Sri Lanka, marred by off-field chaos

Sri Lanka's complete annihilation was perhaps not surprising given the capricious state of affairs away from the cricket field.

Arjuna Ranatunga, the former captain, kept questioning the running of Sri Lanka’s cricket by the new board president Thilanga Sumathipala.   -  AP

Dinesh Chandimal’s appointment as captain of Sri Lanka’s Test team wasn’t a one-off big decision taken in Sri Lanka’s cricket. Rather, he was the latest figure to appear in the ‘passing the parcel’ game being played by shareholders of the country’s cricket. 

The board, the manager, the selectors, the coaches and the captains – all have been affected by the seemingly poisonous environment marked by distrust and short-term thinking.

Moreover, too many strings were being pulled to dictate the path forward for the national team. Even leaving aside the inevitable problems with the lust for power among administrators, too many ideas or templates for growth and success were anyway likely to be detrimental for the team. Who hasn’t heard of the saying, “Too many cooks spoil the broth?”

The 3-0 defeat to India may have been shocking to the casual observer of the contests, but with the chaos within Sri Lankan cricket, it served as an apt mirror. Leading up to the Test series, it seemed deliberate efforts were made consistently to unsettle the team and its individual members.

Ahead of the World Twenty20 last year, Sri Lanka’s team of selectors were sacked en masse. There were allegations of interference by the country’s sports ministry, according to the Sri Lankan Daily Mirror. Aravinda de Silva, the new head of the selection committee, soon resigned from his post, paving the way for Sanath Jayasuriya to lead the committee.

Aravinda, who was head of a cricket committee, took umbrage to the appointment of Allan Donald as bowling coach earlier this year and duly put in his papers, as did the head coach Graham Ford, both alleging interference in their roles.

With the team under intense scrutiny and the results not up to the mark, a bigger resignation was to follow, that of Angelo Mathews. Despite all the chaos before this, Mathews’ departure from his role, which seemed one of the few roles within Sri Lankan cricket that were long term, was a big blow to the team. For he had been shaped and backed for leadership by legends Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to mitigate the pains of transition with their departure and lay the seeds for a new prosperous generation.

For the last couple of years, Mathews hadn’t been able to oversee much success. Things looked bright when his team scythed through Australia at home last summer, but this was a solitary oasis – the team endured abyss in the period before and after that triumph. Perhaps the patience of the usually unruffled Mathews broke when his team was defeated by Bangladesh in a Test and then slumped to an embarrassing loss in a one-day series against Zimbabwe.

Amid all this, there were those who made news to further scare and unsettle the team. Following the failed Champions Trophy campaign, which did contain a morale-boosting win over eventual finalist India, the sports minister publicly castigated the side for what he believed were fitness issues and forced Malinga to apologise for his verbal retaliation. The Sri Lankan sports minister has now asked for a report outlining reasons for Sri Lanka's 3-0 defeat. It's yet another affirmation of the atmosphere of fear within Sri Lanka's cricket.

Arjuna Ranatunga, the former captain, kept questioning the running of Sri Lanka’s cricket by the new board president Thilanga Sumathipala, and even weirdly alleged corruption in the World Cup final in 2011. He called on the International Cricket Council to initiate a probe against the current Sri Lanka Cricket regime. Sumathipala, in reaction, blamed Ranatunga for eyeing power.

On the field, Dinesh Chandimal failed to stem the likely disaster. His batsmen were unsure against pace and spin, his spinners were easily negotiated by meticulous Indian batsmen, and his fast bowlers were easy fodder. Moreover, key men in Nuwan Pradeep, the lone bright spot among pacers in the first Test, and Rangana Herath fell injured.

Besides the new captain, two other new personnel within the team management - Hashan Tillakaratne and Chaminda Vaas - bravely faced the media to appeal for calm. They were yet another pair of professionals hired to help the team improve itself - a task unlikely to be fulfilled without longer stints and indication of faith.

The gulf between India and Sri Lanka may have been large - but the host's woes are surely compounded by the viciated atmosphere around it. When no one knows what is to follow, unity is prevented and efforts aren't directed towards the required path. Why then the surprise in the abject surrender?