The appointment of celebrity cricketer turned politician Sanath Jayasuriya as chairman of the Cricket Selection Committee this week raised expectations in many quarters but there are several reservations about this ‘selection’ as well, given Jayasuriya’s political affiliations.
Jayasuriya takes over the reins from Ashantha de Mel, himself a former international cricketer but a man also with strong political links as a result of which he presided over the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation at a time when it entered in to the now infamous ‘hedging’ deal.
Sanath Teran Jayasuriya, now 43, began his cricketing career at his school, St. Servatius' College in his hometown, Matara. His potential was apparent even at that stage and he was adjudged the ‘outstation schoolboy cricketer of the year’ in 1988.
Jayasuriya was in the national cricket squad barely a year after leaving school but he was seen more as an all-rounder: ironically, a decent batsman who was primarily a bowler. It was in this role that Jayasuriya spent the first half dozen years of his international cricket career.
His rise to fame was almost instantaneous and came during Sri Lanka’s successful campaign for the 1996 World Cup. Then coach Dave Whatmore and captain Arjuna Ranatunga believed Jayasuriya would be the ideal ‘pinch-hitter’ to launch the innings.
Jayasuriya was promoted as an opener and another aggressive middle-order batsman, Romesh Kaluwitharana, was asked to partner him. They were given a licence to ‘hit out’ from the first ball and an assurance that their places in the team were secure, no matter what the outcome was.
The rest, as they say, is history. This partnership, in which Jayasuriya was the more dominant of the two, became not only the cornerstone on which Sri Lanka won the World Cup, it also changed the game forever: other countries have copied the tactic which has now become the norm.
Following the World Cup win, Jayasuriya’s own success as a cricketer was phenomenal. He hit a purple patch, established himself as an opener in test cricket as well and went on to deliver some of the most blistering innings the game will ever see, enhancing Sri Lanka’s standing in world cricket.
It seemed only right that the captaincy of the Sri Lankan cricket team should be bestowed on him but Jayasuriya had only modest success in this role and his campaign leading the country in the World Cup in 2003 resulted in a semi-final loss.
A hallmark of Jayasuriya’s career, as much as his phenomenal hand-eye co-ordination and his slashing boundaries on the off-side, was the controversies over his retirement. He called it quits from both the test and one-day games on more than one occasion only to return a few months later.
Towards the latter stages of his career, as he lost the consistency with which he delivered his match winning performances, this became a bone of contention. Yet just when the axe was about to fall, Jayasuriya would produce the odd blitzkrieg performance and the whispers would stop once more.
At the 2010 general elections, while still playing for the national cricket team Jayasuriya contested the poll from his native Matara district and with the ‘name recognition’ factor coming in to play, topped the district’s preferences for the ruling United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA).
His entry into politics has drawn a mixed reaction. For a player who commanded such respect and adoration from his fans, politics can only endanger that affection and this has been true for Jayasuriya especially when his contributions in the political arena have been nebulous.
Also, there have been claims that in the twilight of his career, Jayasuriya peddled his political influence with the highest of authorities to remain in the national team, his recall to the one-day squad two weeks before his 42nd birthday being a case in point.
Jayasuriya’s timing on the cricket field may have been impeccable but he got it horribly wrong with his on again, off again departure from the national team. He was accused of blocking younger players making a name for themselves and for being mercenary-like in his commercial endorsements.
In the past few years, Jayasuriya has remained in the limelight albeit at the expense of his credibility. He once signed a letter to President Mahinda Rajapaksa asking that all ruling party parliamentarians who topped preferences in their districts be given some ministerial responsibilities. This was ignored.
He also appeared in ‘Jhalak Dikhla Jaa’ an Indian reality television dancing show. His footwork there being not anywhere near what it was in cricket, he was quickly knocked out and he was accused of being culturally insensitive to how a married Sri Lankan role model should conduct himself publicly.
Jayasuriya’s personal life has also been the subject of speculation with unconfirmed reports of a third marriage flooding internet sites. However, pictures of Jayasuriya with his second wife at a reunion for the 1996 World Cup winning cricketers appeared subsequently in the mainstream media.
As such, Jayasuriya is no stranger to controversy nor will he be inhibited by it. His conduct after leaving international cricket has been just like his batting: impulsive, audacious and sometimes foolhardy. Whether these are sound credentials for a chairman of selectors is left to be seen.
Because Jayasuriya is a parliamentarian, the opposition has already queried his appointment asking whether a politician could take on that role when the government had agreed to depoliticise Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC).
Jayasuriya though is not deterred by such criticism. There is already speculation that he will unleash sweeping changes. Speculation is rife that Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan will be drafted as bowling coaches and that Dinesh Chandimal may be handed the captaincy of the test team.
Sanath Jayasuriya is certain to hog the headlines in the weeks to come. If he is able to keep his politics out of cricket and if he can achieve a fraction of what he achieved as a cricketer for Sri Lanka as head of the selection committee, it is just possible that Sri Lankans will learn to adore ‘Sana’ once more.
I think we should give him some time, he has been a great cricketer and he seems to be getting right people to help him. Good luck to Sri Lanka Cricket, Capt. Cool as the President of SLC ??
chandrakumar Thursday, 31 January 2013 07:32 AM
We should not bring the personal life of Sanath Jayasuriya for his appointment as a selector.SriLankans have the short coming of draging someone's personal life into unrelated issues.
KC Sampath Perera Thursday, 31 January 2013 11:57 AM
Like in ODIs he will be given a power play period for few months and Rajapakshe will spread the field after that. if he still go for aerial route that will be the end as for Arjuna....God Bless SL cricket !
Punchi Banda Thursday, 31 January 2013 04:46 AM
Going by his past misdeeds and know it all attitude it is impossible to expect anyting for the bettermant of the game from this cricketer turned politician. Writer has forgotten to mention the pathatic cricket comentries by Jayasuriya in the recent past which was a national disgrace to say the least.
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