27 July, 2021

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Sri Lanka Cricket: A New Strategic Direction? 

By Gamini Jayaweera

Gamini Jayaweera

These days a plethora of opinions have been expressed by politicians, past cricketers, SLC administrators, media personnel, and cricket lovers from all over Sri Lanka and abroad, about what has gone wrong with Sri Lankan cricket. The blame game has started. 

Most critics are blaming the SLC Board officials and their alleged corrupt practices. Some observers are very critical of the Manager and the Chairman of Selectors for his poor selection decisions and ineffective managerial skills. Others shift the blame onto the foreign coaching staff for failing to understand our culture. Many find fault with what they consider to be overpaid unfit cricketers who lack discipline, or they may lay the blame on participation in the T20 tournaments. Some blame the SLC Constitution, some highlight the failure of the school cricket structure for not producing talented cricketers, some others pass the buck onto the SLC membership for not electing the “right” people. The list is long, and the allegations are endless. 

Today, we as a nation in mourning because of the gradual decline in our brand of cricket in the international arena. Some of our cricketers have been accused, banned, and punished by the International Cricket Council for match fixing, irregular behaviour, and the failure to play the “gentlemen’s” game according to its processes and procedures. 

Some of our well-known Parliamentarians have also accused a number of well-known past players for match fixing and have pointed the finger at cricket administrators for bribery and corruption. Certain SLC administrators have also been accused of having dubious ethical values that allow them to stay in power by manipulating the Constitution to suit their requirements.

 Despite these criticisms, I consider that most of our cricketers are honest and decent guys. However, some of them have recently exhibited a lack of discipline and a lack of professionalism in their approach to the game.

About 25 years ago most of these same people were expressing their positive opinions about Sri Lankan cricket for different reasons. In 1996, we were celebrating winning the Cricket World Cup by beating well-established, powerful, and rich cricketing nations. Robert Winder, a former literary editor of the Independent newspaper in the UK, writing about Sri Lanka’s success in the 1996 world cup in his book titled “Hell for Leather” stated “Sri Lanka looked a street or two ahead in every area: batting, bowling, fielding, thinking and cheek………. They never looked rushed or hassled. They played as if they knew they were going to win.”    

Where Did We Go Wrong?  

I do not want to harp on about past failures, but I do believe that unless we carry out a realistic ‘situation analysis’ we will be unable to address the deep-rooted problems in SLC and we will not therefore be able to move forward with confidence. 

Some past captains and the Hon. Minister of Sports stated in recent TV interviews said that the decline of SLC started in 2015. I believe that the “small corrosion” (beginning of the decline), which one of them referred to in the interview, started on the day the President of the SLC Board, Mr. Ana Punchihewa was ousted from his position within 2 months of winning the 1996 Cricket World Cup. Since the departure of Mr. Ana Punchihewa, the SLC has been very poorly managed by Dharmadasas, Sumathipalas, Ranatungas, De Silvas, and a few others. It is a fact that nearly 25 years after winning the World Cup, SLC is still managed by the “same old people” with only a few new faces.

After winning the World Cup, SLC was flooded with a huge amount of money. This level of funding had never previously been experienced. The SLC Board did not reinvest the money for the development of the infrastructure of cricket in SL. As a result, the standard of SL Cricket has deteriorated, and the money has been mis-managed and mis-used by people who were responsible for managing the SLC. They did not have a Vision, Mission, Objective, Strategy, or the Tactics to develop the SLC infrastructure. They failed to raise the “bar” to the next level. 

It is same with the business environment. I would like to take one example to illustrate my point of view. We all knew about ‘Kodak’ cameras in the 60s, 70s, and early 80s. They were earning huge sums of money and making substantial profits over the years but failed to invest in new technology and the workforce to keep up with the changing environment and to provide what people wanted. They became a ‘Cash Cow’ and failed to learn the right lessons to make the right transition. As a result, the company lost money. They filed for bankruptcy in 2012 because they were unable to compete with other progressive competitors. 

Way Forward

In this brief article, I will try to highlight a few items among many other important requirements, to draw the attention of the Hon. Minister of Sports to contemplate on these issues prior to finalising the New Strategic Direction which is being prepared by a team of professionals headed by the well-respected former Captain of Sri Lanka, Mr. Mahela Jayawardena.

Some argue that we need to go back to “the old ways of managing” the SLC because our success in 1996 was based on ‘good old methods’. I believe that this outdated approach will not work. After 25 years we now need to look at a new prevailing environment that will embrace new technology, and new ways of managing people, etc. Mr. Anna Punchihewa in a recent interview highlighted the very point when he was asked whether Mahela and Sanga would adopt his Strategy which was drafted prior to 1996. He confirmed my view that implementing ‘good old methods’ without taking into consideration the current environment is a recipe for disaster. This reminds me of the statement made by the famous Sri Lankan writer and poet, the late Mr. Arisen Ahubudu. “අලුත් අලුත් දෑ නොතතන ජාතිය ලොව නොනගී” (A nation which does not look for new things will not rise above other nations).

New Strategic Direction

It is particularly important that the New Strategic Direction which is being drafted by Mahela & Co. must include a plan to spread 1st class cricket into most parts of the island in order to capture the up-and-coming talent from all corners of the country. In this regard, I propose that the Hon. Minister of Sports spearheads a programme of works during the next five-year period to construct and refurbish 1st class status cricket grounds in and around Jaffna, Kurunegala, Anuradhapura, and Negombo. This will add to the outstation grounds that we already have in Kandy, Galle, and Hambantota. 

Currently, there are number of 1st class cricket clubs in and around Colombo that are remarkably close to each other. Over the next five-year period, gradually we need to reduce the number of 1st class cricket clubs in Colombo to a maximum of 5 or 6 to play in the 1st Division. This will give us the opportunity to organise the 1st Class Cricket Competition with a maximum of 11 or 12 clubs representing almost all parts of the Island. It is also important that we should develop Centres of Excellence within the premises of the six outstation clubs (excluding Hambantota which is a Test Cricket Ground) and one Colombo Club, for nurturing the young talent in each area.    

When we develop these Centres of Excellence, I hope that the Hon. Minister of Sports will not make the same mistake that is made by most of the politicians when they undertake to construct government building projects. When the responsible parties prepare feasibility studies to carry out government construction projects, very often they focus on the capital costs only. They fail to carry out a Whole Life Cycle Costs analysis that also includes operating costs, maintenance costs, and associated financing costs, in addition to the design & construction Costs. 

Often a project is completed and hurriedly opened by politicians for political gains. It is only then that they realise that they do not have a budget to properly maintain it. That is the reason why we so often spot several new rundown government buildings in SL, even though they have only been open for a short period of time. 

In the past we have had to abandon Moratuwa Cricket Stadium, Uda Pussellawa Cricket Ground, Kurunagala Welagedera Cricket Stadium and DuraiAppa stadium in Jaffna due to poor or no maintenance. The Kurunagala Welagedera Cricket Stadium staged only two international matches (2 ODIs) in 2008 since its construction in 1972. It was built to an “international standard”, but it was later abandoned as a 1st class cricket venue due to a failure to maintain it to its required status.  

To maintain a 1st class cricket stadium with in-house cricket teams that are involved in national tournaments for most of the year is not only expensive but also extremely hard work. The management of these newly formed clubs need to work hard to attract enough playing and paying members to support the clubs and their teams. We must also bear in mind that throughout the year the staff (coaching & ground) must be retained. Salaries must be paid, buildings and furniture need to be repaired or replaced, grounds need to be maintained to the required level, etc. Can the government dish out taxpayers’ money to bailout these stadiums to maintain their 1st class status throughout the year, if necessary?

The New Strategic Direction plan should include a short-term (5 year) plan to financially support these clubs until they develop their own Business Development Plans to become self-sufficient in the long run. Business communities in these areas should be encouraged to sponsor these cricket clubs to contribute to the much-needed financial support. The Hon. Minister of Sports and the SLC must intervene to support these clubs financially for up to about 5 years to ensure that the New Strategic Plan that is put in place will be a success.

Some of the professional cricketers from the Colombo Clubs (once they are gradually reduced to 5 or 6 over the 5-year period) should be encouraged to join these outstation clubs to bolster the quality of 1st class cricket in these areas until they develop their own home-grown 1st class players. There should be financial incentives for the 1st class players from Colombo to join these outstation clubs in the short run. 

Emotional Intelligence

We can have good leaders who clearly define the direction to make it clear what is expected from staff and the players. We can have skilful staff and talented cricketers. We can provide necessary facilities and information to all our cricketers and the staff. But the behaviour of the leadership will always be one of the most important factors in motivating the staff and the players to perform at their highest levels to achieve their individual goals and the collective results desired by all cricket lovers. 

During a TV discussion with three past captains and a coach, someone highlighted the point about Kusal Mendis snatching the microphone from another player to talk to the interviewer, exhibiting lack of discipline from the player. One of the captains’ response was disturbing. He said “මම හිටියනන් කණ පැලෙන්න ගහනවා ඌට” (If I were there, I would have hit him hard on the ear to split it). We cannot adopt “good old” policies like these to discipline players or anyone else in the organisation. We cannot condone that kind of behaviour in any shape or form. How can you motivate people to improve their performance at any task, if the hierarchy is going to behave like this? 

It is widely accepted that the capacity for recognising our own feelings and those of others is an especially important factor for motivating ourselves and others.  Building relationships with players by the coaches and administrators is vital for achieving the best possible preparation and for realising superior performances. No one, at any level should humiliate talented sportsmen and sportswomen. Every human being is entitled to receive respect and dignity. The responsible senior members in the SLC should be using their leadership qualities to motivate the players when they are going through a bad patch rather than humiliating them in public. It has been recognised that motivation in sport is a particularly important factor for achieving superior performance.

Any New Strategic Direction should include a policy to educate the officials on certain aspects of their Emotional Intelligence, such as Motivation, Interpersonal Sensitivity, and Influence. According to Goleman (1998), Emotional Intelligence becomes more important when one goes higher up the organisation. It is also important that the officials strike an appropriate balance between situation and task, bearing in mind the needs and concerns of the team members involved. The following diagram illustrates the importance of Behaviour of the Leadership to get the ‘right’ results the ‘right’ way.

The above diagram is adapted from Six Sigma Qualtec modified by the Bechtel Corp.  

Maintaining Consistent Performance Results the “Right Way”

D – Direction by Leadership   C – Competent Staff & Talented Players

O – Opportunities & Facilities M – Motivation through Behaviour

Interim Committee or Not?

It is refreshing to hear from the Hon. Minister of Sports about his opposition to establishing an Interim Committee to administer the SLC, unless such an interim committee becomes absolutely necessary due to any unethical or illegal behaviour by the officials in the SLC. The Young Minister of Sports should be applauded for his mature approach in rejecting the proposal, submitted by some past players and politically motivated sections in society, to appoint an Interim Committee to administer the SLC. 

It is a violation of the independence of the institution which is run by officials who have been elected through the ballot box by their membership for the duration as specified in the SLC Constitution. An interim committee is not the solution to “the problem”. I understand that “the problem” is being addressed in the proposed organisational structure drafted by Mahela & Co. I believe that if the Hon. Minister appoints an interim committee to administer the SLC, he will tarnish our cricketing image in the cricketing world, and we are likely to end up as “Losers” in the international sporting arena. Please refer to my article titled “Sri Lanka Sports: Losers In The Interim” published in The Colombo Telegraph on 13 April 2015 for detailed analysis.

Conclusion

It appears that politicians, past cricketers, media personnel, and cricket lovers from all over Sri Lanka and abroad are united in saying that only the New Minister of Sports” could save the SLC from what is currently a disastrous situation. 

They believe that because the President of the country is his uncle, and the Prime Minister is his father he has their full authority and backing to brush aside any opposition to implement the New Strategic Direction once it is scrutinised, digested, and approved by the Minister of Sports. 

But I honestly believe that the young Minister of Sports has taken on a huge challenge to address the 25-year-old “deep rooted” problems that have previously been overlooked by his predecessors from both major political parties. 

He has already taken steps to appoint well respected past cricketers as members of the Technical Committee. Media reports indicate that the Minister is also working very closely with Mr. Mahela Jayawardena, a respected strategist, to restructure the SLC development plan. It has been reported that the long awaited and much needed amendments to the SLC Constitution are being drafted to reduce the number of eligible voters to elect the members to the Executive Council. 

Sri Lankan cricket lovers from all corners of the World are eager to see that the standard of SLC is raised as soon as possible in order to challenge the other leading nations. However, I believe that we cannot take hasty decisions. Sadly, in the short run over the coming years we may have to use some “sticking plasters” to allow us to fulfil our obligations to the ICC cricketing fixtures. The young Minister of Sports recently stated that it would take about five years to complete this arduous task. It can be done, and it must be done.  

 We may have to accept more pain until the New Strategic Direction is successfully implemented. We cricket lovers while supporting these radical changes, must demonstrate our patience in that regard over the coming years. I hope that the New Strategic Direction which is being currently prepared will address the “issues” which have been debated in the public domain but sadly, have been neglected for more than two decades. I conclude this brief article with the following quote by the late President of the USA, Harry S. Truman 

“You can accomplish anything in life, provided that you do not mind who gets the Credit.”  

 *The writer is a former cricketer who has played for Isipathana College and SSC

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Latest comments

  • 3
    0

    I don’t know how far this is true ….but why apply this to just cricket?
    why cant the entire life in Sri Lanka taken out of politics and be politics/party/race/religion free.

    Lets the politicians serve the citizens and give a harmonious environment for the citizens to achieve their potential

    Sri Lanka is full of aspiring young intellectuals.
    we had enough brain drain

  • 1
    0

    The mere thinking that the President of the country is his uncle, and the Prime Minister is his father, of the man in charge of revitalizing the game reveals that the writer is incapable of conceptualizing the larger picture. It was not ruling families that brought our cricket to world class. Cricket must be taken away from politicians.

  • 2
    0

    Mr. Gamini Jayaweera,
    .
    Part of the problem is “Critical Mass”.
    .
    In 80s and 90s you get in to a public transport and can see huge numbers of smiling school cricketers of all ages with that long sports bag.
    .
    On those days you can’t drive 200 metres in a rural area without passing few cricket matches playing on the road.
    .
    But sadly kids lost the interest. May be due to educational pressure.
    .
    And we don’t have that all important “critical mass” now.

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