Its a Lockout: SLC Through The Looking Glass

Despite a lack of Test cricket in 2013, Sri Lanka have managed to stir up another boardroom controversy as the eve of the first Bangladesh series draws nearer with the news that all of the players who had contracts offered to them have refused to sign them. The wheels of this latest mess were set in motion when the SLC refused to acknowledge player agents, although players were allowed to have agents to represent them in other contractual negotiations – but just not with the SLC. The reasons for this decision was that the board felt that agents carried more negatives than positives and interferences. The board then went on to say that they had the best interest of all the cricketers under their remit at heart, and would not just concentrate on those players high profiles enough to have agents. It is naive to think that the presence of agents is purely beneficial. There are two big agencies within the SL cricket team. One by the name of Austin Management Limited, which is headed up by Charlie Austin (the ex Cricinfo writer and Sussex University graduate, not the current Burnley FC striker). Based in Colombo, AML have overseen the representation of much of the current crop of players including Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Lasith Malinga, Angelo Mathews, Jeevan Mendis, Dinesh Chandimal, Nuwan Kulasekera, Suranga Lakmal and even Ramnaresh Sarwan. Their website also contains some glowing testimonials from some of their clients. AML has made considerable amount of money off their star players since the dawn of the IPL, charging a cool 10% off their players’ contracts in the tournament. The other party involved is Roshan Abeysinghe’s company who is in charge of Lahiru Thirimanne and Tillakaratne Dilshan. One of the accusations is that the players follow the instructions of their managers as opposed to the coaches employed by SLC to coach them. Sure the existence of one or two agents holding the rights to the entire team cannot be a healthy thing, but there must be more to it.

Not only did the SLC refuse to recognize agents, then also do not recognize the Sri Lanka Cricketer’s Association (SLCA) who is usually get to look at the contract offers and protect them from being ripped off. Newly appoed President of the SLCA Ken de Alwis did not get to look at the latest contract offers as the board did not forward them to him. It should be pointed out that the players have not rejected the contract but just refused to sign it until it is discussed with the SLC. The players themselves are kind of used to playing and touring despite not being on an official contract but these latest problem seem to have even more severe repercussions. This piece for Island Cricket outlines roughly how much is allocated to the selectors and various hangers-on in an SL tour, even at home. If some of these figures are right, it is easy to see why SL cricket is in such a dire state financially and how Haroon Lorgat was right when he said that the board needed to stop spending money on such matters. From the player’s point of view there are two problems that stand in the way of their contracts. Firstly it is the scrapping of the fee paid to the players from ICC events. The ICC use the players images to promote their events and during this time nobody else can advertise the players in this way and so the players get a cut of the money generated. It was due to be cut to 20% last year but the board agreed to set it at 25% of the profits. The new contractual obligations also states that any player taking part in the IPL will either have his pay docked or frozen completely. This on top of the board taking a 10% of their player’s IPL wages anyway. Oddly enough the board only named the  IPL in this and not any other domestic competition. This either suggests that they do not mind as much their players going to the Big Bash or BPL or their are specifically trying to stand up to the IPL, albeit using the players as an excuse. Another potential problem is that players wives will not get allocated one business class ticket to go on tour with their husbands, along with the number of contract categories that the players fall under being reduced from six to four.

Charlie Austin’s management company holds the rights to many of Sri Lanka’s top players. ©ESPNCricinfo Ltd

The fact that there will be about a 15 to 20% pay rise has not softened the stance of the players. Ken de Alwis criticized the sheer length and formatting of the contracts themselves, citing the very reasonably argument that quite a lot of the players simply would not be able to understand the full ramifications of a contract that is 45 pages long and all in English. All this has resulted in the board announcing that 23 of the players will be suspended in that oh-so American a sporting-phenomenon – a lockout. Included in this list of players is indeed Kumar Sangakkara and new captaincy team of Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal whose first Test was eagerly anticipated but now seemingly is under a cloud of contractual stipulations and boardroom mud-throwing.

There are sure to be more meetings between the board and the representatives of the players between now and the start of the Bangladesh series. Certainly the first of these talks must be to clear the air and fully explain the contract to the players. If this does not work and the players still do not want to sign it then we really will be in trouble. With so little cricket scheduled for this  year, we cannot afford to have players missing matches before 2014. I can’t really believe that the players agents is the be all and end all in this discussion either. It seems like such a pointless thing to fall down over, especially when it reaches the stage where the players are being locked out. The point of cutting salary during the IPL really does annoy me as in its infinite wisdom, the SLC board cut the West Indian tour IN FAVOUR of the IPL so we would not have any tours going on during the period of the tournament. So if the players do not have anywhere else to be whilst they are in India why freeze their pay? This surely is a dig at the IPL which is fine, but the players (and ultimately the SL fans) are the ones to lose out, and even strengthens the position of the IPL. After all,  it is fair to assume that at least the bigger players would happily take the IPL money and forgo their central contracts for a few weeks. I would understand freezing their pay if the players forwent national duty for the IPL, but there really is no sense in doing this especially when the players want to be in the IPL.

The team for the first Test will be announced tomorrow and Sanath Jayasuriya returns from an overseas trip. It was always going to be an interesting squad announcement with the inclusion of several uncapped players in the provisional squad, but with these new revelations, cricket fans from around the world who would not have particularly given the Sri Lanka – Bangladesh series a second’s thought will look to it to see what sort of side is put out. This also gives Bangladesh a very real opportunity to take a major Test scalp. This is a momentous occasion in the history of Sri Lankan Cricket. Things have been bad in the past but perhaps not quite this bad and we are through the looking glass here into unknown territory. The West Indies have not fared well through extended periods of contract dispute. We might see some truly left-field picks in the SL side tomorrow. Some of them might even turn out to be inspired choices. But the current situation must not be allowed to last.

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