By Harsha Amarasinghe
After weeks of cold war between Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) and the national cricketers, it was reported on Monday (7) that the contract saga has been settled for the moment.
The players had refused to sign the central contracts offered by SLC stating a lack of transparency which ultimately led to an emergency meeting on Monday to hold crunch talks during which players have been reportedly threatened to be suspended for three years should they not sign the contracts.
SLC needed to send the players to England by Wednesday (9), and leading up to this special meeting certain officials from SLC were seen quoted in the media stating the “England tour is not in jeopardy,” but when someone has to come forward and make such a statement, it usually is in jeopardy.
The outcome of this emergency meeting is that the players have agreed to sign what is described as a tour declaration.
Without players, there is no SLC. The broadcasting fees and all other revenues have been earned by SLC because of their players, so there is no doubt that they must be paid a reasonable salary. However, the timing of such demands from players is questionable.
As per the lawyer representing the players, they are only concerned about the ‘transparency’ and it’s not a matter of money. Sri Lanka’s ODI team is ranked 13th in the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup Super League Standings, eighth in the ICC Test rankings, and the country that lifted the T20 World Cup in 2014, have to now qualify to be in the 12 teams that play in the next World Cup. This is the plight of Sri Lanka's cricket today. What needs to be more transparent?
Angelo Mathews, the man many thought would carry Sri Lanka cricket after the era of true greats of the game such as Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardane and T.M. Dilshan has not been able to live up to expectations. His recent performances in limited overs cricket in particular have been dreadful. In the last five years, he has gone past 30 only twice in T20 Internationals, so if SLC were to give him a contract in the top category, that would come as a shock.
Dinesh Chandimal – considered one of the nicest guys in Sri Lanka cricket -- has a career average of 19 in T20 Internationals. Sri Lanka cricket’s next big thing Kusal Mendis averages 18 in the shortest format. The funny guy of Sri Lanka cricket Niroshan Dickwella averages 19 in T20Is. Sri Lanka cricket’s ‘model’ Dhanushka Gunathilaka averages 20 in the format. The only genuine all-rounder of Sri Lanka cricket, Dhananjaya de Silva, averages 22. Yet, Ravichandran Ashwin of India, known for his bowling, has a batting average of 30 in the T20s to go with a Test batting average of 27. What needs to be more transparent?
While there has been a lot of talk about the contracts offered to Sri Lanka cricketers, there is very little information about how the same method has not been applied for the coaching staff.
It has been nearly one and half years since Mickey Arthur took over as the head coach of the Sri Lanka cricket team. The results have been awful and the recent series defeat to Bangladesh has to be Sri Lanka’s worst performance in ODIs since losing to Kenya in the World Cup, but to be fair to that team, they played a World Cup semi. This team though, under Arthur, is going nowhere at the minute.
SLC are barely appreciated for the decisions they make, but the cut down on player salary is an accurate decision as long as the same is applied to the coaching staff as well.
Arthur is a decent coach. In football terms, he would probably be a Sam Allardyce or Roy Hodgson; certainly not a Pep Guardiola or a Jurgen Klopp. He coached South Africa from 2005 to 2010 during which his biggest achievement was beating Australia in Australia with South Africa’s golden generation. Obviously, nothing much in major limited-overs tournaments – something no one has to search for on the internet when it comes to South Africa.
He then had a brief stint with Australia which certainly didn’t go according to plan with the infamous homework-gate saga. The 53-year-old however, did coach the Pakistan cricket team that stunned the world to secure the ICC Champions Trophy in 2017. However, he would need to turn things around with Sri Lanka very soon or else that Champions Trophy in 2017 would look more like a fluke.
Hence, this tour to England is going to be a crucial one for him personally given everything that is happening around him in Sri Lanka. He has to win this, though it looks a very tall task.
Bhanuka’s Big Day
Bhanuka Rajapaksa has been around the Sri Lanka cricket circuit for such a long time and given his performances for Royal College and Sri Lanka Under-19 back in the day, many thought he would play for Sri Lanka long before.
At the age of 29, he has only played for Sri Lanka in the shortest format, but he had his biggest day on the internet last week when he gave a hard-hitting interview to a YouTube channels He has only played seven T20s for Sri Lanka, but since May 31, he has probably given more interviews.
Bhanuka himself claimed that with Arthur at the helm, he would not play for Sri Lanka again, but fair play to him, he has since hired a personal trainer in an attempt to reach the skin folds levels the selectors are demanding.
However, in his legendary interview, he made a very good point when he said that if he is not at the expected fitness level, then the trainer should also take the blame for that. SLC should take note.
A former member of the SLC administration, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Daily Mirror that SLC should hand more contracts in an effective manner.
“If you look at 2009 and 2010 there were 60 and 100 central contracts. That way we had more players in our system. Even school leavers at the time – Dinesh Chandimal, Lahiru Thirimanna and Kusal Perera -- were given SLC contracts in the region of Rs. 60,000 per month. It was not a big amount but it was important that players are kept in our system. I remember at that time, SLC was spending 70 percent of its revenue for players. That was far too much given that other cricket boards around the world had only allocated 25%-30% as player wages. So, in 2013 we brought it down to 60% and then to 40%. This was challenged by certain senior players at the time. However, it’s funny that today the same people are involved in getting the number down themselves,” the former SLC top official said.
Irrespective of how things have been handled at the time, that cannot be compared to the situation we find Sri Lanka cricket in today. At the time Sri Lanka had a team that played in five ICC World Cup finals winning one. At present Sri Lanka has a bunch of players who challenge the salary categorization on the back of an embarrassing series defeat to Bangladesh.
Cricketers should understand the fact that no cricket board has ever been loved by fans. For fans, what only matters is the team performing well which is not happening right now. Hence, as for the cricketers, their main focus right now should be cricket, just cricket, only cricket, nothing else.