News Analysis

What now for the players and the SLC?

In a time of great flux within the Sri Lankan team and SLC, below are some of the background issues and sub-plots that may influence the latest dispute

Angelo Mathews and Mahela Jayawardene at Sri Lanka's new team sponsor launch event, Colombo, September 7, 2012

Angelo Mathews could be in danger of losing his captaincy in the current crisis  •  Manoj Ridimahaliyadda

On March 3, 2009, four years ago to this day, Sri Lankan cricket was shaken by the news of the terrorist attack on the team bus in Lahore. Nothing so shocking has transpired on the fourth anniversary of that tragic day, but the nation's cricket finds itself in crisis again.
Twenty-three of Sri Lanka's top cricketers - including all but three players who travelled to Australia for the recent tour - have been locked out by Sri Lanka Cricket, after all 60 players who were offered new contracts refused to sign them before the March 2 deadline. The major dispute is SLC's refusal to pay 25% of their earnings from ICC events to their players, as they have done since 2003. With the Bangladesh series less than one week away, both sides are dug in, and the 23 players will not be considered for selection, nor will they be permitted to train at SLC venues.
In a time of great flux within the team and SLC, below are some of the background issues and sub-plots that may influence the dispute.
A new, inexperienced captain
Two weeks ago Angelo Mathews was joyful at his appointment as Test and ODI captain, but since the new contracts were issued early last week, his job has become a nightmare before he's even led the team in his first assignment.
There will be significant pressure on Mathews from SLC to persuade the younger players to sign, and if he displeases the board in this, his captaincy could be under great threat.
Mahela Jayawardene was the players' foremost champion in last year's pay dispute, which also put the players' earnings from ICC events in jeopardy, but on that occasion, Jayawardene had leverage Mathews can only dream of. Jayawardene could cite the SLC's defaulting on player payments for the better part of a year after the 2011 World Cup, and he not only commanded the sturdy respect of his players, but the sympathy of most Sri Lanka fans and sections of the media. He had also only reluctantly resumed the captaincy and, was at the time, clearly, the best man to lift Sri Lanka out of their post-World Cup problems. In comparison, Mathews doesn't command as much respect within the dressing room or without.
Compounding the issue for Mathews is his $950,000 contract with Pune Warriors in the IPL. Payments from ICC events may not constitute a major portion of his annual earnings, but for some of the players he may be expected to persuade, there is much more of their livelihood on the line. The dispute not only has the potential to have him stripped of the captaincy, but also to sour his relationships within the dressing room.
SLC's carefully set-up negotiation strategy
SLC has worked for months to load the springs in its favour and, in the early going, has claimed the higher ground in the dispute as a result. The first indication that player payment for ICC events would be on the line in this year's contracts was their refusal to allow the players to share their earnings from the World Twenty20 with support staff and curators.
According to Jayawardene, players had shared the very fee that SLC have proposed to cut, with coaches, analysts and other employees, who assisted the team in their campaign since 2007. However, when Jayawardene handed over a confidential letter to SLC asking the board to do the same with last year's payments, not only did the board refuse that request, the letter was later leaked to a local paper, to Jayawardene's great annoyance, and players had their motives questioned in the press as a result.
In addition, SLC released information that they had spent LKR 4.1 million (US $33,000) on business-class tickets for players' wives on the recent tour of Australia, as well as reportedly claiming former manager Charith Senanayake had requested luxury accommodation for players on tour.
In the weeks before contracts were issued, SLC also announced they would not allow player agents into the contract negotiations process - a rule which now seems to extend to player associations as well.
Having worked for some time to secure an advantage in the negotiations, it is unlikely SLC will agree to end the dispute without significant concessions from the players.
SLC election
The board is due to be elected at the end of March, and although secretary Nishantha Ranatunga will likely be elected uncontested, president Upali Dharmadasa has plenty to lose if the stand-off becomes ugly, as he faces stern competition from MP Thilanga Sumathipala - a man renowned for shrewdness and efficiency in equal parts.
On one hand, Dharmadasa has already overseen a contract scuffle that saw the players largely get their way in 2012, and will not want to appear weak in 2013, having already taken a firm early stance. However, if the Bangladesh series becomes a disaster for Sri Lanka, who will be forced to field a vastly inferior side, Dharmadasa's management ability will be cast in serious doubt.
Dharmadasa has already locked horns with Sri Lanka's government over broadcast rights, and with Sumathipala seemingly having the stronger political support of the two candidates, Dharmadasa may not want the sports minister to step in to defuse the situation, as the minister did in 2012.
Sponsorship and broadcast rights negotiations
In addition to the player contracts, SLC is currently negotiating a sponsorship rights deal for the three-year period beginning on June 1, and they are also currently open for offers on broadcast rights for the seven years beginning on April 1.
The longer the deadlock continues, the further Sri Lanka cricket's brand will erode, and with Dharmadasa already having claimed the lucrative sponsorship offers the team has attracted as a major positive of his tenure, he will not want the firms who have made big bids to withdraw their offers in light of the dispute. Media organisations are also far less likely to send in tenders as long as the stand-off continues.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here