Even if the Indian Premier League had agreed to let Sri Lankan players play in Chennai, there would be no denying the bubbling sentiment of the Tamil Nadu population at every game featuring SL players. For the purpose of debate, I will pretend that the IPL as some sort of validity as a cricketing entity. When Minister Jayalalithaa announced that Sri Lankan players would not be welcome in the state, it was hard to take this as some sort of show of solidarity with the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka and not political point scoring to appease her constituents who have been vocal in their feelings over the matter anyway – especially the student population. The civil war ended in 2009 and Sri Lankan players have been playing in and for Chennai since then, and I cannot recall the politicians ever getting involved even though the sentiments of the locals were always there.
So as it has turned out Nuwan Kulasekera and Akila Dananjaya are without IPL teams (but will have their contracts fulfilled by the Super Kings). This might even turn out to be beneficial for the latter who is considered to be a fragile talent, one who might be ruined by too much Twenty20 matches. This was largely met by condemnation not only in Sri Lanka and the rest of the world, but also the rest of India as well. From the outside looking in, one would wonder why the IPL didn’t just decide to take all IPL knockout matches away from the M Chinnaswamy stadium in Chennai and thus Sri Lankan players would be able to play against them in the latter stages from the tournament. From a purely sporting sense, Chennai being able to face the likes of Mumbai, Delhi and Pune at home without key players like Lasith Malinga, Mahela Jayawardene, Dinesh Chandimal (Delhi’s replacement for KP) and Angelo Mathews surely provides them with an advantage over their rivals? A scenario which makes a mockery of everything the IPL thinks it stands for. All this is further compounded by the situation at the newly-founded Sun Risers Hyderabad. In the largely Hindu state of Andhra Pradesh, the Sun Risers have come out of the ashes of the ill-fated Deccan Chargers and are owned by the Sun TV Network which is one of the most profitable in all of Asia. The network and by extension the franchise is owned by Kalanidhi Maran who himself is Tamil and whose grand-uncle is the party chief of one of the major political parties in Tamil Nadu. The Sun Risers owners will come under more scrutiny as this plays out and the start of the IPL draws nearer. They have taken over most of the players who flopped as Deccan Chargers last year, and like the Chargers they have named Kumar Sangakkara as captain of the franchise and publicly announced this too. In the auction, they also bid in excess of $675k for Thisara Perera and are now under pressure to let them go, even if the Hyderabad fans do not object to them playing for their team. There might be calls for other teams to drop their Sri Lankan contingent as well, but the Sun Risers are the only franchise outside Tamil Nadu who are in such a delicate position. The Sun Group have not commented on the situation as of yet, but it will be interested to hear their statement if and when they do.
There were also calls from Sri Lanka for the full withdrawal of all their players from the tournament. This came from mostly fans but these views were also expressed by Arjuna Ranatunga who is never backward in coming forward anyway. Personally I feel that if all SL players were to withdraw it would send an incredible statement of not sure solidarity with Kulasekera and Dananjaya and show that sport and politics cannot mix in this way. But on the other hand, I do understand why the likes of Sangakkara, Mahela and Malinga would want to stay. After all, their respective sides did not ask for this and are happy to have them. That along with the board’s financial situation and the new contract situation which if all the reports are to be believed, none of the players are particularly thrilled with, it is hard to tell these players not to go chasing the IPL buck. If I were in their shoes, I’d like to think that I’d make a statement and left the IPL but I’d be lying if I said that that is exactly what I would do. I do not necessarily even blame the IPL. If they cannot guarantee a player’s safety then it is better to tell them to stay at home (with full pay) than have them play anyway.
When the announcement was made, a lot of people on Twitter rightly pointed out that this situation is similar to the continuing exclusion of Pakistani players from the tournament. Something which gets swept under the carpet year after year. If you watch every IPL match in a tournament, you will not get anything other than the odd throw-away comment about how Pakistani players should be allowed in. It is a sickening situation and another thing that makes the IPL such a hard tournament to get to like. A lot of Pakistani fans were rightly aggrieved at why there was such a fuss being kicked up over the exclusion of Sri Lankans from one venue when their players were excluded from all the venues. And of course they have a very valid point, one that I hope is not forgotten if this particular issue is ever resolved.
I mentioned on Twitter than Murali helped Chennai win the IPL in 2010, and received replies from people stating that Murali being a Tamil and thus made his contribution to Chennai valid. Murali’s wife is also from Tamil Nadu and has no doubt felt conflicting emotions with the ban on SL players. He himself has commented on the current situation, and said something worth bearing in mind.
I am a Tamil. But I’m a Sri Lankan first. And the ban means, I’m not wanted there either.
The same applies to Angelo Mathews who is also Tamil. Chennai’s ban covers all Sri Lankan players, Tamil or not. So the people of Tamil Nadu want to show solidarity with Sri Lankan Tamils but do not want Sri Lankan Tamils playing on their patch.
It is worth mentioning that SLC has issued no objection certificates to the participation of all their players in the tournament. This means that in the eyes of the SLC, they are satisfied with the safety measures in place and do not object to their players playing at any venue, even those in Tamil Nadu. I don’t know how much of that is down to the cut of the player’s IPL wages that they’d get but if Sri Lankan Cricket’s governing body is OK with it, then the safety measures must be sound enough. One man whose opinion is conspicuous by its absence is Sanath Jayasuriya. Our Chairman of Selectors enjoyed a fruitful time during the few IPLs that he played with the Mumbai Indians and one would assume that if it were not for this, he would have added his voice to those calling the SL men home.
It remains to be seen whether the Sri Lankan players will boycott it after all, but I personally cannot see it happening. I’m all for choosing your county over money but it would not change my opinion of them if and when they decide to stay in India. Whether they really will be safe is another matter.