Winds of change are sweeping across Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) as Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa has decided to crack the whip in a bid to arrest the current slide of the national team.
Sri Lanka suffered two 2-0 defeats at the hands of South Africa and England which became a subject of public ridicule given how Sri Lanka performed particularly in the home series against England.
The Minister is working closely with Mahela Jayawardena, chairman of the National Sports Council (NSC) which includes former players and corporate leaders.
The Minister yesterday tweeted, he has recommended names to the new SLC Cricket Committee who will monitor the progress of players and coaches ensuring that the objectives agreed upon by the Sports Ministry and the Sri Lanka Cricket are fully enforced.
The appointment of an active and capable Cricket Committee was a recommendation by the NSC which has proposed sweeping changes to transform the fortunes of the once revered sport in the country. The Minister did not name those to be included to the new committee but said it will include former cricketers and corporate leaders.
Among his other recommendations were to appoint a new selection committee, overhauling of the first-class tournament, pay special attention to player fitness, implement a performance-based pay structure and appointments of a Team Director, Mentor and a fulltime Manager.
A bottom-up over-haul of the domestic cricket structure has been a subject of intense discussion for many years as it is seen as the key reason for Sri Lanka’s slump in performances across all formats of the game.
However, it had not been addressed for years for reasons best known to those who governed the million-dollar cricket business.
On the NSC’s recommendation, however, Minister Rajapaksa has directed SLC to remove all clubs in Tier ‘B’ from first-class status, thus reducing the number of teams to a minimum of eight and maximum of 14. Sri Lanka currently has 24 teams with Tier ‘A’ consisting 14 teams and Tier ‘B’ with 10 teams. Tier ‘B’ will lose their first-class status under the proposal.
In addition to the club-based first-class tournament, NSC has also recommended priority for provincial cricket, to cluster the cream of domestic cricketers into five teams to play in a highly competitive environment. They hope this will prepare local players for international cricket, bridging a long-standing gap.
Ashantha first casualty of recent defeats, not the last
One of the biggest hurdles SLC faced in recent years is to get right-minded people to join the National Cricket Selection Committee. It is a thankless job where members are blamed for all the sins of a failed system. Ashantha de Mel, just three months into his second term, resigned as Chairman of Selectors this week. He was only the first casualty. News on the grapevine is that many more are to follow.
What could de Mel have done to stop two innings of maniac batting which cost us the series against England. In the first match, Sri Lanka were bowled out for 135 runs in the first innings. In the second, they collapsed again in the second innings to hand England a comfortable series victory. If anyone were to be fired, it should be the coaching department for the batting unit’s failure.
There were no questions asked about the team’s chaotic preparation in the run-up to the South Africa Tests where the Lanka Premier League Tournament denied players sufficient practice. Were de Mel and his committee is responsible for playing T20 cricket over red-ball training? De Mel was the scapegoat while Board officials, including its CEO, hold on to their positions, enjoying the perks while contributing little towards the game.
The board has proposed Pramodya Wickremasinghe — a member of the selection committee to replace de Mel at the top but this has been reportedly rejected by the National Sports Selection Committee. Instead they have asked Sri Lanka Cricket to advertise the post. If they settled for Wickremesinghe, it wasn’t because he was the best candidate but that they had too few to choose from.
Cricket sources confirmed that they have asked SLC’s Rehabilitation and Training Manager Paul Khoury to pack his bags after reports of fitness-fixing emerged from within the national team along with trainer Cryshantha Gamage. Physiotherapist Ajantha Wattegama is also on the firing line. These were after several players broke down during South Africa. This is one area Jayawardena has placed particular emphasis on and the Board says no player will be taken on tour if found unfit. There will be regular fitness tests to keep them match-fit, something missing of late.
A key suggestion of the Jayawardena-led council is to introduce a performance-based pay structure for national cricketers and coaching staff rather than the current payment system where they are entitled to a huge annual contract fee in addition to match fees and other allowances. Accordingly, SLC is considering reducing the contract fees by at least 40 percent under the proposed system but be rewarded with win and performance bonuses. Board sources said they are working on a formula to introduce this system. A top national cricketer earns as much as US$ 130,000 as annual retainer in addition to match fees but this will be substantially slashed under the new proposal.
The NSC has also recommended the appointments of a Team Director, Mentor and full-time Manager for the national team. On the recommendation of the NSC, SLC will look to appoint a former Sri Lanka cricketers of repute as team Director, Mentor and Team Manager. Jerome Jayaratne, who was heading the High Performance Centre, will travel to West Indies as Team Manager (a stop-gap appointment) until SLC finds a suitable candidate to fill the vacancy created by de Mel’s exit.
The Minister has requested the Board to implement these before March 1 this year.