by Champika Fernando
The national cricket team wrote to Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) before the 2009 Pakistan tour seeking an independent security assessment, a reduction in the number of games to be played in the terror-ridden country, insurance for players and a week’s respite to spend time with their families.
The Board replied that it had already carried out a security assessment which proved that the situation in Pakistan was fine and that the players should get their own insurance, authoritative sources told the Sunday Times this week. It also said the tour could not be shortened and denied the players a week at home as Pakistan had wanted to play two extra ODIs. The team travelled to Pakistan from Bangladesh, where they were at the time.
These details emerged after former skipper Kumar Sangakkara launched a stinging attack on the then Sri Lanka Cricket management saying it had risked the team’s lives by agreeing to the hastily-arranged tour of Pakistan. Speaking from London through Skype, Sangakkara said the Board should be questioned in this regard.
World Cup winning captain Arjuna Ranatunga headed the SLC interim committee before being dismissed on December 21, 2009. He agreed to the Pakistan excursion before his sacking. This was after India pulled out for their scheduled tour over security fears and tension between the two countries arising from the Mumbai terror attack.
Sangakkara was part of the ill-fated visit where militants, during the early hours of March 3, 2009, targeted the bus carrying the team to Lahore’s Qaddafi Stadium for day three of their second match against Pakistan. Twenty, including seven national players were injured. Seven people were killed.
“I am sad that those people who agreed to send us on that tour weren’t there to take the responsibility for the attack,” Sangakkara said, during the video briefing. “I think Sri Lanka Cricket should bear the full responsibility for the attack in Lahore.”
“It was like we were sent to die?” he said. “There was hardly any concern about the safety of the players. Players got gunshot injuries. In fact, I even have some iron particles in my body. We need to investigate and see whether the tour was agreed with full consideration for player safety or whether it was to please an individual. I think it’s the right time to investigate it and bring those responsible to book.”
Sangakkara made these remarks responding to allegations that his manager, Charlie Austin, manipulates team selections. Former Sri Lanka skipper also said that he or Mahela Jayawardena got no business interests with the Austin Managment, a company that manages players as claimed by certain individuals.
Ranatunga, while not explicitly named by Sangakkara, responded. “If Sangakkara says to investigate, please do investigate,” he said. “I am also telling them to initiate an inquiry. S Liyanagama (former Sports Ministry Secretary) was the Competent Authority at that time and I was President of the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) a few months before. We played the Asia Cup in Pakistan without any incident and the tournament was a success.”
Ranatunga was removed from the interim committee shortly after he confirmed the Pakistan tour.
“After that, ‘Charlie Austin’s team’ informed me they want to go for the IPL (Indian Premier League),” the incumbent Petroleum Resources Minister said. “I refused to endorse the request, as I could not betray my country. After that, former Sports Minister Gamini Lokuge removed me from the Cricket Board. The series was played after that. I think we should initiate an inquiry, but remember that these players had travelled to Pakistan for the Asia few months before. They saw how safe the place was. In fact, I sent a person to do an independent security assessment.”
Pakistan’s ‘Dawn’ newspaper reported that the tour comprised three tests and five one-day internationals to be played from January 20 to February 25. The tour was later shortened to two tests and three ODIs and split into two.
Ranatunga called for an investigation of the World Cup finals in 2011. “I think we should also inquire what happened to the Sri Lanka Team during the 2011 World Cup final,” he said. “I think this is something the Sports Minister should look into rather than concentrating on fitness issues.”
“I was on the panel of commentators during this World Cup final, and I was really disappointed with Sri Lanka’s performance,” he continued. “I cannot reveal what happened on that day, but I will someday reveal the truth. So, I think we should hold an inquiry into this matter.” India beat Sri Lanka by six wickets to win that World Cup, the highest run chase in a World Cup final.