- Cricket selectors quit amidst mounting criticism against Sri Lanka team’s performance
- Cricket crisis figures at Cabinet meeting with verbal clash between Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara and Captain Cool Minister Arjuna Ranatunga
- Sri Lanka has failed to beat India for 20 years in a bilateral ODI series
The crumbling performance of Sri Lanka Cricket one of the most prominent brands of the country got a fresh jolt yesterday with all the selectors resigning in an unprecedented development welcomed by most enthusiasts of the game.
Sources said it was the first time that selectors have resigned en masse whilst a tour was on. The move comes after Sri Lanka suffered a whitewash in the Test series against India whilst losing the ODI series.
The selectors were Sanath Jayasuriya, Ranjith Madurasinghe, Romesh Kaluwitharana, Asanka Gurusinha and Eric Upashantha.
Some analysts said it was not fair to put the entire blame on the selectors as the players too have not lived up to their full potential or have been playing below par.
In support of this view, analysts pointed out that Sri Lanka was yet to win an ODI bilateral series against India for 20 years. Sri Lanka last managed to draw a series in 1997. India’s current ODI winning streak equalled the second-longest such sequence for a team against any opposition.
The crisis in the country’s cricket was also felt at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting with an argument breaking out between Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara and former World Cup-winning ‘Captain Cool’ Petroleum Resources Development Minister Arjuna Ranatunga. The latter however has been a vocal critic of the Sri Lanka Cricket Board led by Deputy Speaker Thilanga Sumathipala.
The verbal exchange between the two ministers forced President Maithripala Sirisena to intervene in the matter.
The argument broke out when Ranatunga found fault with the Sports Minister after the latter presented a Cabinet Paper to renovate the artificial track of the Sugathadasa Stadium.
This prompted Ranatunga to point out the shortcomings in the Cabinet paper presented by Jayasekara. Annoyed by Ranatunga’s comment, Jayasekara, who has been on the receiving end of criticism for his refusal to remove Cricket Board Chairman Thilanga Sumathipala, accused the Petroleum Minister of meddling in the affairs of others.
“The Sports Minister claimed that he was being accused of having dealings with betting centre owners, accusing Minister Ranatunga of playing cricket in the Port Ministry and Petroleum Ministry,” one source told Daily FT.
Jayasekara’s response resulted in Ranatunga pledging to always stand up for cricket no matter which portfolio he held.
In frustration, the Sports Minister offered to swap portfolios with Ranatunga, an offer which he turned down. Instead Ranatunga offered to take over the Sports Ministry in addition to his current ministry, adding that he had a right to make such a demand.
The verbal battle finally ended with a promise from the President to discuss the matter at a later date.
Ranatunga on Monday said fans should hoot at the administrators and not the cricketers, a reference to an incident which occurred during the third ODI against India in Pallakele when bottles were thrown onto the field. The two remaining ODIs will be played in Colombo.
“The selection panel felt they should step down, allowing the board to appoint a fresh set of selectors in view of the criticism and the crowd reaction on Sunday,” an AFP report said quoting an unnamed source close to Jayasuriya.
The losses against India in Tests and ODI compounded the misery for the national side, which suffered a humiliating ODI home series defeat against bottom-ranked Zimbabwe and bowed out early from the Champions Trophy in England. Sri Lanka also lost to Bangladesh in a recent Test in addition to a dismal tour of South Africa.
Popular sports website ESPNCricinfo said the committee will step down after the tour concludes, two months after it had been given a six-month extension that would have taken it through until the end of the year.
“Sri Lanka Cricket Chief Selector Sanath Jayasuriya, as well as committee members Ranjith Madurasinghe, Romesh Kaluwitharana, Asanka Gurusinha and Eric Upashantha have decided to resign,” the Sri Lanka’s Sports Ministry said. “A combined letter bearing the names of the above committee has conveyed this decision to Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara. According to the letter, their tenure will end on September 7.”
ESPNCricinfo said the past few months have seen pressure rapidly mounting on Jayasuriya’s committee to step down. Heavily criticised for making too many changes, having no clear vision and failing to persist with talented players, the losses during the India tour had seen public perception of the committee sink to new lows.
Jayasuriya has always been a hands-on chief selector, but there have also been suggestions from within the team that he repeatedly overstepped his bounds. It was not uncommon to see him advising players in the approach to or during games.
Jayasuriya had also recently taken to publicly defending his committee, suggesting the volume of injuries Sri Lanka suffered over the past year had necessitated frequent changes to the playing XI. Since his committee was appointed in May last year, Sri Lanka fielded 51 international cricketers across all formats, including 40 in ODIs alone.
This was also Jayasuriya’s second stint as chief selector. Counting his first tenure, which ran for two years, he has had the job for three of the past four years.
Despite Sri Lanka’s recent failures, however, the same selection committee - sans Gurusinha who was added in April - had also been in force when Sri Lanka whitewashed Australia in the Test series last year.
Sri Lanka’s next international assignment will be the tour of the UAE and Pakistan, which is expected to begin in late September. A new set of selectors is likely to be named over the course of the next three weeks.