Can Sri Lanka taste World Cup success in the face of turmoil?
On the 3rd of March, 2009, when around a dozen of gunmen ambushed the Sri Lankan bus in Lahore and started sending a hail of bullets towards the team bus causing all the players on board to hit the deck, Tillakaratne Dilshan shouted “Drive, drive, drive” at the bus driver, urging him to propel the bus into the cosseted stadium. It is often when external plight surrounds the Sri Lankan team, and the system and setup that should aid them fail, that the team rallies in solidarity and understands the need to find the horsepower to run the team within themselves. It is against a background of tribulations that the seniors take matters into their own hands and the juniors decide to take more responsibility.
In 2014, before their victorious World T20 campaign, the board entered into a direct confrontation with the players and even threatened to send a second string team, should the team decide not to sign the contract. However, the team was allowed to play the World T20 eventually, without having signed a contract.
The tentacles of the plight that embraced the blue cadre further tightened its grip as the secretary of the board took to the media to express his disappointment over the way in which Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene “announced their retirement” midway during the tournament. The senior duo, however, pulled their punches until the end of the tournament before publicly lambasting the secretary’s inane, impulsive media rant upon their arrival in Sri Lanka. The secretary called for disciplinary action against the two stalwarts, but strong public resentment forced the corrupted official to backtrack and save face. Later, the media would publish the e-mails exchanged between Jayawardene and some officials, much to the former’s dismay.
It was during the same tournament that Chandimal, the appointed captain, decided to sit out, allowing the in-form Lahiru Thirimanne to play instead. Despite the chief selector’s call of making the young Chandimal the captain, the youngster stepped up to the occasion and realized the decision had to come from him to negate the administrative blunder. The stand-in captain Lasith Malinga, too, realized that he didn’t have the experience to lead the side and allowed Jayawardene take control on the field, not letting his ego come in the way of what he thought was best for the team.
Pitted against an incredible amount of trials, the members of the phalanx stood up in the name of the people who stand behind them to hit back at all those that were in front of them. No one particular person within the team took charge to instruct individuals on what they should do, but instead, the players themselves understood their strengths & weaknesses and volunteered for the national cause.
Going into the 2015 World Cup, the Sri Lankan team has thus far looked uninspired and off colour. The World Cup preparations have been marred by turmoil and problems, but these predicaments could urge the team to galvanize themselves and come together as one unit.
The trouble for Sri Lanka began as early as the tour of India when the underprepared Islanders were hammered 5-0 by India. Returning from a heavy defeat, the worst in Sri Lanka’s history, the boys vented their frustration on England in the subsequent series, as they savaged them 5-2.
Vaas’ role as bowling coach under scrutiny
But on their recent tour to New Zealand, Sri Lanka were once again beaten black and blue, 2-5, by the Kiwis. As an immediate and prompt response, chief selector Sanath Jayasuriya urged the sacking of bowling coach Chaminda Vaas and, in turn, requested the appointment of Champaka Ramanayake. Ramanayake, however, declined the offer owing to family issues. Jayasuriya further emphasized the need to get the service of Stephen Fleming as a consultant.
However, the chief selector’s intervention irked the board’s officials, with SLC Executive Committee member Shammi Silva slamming Jayasuriya’s move to get rid of Vaas and rope in Stephen Fleming as a consultant.
“Who gave permission to Sanath to speak to Stephen Fleming? My opinion is, tell Sanath and them do correct selection and stay away from appointing different people. I totally reject of recommending of another fast bowling coach and consultant coach,” he wrote.
Hirantha Perera, the assistant secretary of SLC, also expressed his frustration, saying: “Chaminda Vaas is a National Icon and considered as one of the best fast bowlers ever produced by Sri Lanka. Barely few months back when we beat England in England in all 3 formats, everyone praised Vaas for his role in the fast bowling depth.”
The Sri Lankan pace bowling unit has, in fact, done exceptionally well during Vaas’ tenure and it is the batting that has failed to yield results in recent times. This was well evident on the tour of India as the Lankan batsmen failed to make hefty scores even on pitches heavily suited to run-scoring. So, if anyone has to be blamed, it should perhaps be head coach Marvan Atapattu. Whether him being the brother-in-law of the secretary of SLC has made everyone find fault with Vaas rather than Atapattu is a relevant and plausible question.
Meanwhile, a notorious Sri Lankan sports journalist published an article on Dailymirror alleging that a letter from Sri Lanka Cricket says that Geoff Marsh was fired from the post of head coach in 2011 as a result of a complaint by Dilshan and the concerns expressed by the senior men.
Sangakkara took to Twitter in support of Marsh’s coaching credibility.
Read article on Marsh sacking. As a senior player I can say that Geoff was a great coach and a wonderful person. Said it then as well.— Kumar Sangakkara (@KumarSanga2) January 31, 2015
A few days later, another media report quoted Geoff Marsh as stating, “He (Dilshan) and I got on well but I think there was someone outside the playing group who was on tour wanted to coach Sri Lanka and he was driving a nail between us.”
He further added that, “Dilshan used to ask me to his room and have dinner teaching me all the different Sri Lankan foods along with the players. I loved my time coaching Sri Lanka and the players were so nice to coach but sadly it stopped. I still speak to the players. I am so pleased to see the young players coming on. I was very close to Sanga, Herath and Mahela. Sri Lanka have done well and I am happy coaching with Justin Langer at the WACA. So everyone is happy. Sri Lanka cricket has a good relationship with Australian coaches and Cricket Australia (CA) so let’s hope that continues”.
Sri Lanka Cricket in a mess
Sanga, meanwhile, also found himself in the middle of a controversy recently, after chastising SLC secretary Nishantha Ranatunga and former sports minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage in an email to the Sri Lankan board which was made public. He accused Ranatunga and Aluthgamage of intentionally trying to tarnish his reputation and cause embarrassment during the 2013 Champions League Twenty20.
This was a consequence of the Sri Lankan batsman recently coming to know that an email sent by Jayasuriya granting him permission to play for Sunrisers Hyderabad instead of Kandurata Maroons, his home franchise, was withheld. At the time, the left-hander was unfairly criticised for choosing “money over his country”.
“All I can deduce is that you and all concerned, including Nishantha Ranatunga and Mahindananda Aluthgamage, tried to intentionally cause me embarrassment and tarnish my reputation in the public arena as part of a shameful and corrupt attempt,” he wrote.
Jayasuriya, however, speaking to BBC Sinhala, said that it was just a small matter which was blown up unnecessarily. He also proclaimed that he had given an NOC to Sanga to play for Sunrisers Hyderabad in the CL T20, but his consent was withheld.
To top everything off, Navin Dissanayake, the newly appointed minister of sports, has truncated the many perks that were enjoyed by Ranatunga under the hegemonic rule of former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) - a communist party - has filed a complaint against SLC, with Ranatunga and Aluthgamage getting special mentions to the Bribery and Corruption Commission. The major concern according to that complaint was "the conduct of Nishantha Ranatunga in handing over the cricket television rights to a private TV channel where he served as its chief executive officer”.
The present government has also decided to impose a tax of 100 crore (Lankan Rupees) on Carlton Sports Network, which is run by Rajapaksa’s family, bringing the broadcast of World Cup matches in Sri Lanka into question.
Casting aside the administrative problems, the composition of the team has come under heavy scrutiny with Sri Lanka’s only World Cup winning captain, Arjuna Ranatunga, publicly criticising the logic behind a few of the selections. Muttiah Muralitharan and Aravinda de Silva, too, have also shared similar sentiments.
In the very latest news, in response to Sangakkara’s allegations against SLC, the minister of sports has appointed a one-member committee to probe into the matter. It is believed that some of the top officials of SLC are under the scanner on charges of corruption.
If panic and disorientation bring the best out of this outfit, then one should say that the Sri Lankan cricket administrators have done the right thing. Whenever problems present themselves in front of Sri Lanka, the players have managed to unveil their true selves and display their wrath in a constructive way by being ruthless with the opposition in the field of play.
Can these dire situations inspire Lanka to taste World Cup glory? Well, one will have to wait and see.