No Cricket Without Players, Need to protect their Image: Thilanga Sumathipala

Written by N Krishnamurthy

If not for the last minute intervene by the Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) hierarchy to resolve the ongoing annual contract dispute, the England tour would have been called off by now! It took a last minute intervention by SLC president Shammi Silva and Co. to convince 38 cricketers to play, who are demanding a revision of the overall scoring and ranking system which sees points being allocated on five attributes–performance, fitness, leadership, professionalism, and future potential and adaptability. The issue escalated last Monday at the team hotel in Colombo, a day prior to the scheduled departure to UK, where there were heated arguments between the players and SLC officials. Only after a written confirmation from the SLC that the matter will be sorted after the tour, the players agreed to play England series.

However, it’s only a temporary solution, as players have agreed to tour England uncontracted and are not fighting for the money, but only for the transparency. There is another concern among the players that only 7% of SLC’s budgeted earnings are being disbursed to the cricketers and that the players are the only ones who are getting a pay-cut.

In this scenario, as in the influence of Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa’s so called advisors, Aravinda De Silva, the clueless chairman of cricket advisory committee, along with over the top Tom Moody has completely messed up an otherwise uncomplicated ‘annual contract‘ procedure, it’s almost certain that the conflict will be resurfaced as soon as the England tour ends.

Though, surprisingly, even as the dispute made headlines in International media as well, none of the former administrator, legend,  cricketer voiced against this ridiculously unpractical proposed annual contract. All those torchbearers, who sprouts like mushrooms during the election time, have gone missing now, proving that they are just the seasonal frogs.

Amid this impotency in standing for the truth, one man, surprisingly, has raised his voice in favor of cricketers! And it’s none other than former SLC president Thilanga Sumathipala!

Sumathipala, without going in details in controversies surrounding him and what transpired for him to be barred from Sri Lanka Cricket, is undoubtedly one of the most successful president in the history of the game in the Island. He not only brought commercialization and sponsorship for Sri Lanka Cricket, but also played an important role in cricket infrastructure development.

In the ongoing annual contract controversy, Sumathipala stands with cricketers, saying there is no cricket without them!

“I have handled players contracts more than 10 times, from 1995. Even when Arjuna (Ranatunga) and Aravinda were playing. There is no cricket without cricketers. It’s like wedding without a bride. We have to protect their image and reputation too. Aravinda, Namal Rajapaksa (Sports Minister) and Big wigs at SLC can’t be bigger than the game” Sumathipala told Cricket Age. 

24 players have been slotted into four grades – A, B, C, D with each grade further divided into three sub-categories bearing different retainer values. The players wants to be judged only by the performance and fitness. Aravinda, however, wants to implement the bizarre ranking system, just to justify white elephant Tom Moody’s worth, who was hired on a whopping salary package, largely due to his closeness with some so called ‘IPL contracts greedy’ legends.

“Get the players categorized first. Then look at the three years International players budget allocation. Then segment the value for each category.  Get them to sign. Whoever is not a contracted player, selectors should no power to pick them. Split the negotiations of the batches into two  and renew it twice a year, so no pressure for anyone to group up” Former SLC president presented his own blueprint in moving forward.

Amid the ongoing chaos, Pramodaya Wickramasinghe led selection committee (In the supervision of Tom Moody, Micky Arthur, Sports Council chairman Mahela Jayawardene and they all must be applauded for this) has taken one visionary and bold decision: to kick out non performing seniors and infuse new blood in the system. Indeed, appointing Kusal Perera as shorter formats captain is a decision in right direction, which will benefit Sri Lanka cricket in long term.

“The team must be built around Kusal Perera, Kusal Mendis, Niroshan Dickwela, Dhananjaya de Silva and Danushka Gunathilake. If we keep these players as core group, in next 6-8 months we can improve our ODI and T20 Rankings” Sumathipala opined further.

Sri Lanka are scheduled to play three one-day internationals and three T20I matches during the UK tour.

About the author

N Krishnamurthy