Anger deluged the island nation as the country’s cricket team lost a very close game to Pakistan in the Champions Trophy -2017, which knocked the team out of the tournament. The outrage stemmed not from the eventual eviction from the tournament so much as from the way Sri Lanka capitulated to Pakistan in the virtual quarter-final. The team, despite being the putative winner of the match during the latter part of the match, dropped a couple of catches which resulted in a win for Pakistan. The fans didn’t expect Sri Lanka to come so close to a spot in the semi-finals, and the momentary surge in expectations followed by an egregious fielding effort that shattered all hopes resulted in a wave of anger across the country.
Dayasiri’s loose tongue
Riding on the wave of resentment among the fans was Sri Lanka’s ‘honourable’ Minister of Sports Dayasiri Jayasekara. Addressing the gathering at the National Institute of Sports Science, having nothing useful to say, the Minister went on a rant against Sri Lankan cricketers that would have put any drunken Sarong Johnny in betting centres to shame.
“When the ball comes close, the big bellies come in the way and players drop catches”, the minister demonstrated his adroit observation. Of course, it would have been a cardinal sin to have expected the mentally challenged minister to look beyond what meets the eye for his intelligence can see only as far his eyes allow. As if this didn’t cause him enough embarrassment, he further went on to say, “We need players to play 10 overs in a 50 over the match, not just four.” What or who he was referring to is still a mystery. Why does he expect a player to play only 10 overs? Was he referring to a bowler bowling his full quota of overs? If so, who was he accusing of breaking down before completing his quota of overs?
Dayasiri Jayasekara, with a big broad smile on his face and no great brain, it should be admitted, is tailor-made for politics in Sri Lanka. Thus, the anencephalic minister wasn’t making an earnest comment that emerged from his bonafide interest in the well-being of the national team, but rather was merely playing to the gallery. The Harlequin, given the fury of the islanders following a shock defeat, must have said it anticipating applauses. Dayasiri might as well perform a strip tease if the crowd would cheer him on.
It should be noted that this is not the first time that the minister, whose brain resides in his rectum, suffered a premature ejaculation of words. “I have also read a number of online posts where serious allegations of misconduct were being levelled against the players and the team management. I want to know the truth. I want to know what happened in New Zealand,” the over-enthusiastic minister said following Sri Lanka’s string of poor performances in New Zealand. His verbal diarrhoea didn’t stop there as his loose tongue went on to accuse the players of partying overnight sans any evidence. You would expect a boy who had just hit puberty to watch pornography and show more control over his emotions than the minister.
In 2015, Dayasiri put Alex Jones to shame by intimating a probable conspiracy against Kusal Perera after he failed a drug test. He followed that with a sensational claim that Perera had been given a four-year ban even before an official inquiry was held.
In the run up to the 2015 presidential election, the clown was seen questioning Maithiripala Sirisena’s masculinity. Following the election, he was found bending 90 degrees in front of the same man whose masculinity he questioned. Switching loyalty is not a new thing to the minister as he had already made a leap from the UNP to the SLFP in 2013.
Completely oblivious to his indiscretion, Dayasiri ratcheted up his verbal incontinence by claiming that “players get fit here and play in the IPL”, and took aim at Mathews by claiming that the captain bowls in the IPL but not for Sri Lanka. However, the minister said nothing about the money SLC accrues from the IPL for issuing NOCs to the players who play in the Indian T20 tournament.
The peril of ministerial involvement in team selections
Even though such monkey tricks make for a lot of entertainment, such antics are also symptomatic of a very dangerous status quo that has been ailing the team for a very long time. The minister threatening to interlope into selection affairs sets a dangerous precedent. The independent governance review of the International Cricket Council by Lord Woolf in 2012 avowed that government interference in the selection and the management of a team was against ICC’s Articles of Association.
“Government interference in a country’s administration of cricket, including but not limited to interference in operational matters, the selection and management of teams, the appointment of coaches or support personnel or the activities of a Member, is precluded by the ICC’s Articles of Association.”
The report by Haroon Lorgat that reviewed the challenges facing Sri Lanka Cricket, too, stressed on the need to get politics out of team selections. “The Sports Law requires the minister to appoint a nominee to the Selection panel and also requires ‘The selection of a national or representative team to meet or play against foreign teams (inclusive of the appointment of the captain) shall not be announced until the approval of the Minister is obtained’”, the report manifested its diagnosis. The reports also recommended that “Constructive engagement with the minister is necessary to amend the Sports Law so as to comply with international norm and the new regulations of the ICC. “
In the past, Sanath Jayasuriya used this very loophole to get back into the squad for the Asia Cup in 2008 after not being picked initially. The then minister of sports, Gamini Lokuge, compelled the selection committee to reconsider Sanath Jayasuriya for selections.
Dayasiri’s predisposition to intrude into team affairs aside, he circumscribing the causes for Sri Lanka’s woes to fitness issues is baffling. The cricket board has been accused of financial mismanagement several times during their tenure. The selections have been controversial and rumours are rife about possible external influences. Aravinda de Silva recently resigned from his position as the chairman of the national board’s cricket committee and the team’s head coach soon followed suite. The domestic system has been a subject of controversy for a very long time. The minister himself trashed a proposal by Sidath Wettimuny to amend the constitution of Sri Lanka Cricket. To top everything off, Sri Lanka Cricket has been casual in their action against the match fixing allegations in the domestic circuit. While the issues that ail Sri Lanka Cricket are plenty, the minister accentuating fitness concerns and even going to the extent of hyperbolizing it as if it is the only reason for Sri Lanka’s woes is preposterous.
Even if citing fitness as the major issue is tolerable to an extent, there is no way the minister placing the entire blame on the players can be vindicated. Michael Main, who was hired as the head of strength and conditioning on a two-year contract, resigned nine months into his contract in 2016. How the minister could gloss over such administrative and managerial complications while gloating over players’ fitness is perplexing.
Cricket is not the only sport minister
It should not also be forgotten that Dayasiri is the minister of sports responsible for all sports and not just cricket. When was the last time he showed the same amount of concern for a sport that isn’t cricket? Why didn’t Sri Lanka not returning with a single medal in the Olympics last year draw even one hundredth of the same reaction from the Minster that the cricket team’s departure from the Champions Trophy evoked? Why isn’t the minister not concerned about the poor performance of Sri Lanka’s women’s cricket team? Surely, there are a few female cricketers with bulging bellies. Or is the minister only interested in taking pot shots at those who are popular?
It is abominable that the minister is allowed to go on a smear campaign against cricketers while the cricketers are precluded by their contracts from responding to such undue criticisms, and when they breach the embargo, as it was the case with Malinga, they are met with punity.
Having said that, fitness is very much an issue that affects the team. But is it the most important issue that is troubling the team? Or is it the only problem that is affecting the team? Is improving the fitness going to reverse Sri Lanka’s fortunes? The answer is a definite no.
Sri Lanka played 7 games against Imran Tahir in South Africa. Yet, they struggled to play him well in the Champions Trophy. Chamara Kapugedera was bowled off a googly from Tahir in the 2016 WT20. He once again got out to Tahir in the Champions Trophy off a googly. What is the point of being fit if a player can’t read which way the ball is going to spin?
On the other hand, it is good in a way that someone has finally spoken out about the fitness concerns, which admittedly is not taken seriously in Sri Lanka. But the minister, at the most, should have expressed his concerns behind closed doors. But he forcing the issue and exaggerating fitness issues as if it is the only problem is outright ludicrous.
It is really unfortunate that attention has been deflected off contentious selections and poor team tactics. If there is one issue that needs immediate addressing then that is poor selections. But Sri Lanka seems to be happy fighting the wrong enemy.