Surprised by Mahela’s statement, Sri Lanka has the finest junior cricket program in the world: Asanga Seneviratne

Written by N Krishnamurthy

On May 21, Former Sri Lanka captain and one of the most elegant batsman in world cricket history Mahela Jayawardene, during a crisis management meeting at Temple Tree with country’s Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, said that the Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) has not done anything in developing school cricket in last 15 years.

Obviously, Mahela’s claim has started a new debate in Sri Lanka cricket fraternity. Many have backed Mahela’s claim, many other have opined against it.

To bring cricket fraternity’s view for readers, Cricket Age is starting a series on this topic – Whether SLC has developed the school cricket or not in last 15 years.

In the first installment of the series, Cricket Age is publishing Asanga Seneviratne’s View on this topic!

Asanga Seneviratne had served SLC as vice president and interim committee member from 2012 to 2016. An visionary, as an administrator he had closely worked with school cricket, finding much needed sponsorship and providing technical input.

Here is Asanga Seneviratne’s View:

“As an Interim committee member and Vice President of  Sri Lanka Cricket from 2010-2016, we hosted two World Cups and entered 3 World Cup finals and won one. I am rather surprised at Mahela’s statement regarding the schools cricket. Sri Lanka has the finest junior cricket program in the world. This 100 year+ legacy is continued with the dedication and sacrifices of many, who mostly go unnoticed and are almost never recognized or compensated adequately. During my tenure, the work conducted to support, improve and sustain school cricket was substantial and a priority for Sri Lanka Cricket.

We allocated approximately 15 % of our annual budget for junior cricket development and infrastructure every year. In addition, full time professionals were employed to monitored the progress carefully.

Given below are some of the activity and work carried out to support Junior Cricket at that time.

1. Allocated funds for District, provincial and National junior National team programs and development. Over 35 full time paid specialist coaches were on the pay roll and 3 senior personal over looked the process as Senior Coaches – Anura Tennekoon, Roy Dais and Srinath Fernando.

2. Allocated Rollers, Clay bags, Boundary ropes, Covers ,Material bags (including bats), Matting and scoring fees for schools that had made requests.

3. Allocations for schools to develop infrastructure and grounds and side pitches and providing curators.

4. Under 15, 17 and 19 Provincial/Zonal tournaments

5. Initiated Plans to build 4 Provincial Center’s of Cricket Excellence, now in operation.

6. Women’s under 19 All Island (district) Tournament inaugurated.

7. Under 15 & 17 Nation squad training and under 19 National team tours and home internationals with full time coaches and support staff every year. (We had a policy and conducted a minimum of 3 tours per year for under 19 and A teams at that time)

8. Max Cricket academy and Surrey Village managed and operated for junior cricket. Built First Turf wicket in Jaffna.

9. Signed agreement to develop infrastructure (including lights) at Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC). All the biggest schools encounters are being played on this ground.

10. Specialist High Performance training at the National Academy Khettarama International Stadium for junior National pool under senior National coaches – Jerome Jayaratne, Champika Ramanayake, Ruwan Kalpage, Piyal Wijetunge, Roger Wijesooriya, Sumith Waranakulasooriya and Roy Dias.

All these details and more are available in the Cricket Board ExCo meeting minutes and documents that can be accessed.

This unfounded criticism has come about by a group of former cricketing legends, who have played just a minor role after their high profile retirements to contribute in any meaningful manner to Sri Lanka cricket. Schools cricket in the country is in a extremely healthy state and is competitive as ever.

Saying this, indeed, As stated by Mahela, there are some shortcomings in the system as well. Hopefully he and his former teammates will now get in to the system and lead the way to do the work necessary and not just offer plans that no one will follow. I believe some of these matters raised will never completely be solved, unless local government and businesses understand the importance of sport in children’s life and work hand in hand with the different associations to provide pathways and investment.

You cannot expect the Cricket Board to do more than what they are already doing with the funds and resources available since at the time I was involved , 60 – 70 % of our earning were paid out to the National and Club players and very little was left to do anything more than what we were already doing. The failures of the National team in the recent past (the crux of the matter and one of the reasons for the outburst) is not in anyway the fault of our schools cricket system ! At any given year, we have at least 20 -30 top class players coming out and another 50 -100 already in the clubs, who with the proper backing could step up.

The selections of National Cricket teams in the recent past has been diabolical to say the least. The retirement of legends almost all at the same time (Murali, Mahela, Sanga, Dilshan) would leave any team/country in a quandary. In any team, the marquee players play a major role and control proceedings in team selection and succession and more so during his period. Players who were backed to carry on the mantle have failed miserably and this is one of the reasons Sri Lanka cricket is in a total mess.

Hopefully they have learnt from these experiences and it should now be a priority to get them in to the national set up and get their experience and expertise to get us back on track. Giving their learned opinion and sitting on the sidelines won’t cut it. This of course means they needs to sacrifice their million dollar contracts and deals and once again serve Sri Lanka cricket. Will they be willing to do that ? Your guess is as good as mine!

(Disclaimer: For a change, Cricket Age has not put it’s own opinion in the story and will continue to do so in the upcoming installments of the series)

About the author

N Krishnamurthy