It has been a while since I did a piece on Sri Lankan Cricket. Given the lack of cricket and the end of the SL Premier First-Class league (which was won by the Sinhalese Sports Club) one would assume that there would be little to talk about. But the corridors of power at SLC are rarely quiet. The past week has seen the election of the positions of President and Secretary of Sri Lankan Cricket. In the end, the Presidency went to Jayantha Dharmadasa and Nishantha Ranatunga was once again elected as Secretary. Jayantha replaces the outgoing president Upali who also happens to be his brother who was elected a year ago in a haze of controversy and accusations of political interference. In fact, Upali’s uncontested election was uncontested by the other candidates purely as an act of defiance in their belief that contesting it would not achieve anything. One of the candidates in that election, Mohan de Silva was also elected in this one to the position of Vice-President. That isn’t to say that the same allegations weren’t absent from this one. Nishantha Ranatunga, who is the brother of Arjuna Ranatunga and whose father is a politician of some note has always had to fight these allegations in his career. Nishantha’s election to the position of Secretary comes a few weeks after the District Court of Mount Lavinia lifted an enjoining order which prevented him from being elected to the role. Thilanga Sumathipala who had initially voiced allegations of political interference against both Dharmadasa and Ranatunga after having his own candidacy for president rejected after it appeared that it fell foul of the nation’s sports laws on three different bases – the key of which pertained to a candidate not being allowed to be involved with any betting organizations, sports equipment manufacturing company or any media organizations whilst pursuing the post of SLC President. The other two candidates were Upali Dharmadasa and Sumit Perera; whose own candidacies also apparently fell short of the necessary parameters defined by Sri Lankan sports law, leaving Jayantha to be sworn in (in a secret ballot) uncontested.
Jayantha Dharmadasa is a businessman of some repute in Sri Lanka. His father (D.H.K Dharmadasa) founded the Nawaloka Group back in the 1940s when the island was still under colonial rule. Since then it has become one of the biggest organizations in the Sri Lankan private sector. His sons hold the posts of Joint Managing Director at the company. Jayantha has held this position in SLC as well. In 2005 he was named the chairman of the SLC interim committee and for two years in this role oversaw a period of tremendous fortune for the Sri Lankan team. Tom Moody had taken over the coaching reigns from John Dyson and in 2006 an injury to Marvan Atapattu saw Mahela Jayawardene take the captaincy for the tour to England. The tour ended in a commendable 1-1 draw in the Test series and a thumping 5-0 hammering of the hosts in the ODIs. What followed was some good consistent performances in all forms of cricket, culminating in a run to the World Cup final where we were beaten by Adam Gilchrist and half a squash ball. Of course the playing squad is vastly different from the one that Dharmadasa left the first time out, but that hasn’t stopped his ambitions to see those happy times return to Sri Lankan Cricket, saying:
I hope to get the cooperation of all the members of the executive committee in my endeavour to bring the Sri Lanka team to the highest level in world cricket and make them the best team in the future
In particular, he mentions the prospect of sending the U-19 squads out on overseas tours to get experience of foreign conditions that have been such a large obstacle for the senior squad over the years, and is something that I have been banging on about on this blog. It can only be a good thing, given that English, Australian and South African youngsters get this opportunity it would be insane to deny our young players the same opportunities. This won’t come cheap though, and Dharmadasa’s biggest mountain to climb is overseeing the rectification of SLC’s abysmal financial situation, of which Nishantha Ranatunga does have to take some responsibility for. I fear this might mean more matches held in Hambantota which for all the money invested in it remains a soulless pit of a stadium (although I do quite like Pallekele). There is the small matter of the new television deal struck with Ten Sports. They will get the rights to broadcast Sri Lanka matches until 2020; the fee is still to be determined but should be around US$60m.
Another area in which Dharmadasa has said that he will try to improve upon is to draw upon talent from outside the usual cricketing hotspots on the island. Typically Sri Lankan cricket has sourced its talent from the highly competitive inter-school competitions mostly centered in Colombo and Kandy. In recent times, especially since the end of the civil war SLC and various organizations has reached out to communities around SL including areas devastated by war and the 2004 tsunami to try to enable children to live normal lives through education and cricket. It is thought that in time to come Sri Lanka could be able to source players from all around the island and Nishantha Ranatunga himself envisions a situation where “80% of the cricketers who play in the national team come from outside Colombo.” This is indeed a noble aim but it requires more than just lip-service. It needs substantial investment and a long-term commitment. Something SLC has not been great at given the amount of times it changes board members. Followers of Sri Lankan cricket could be excused for wondering whether an organization that has had trouble paying its employees in time can really fulfill such lofty ambition. The new selection committee has had a surprisingly positive start to its tenure, and will the ‘new’ presidency do the same? Or will we just see the usual shenanigans at SLC? Only time will tell, I guess.