For a considerable period of time, the world associated Sri Lanka with tea. After the advent of Sirimavo Bandaranaike as the world’s first woman Prime Minister, Sri Lanka was identified with the Bandaranaike name. From 1996, when the country won the Cricket World Cup, Sri Lanka has been synonymous with its achievements in Cricket.
Today, two decades after that pinnacle of achievement, we are struggling to stay at the top in the game which has unified the country, with the feats of our cricketers doing us proud. When Arjuna Ranatunge gently deflected the ball past slips to score the winning run in Lahore that famous day, all Sri Lankans stood up and cheered the team which, by sheer teamwork and the amazing leadership of the Sri Lanka skipper, achieved the impossible, comprehensively defeating the mighty Australians.
However, days after the victory, things began to unravel within the Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) administration. Ana Punchihewa who had been at the helm of SLC, when it achieved its greatest success, found himself deposed from that position.
Very few raised the unfairness of such a change whereby, the head of the administration, at the time of victory, was replaced. And from that day onwards it has been ups and downs in the administration of SLC, with a scramble for positions within the Controlling body.
The situation in the administration of Cricket has deteriorated to the point where, at regular intervals, successive Governments have had to appoint Interim Committees to administer cricket. Today too, we are faced with uncertainty, with regard to the direction the game is going to take, with Cricket being administered by a Competent Authority appointed by the Minister of Sports.
Many of those who were involved in the administration of Cricket, have got their priorities mixed up. While one expects SLC to measure its success through the achievements of our team in the cricketing field, the administrators do not always do so.
After the abysmal performance of the team in recent years, where they hit a bad patch, losing to several teams, SLC advertised in the media of its Board’s financial position, which would not have made Cricket fans any happier.
Fortunately for Sri Lanka, the country has an abundance of natural talent and, notwithstanding lapses in the administration, the cricketers are able to keep the flag flying. Pakistan is probably, the country with the most cricketing talent, but fortunately for the rest of the world, the politics within the administration of Cricket in that country has prevented them from retaining a permanent place as the top team in the cricketing world.
Sri Lanka may or may not have such an enormous pool of talent as Pakistan, whose population is so much bigger than ours, but the athletic prowess of the island nation can throw up enough outstanding players to match up and beat any team in the world, if a structured plan of harnessing and training the available talent is put in place.
Before Sri Lanka attained Test status, Sri Lankan Cricket teams mainly comprised cricketers from Royal and St. Thomas, and a few from other Colombo schools. But today, the National team is made up of almost entirely of outstanding cricketers from outstation schools.
The record shows that, despite the lack of a proper administration and tournaments, which will bring to the fore talented cricketers, Sri Lanka has succeeded in doing well in the past, and even in the present. Take the present example of the Sri Lanka team doing well against the South Africans, after a bad spell where they lost to several teams in the recent past.
The team is clearly relying on its own skills and producing results on its own efforts, without any support from the administration because, currently, it is nonexistent. The current situation, however, shows how important Cricket administration is because, there has been a rash of disciplinary issues that have affected the game at the highest level. A sound Cricket administration can keep Cricket discipline in check and mitigate the impact of any indiscipline, if and when such indiscipline surfaces.
Today, the Cricket administration is facing a serious crisis which, unless resolved very quickly, can have a long term impact on the game. The Elections to the Cricket Board have been postponed due to a Court order, but no solution seems to be in sight to resolve the long standing issues involving Cricket administration. Any delay puts Sri Lanka’s place in the ICC in jeopardy, as the world body frowns on any form of administration, other than by an elected body.
Many of Sri Lanka’s cricketing greats such as Sidath Wettimuny, Aravinda de Silva, Roshan Mahanama, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayewardene and several others were invited by the Sports Minister to help resuscitate Cricket, but have declined. They have pointed out that the suggestions they have made in the past have not been considered and that, they do not wish to waste their time and effort in a futile exercise.
Most Cricket analysts view the system of elections to the Board of Control for Cricket as the root cause of the failure of Ccricket administration. The number of Clubs having voting rights at the Board of Control elections are said to number over 140, which stands in contrast to the situation in more developed administrations in other countries, where there are much less votes ranging from 10 to 20 in most cases.
The argument goes that, most of these over 140 Clubs do not actually play Cricket and granting them equal voting rights with Clubs such as SSC, NCC, CCC, Tamil Union, Moors Sports Club and Bloomfield, is unfair. What is of even greater concern is the allegation that the votes from these non playing Clubs are bought up by those who use money power, which does not bode well for the future of Sri Lanka’s Cricket.
This situation has to be rectified and a more rational voting system devised. The opinion of experienced cricketers, those involved in Cricket administration in the past, as well as studying the systems prevalent in other countries, can help fashion a better system that produce Cricket administrations that can take the game forward.
The Executive Committee (ExCo) of the Board must encompass those with Management skills, cricketing knowledge such as past cricketers, as well as those with a broader vision of sports development.
It is suggested that a Board of Trustees comprising entirely of former cricketing greats be appointed through an appropriate mechanism (possibly the Constitutional Council). The decisions of the ExCo of the Board of Control, should be approved by the Board of Trustees, to see if they make cricketing sense, before they are implemented.
Current indications are that, the chances of positive changes in Cricket administration are minimal. The choice of Faiszer Musthapha to be in charge of Sports was unfortunate. His temperament is not one that is supportive or sensitive to Sports. His conduct a few years back, when he landed in Kandy in a helicopter, on the grounds where an inter-school Cricket match was being played, is indicative of this. Leaving the helicopter on the grounds, he went away for a few hours, preventing the schoolchildren from continuing with their match.
Besides, the Sports Minister’s political inclinations too, will stand in the way. Musthapha’s political record shows him as one who switches political allegiances to his advantage. Therefore, he would like to keep his options open and not want to offend Thilanga Sumathipala, through whom he would like to keep a line open, in case the Joint Opposition returns to power.
Furthermore, his track record in this Government too, does not give us cause for optimism. As Minister of Local Government & Provincial Councils, he has made a hash of the reform of the Electoral Laws relating to Local Government as well as Provincial Councils Elections, in addition to delaying such elections.
One hopes that, with regard to reforms in Cricket administration, the Minister, at least, will have better chances of success.