs against South Africa in 2019. It is these losses that both SLC and Sri Lanka's sports minister point to, in their attempts to sack Hathurusingha.

"We can't save the coach and let cricket suffer," Silva said. "We want to get the best coaches in the world. If they aren't doing their job properly, we have to deal with that.

"Do you lose on the field and continue losing, and save a bit of money, or do you lose some money and win on the field? We have to decide between those two things. Our main focus is cricket. We have to think about that."

If they succeeed - and this is a big "if" as Hathurusingha appears to have an solid contract - he will be the third consecutive coach SLC has essentially got rid of before the end of their contract period, to follow the elbowing out of Marvan Atapattu in 2015, and that of Graham Ford in 2017.

Silva had also been a key player in the board that hired Ford in 2016, then pushed him toward a resignation in 2017. Several other current SLC board members were part of that saga as well.