“This will be the start and the end of Sri Lankan cricket”, said Roshan Mahanama after Sri Lanka won the world cup in 1996. The game spread all over Sri Lanka like wild-fire while politics and corruption engulfed the cricket board that had, until then, lived in oblivion.
That came as a premonition as the Sri Lankan cricket team started stamping their authority in world cricket, while the administrators continuously involved themselves in power games and trysts with corruption to profit from the lucrative game.
When the corrupted regime of Mahinda Rajapakshe was brought to its feet on the 8th of January, his acolytes within Sri Lanka cricket, including the then secretary of the board Nishantha Ranatunga, were shown the door by the then Minister of Sports, Navin Dissanayake.
The government installed an interim committee and promised to hold an election once the investigations into the alleged corruption are completed. However, the International Cricket Council, on complaints received from the stakeholders belonging to the Nishantha Ranatunga racket, warned Sri Lanka of the ramifications that are likely to result from the political involvement in Sri Lanka cricket, while holding back the funds.
Rumours had it that N Srinivasan was throwing his weight behind his long time love interest Nishantha Ranatunga to have the board under his purview. Sidath Wettimuny, the chairman of the interim committee, and the sports minister Navin Dissanayake pulled out all the stops to try and convince the game’s governing body that the ministerial influence was to divest the board of corruption and to set the path to the future straight.
After months of negotiations and rumours of a possible ban on Sri Lanka cricket, which were alleged to have been spewed by Nishantha Ranatunga, ICC finally relented and allowed the committee to last its lifetime.
Resuscitating of Sri Lanka Cricket by the Interim Committee
Sidath Wettimuny, a very reputed former test cricketer, made sure his tenure proved fiscal for Sri Lanka cricket. Unlike the previous years, where Sri Lanka Cricket was always bankrupt and thus being unable to pay their cricketers, this year has been lucrative.
Sri Lanka Cricket, according to the chairman of the Interim Committee, now has 200 million LKR in the bank in addition to the 4.6 million US Dollars in reserve. When this board took charge, they had an overdraft of 207 million LKR and had a debt of 7.8 million US Dollars to ICC and the Bank of Ceylon. Wettimuny also claimed that during their incumbency they have managed to save 30% from an expenditure budget of over 1.4 billion LKR.
In addition to the frugal expenditures and astute money management which has finally salvaged Sri Lanka cricket from the chasm they have been finding themselves in since 2011, the committee also undertook steps to expand the cricket infrastructure within the island.
A project to build indoor nets and swimming pools at the R Premadasa Stadium was incepted and plans are now afoot to do the same in Pallekelle and Dambulla. A soft skills program was also launched for young cricketers to educate themselves on etiquette, speech, grooming, yoga, IT skills, cricket history, and communication skills.
The board also listened to the advice of the former captain Mahela Jayawardene in decentralising cricket in Sri Lanka. Hence, seeds have been sown for an ‘Elite’ Cricket tournament based on five cricketing cities which would replace the now defunct SLPL.
Not only is this a more realistic approach, but this will also ensure that cricket takes roots outside of Colombo. Clubs, most of which are around Colombo have been clustered to play in different teams and each team will have trainers, physios and managers, which will allow the domestic players to have access to facilities which they have never had.
But the most important accomplishment of the interim committee was in increasing the salary of domestic cricketers by 300%, helping youngsters take cricket as a profession in Sri Lanka.
Even though the board truncated the number of central contracts offered to players, the dramatic hike in domestic salary would benefit all domestic players and would atone for the loss of central contracts for the disenfranchised ones.