By Gamini Jayaweera –
Sri Lanka cricket was admired by cricket fans all over the world for the way they have played their cricket exhibiting technical skills, explosive batting, magical bowling, outstanding fielding, and canny dynamic captaincy. We won the cricket world cup in 1996 because we had the above qualities in our cricketers and a brilliant Administrator together with a very good Coach who worked together with the Captain, drawing up and implementing Strategies and focusing on them daily until they achieved their mission. ie Winning the World Cup.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Winston Churchill
Robert Winder, a former Literary Editor of the Independent newspaper in UK, writing about the 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.”
It was a glorious success but unfortunately it appears that the administrators who took over the Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) from the winning management team in 1997 did not have a Vision, Mission, Objectives, or a clear Strategy to develop the infrastructure that was needed to search and develop new talent, maintain and enhance the existing talent, introduce innovations, and undertake succession planning. These basic attributes were ignored because the new administrators thought the 1996 success was final and would last for ever. I believe that it was the main reason that we were eliminated in the 1st round in 1999 world cup and could not proceed beyond semi-finals in 2003.
During 2007 and 2014 SLC has shown some successes at international competitions by winning the T20 world cup in 2014, as runners-up in 2009 & 2012 and ODI runners-up in 2007 & 2011. These successes were solely due to the services of well-respected foreign coaches and the blessings of having some extraordinarily naturally talented cricketers who had shown excellent leadership qualities despite experiencing some hostile environments from the SLC governing body. So, what happened to SLC since 2015?
We all have witnessed the ugly personal battle between two prominent members and their supporters in the SLC, behaving in a deceitful and insincere manner to capture power without giving due consideration for the development of our most successful international sport where we have excelled as world beaters.
It is sad to learn that the proposals prepared and forwarded by some of our well-respected former cricketers to restructure the SLC have been ignored because of the divisions and egoism demonstrated by the members in the current administration. The two prominent members in this dispute have plenty of strong opinions but they lack a very important leadership quality called humility, which is an inherent problem with most of our politicians.
I hope the following quote from an article published in the Forbes on 18 July 2018 by Karen Higginbottom may help the leaders of the two warring factions in the SLC to reflect on their behaviour and to change their attitudes for the sake of the future of SLC.
“Substantial research shows that humility predicts effective leadership. Humility is associated with minimizing status differences, listening to subordinates, soliciting input, admitting mistakes and being willing to change course when a plan seems not to work.”
In one of my articles titled “Sri Lanka Cricket – It’s Time For Action To Stop The ‘Rot’” published in the Colombo Telegraph on 26 August 2017, following our exit from the 1st round of the Champions Trophy, I was amongst other things, critical of the then Chairman of Selectors, Mr. Sanath Jayasuriya for the selection of 45 cricketers to play for Sri Lanka within a very short period of time. But unfortunately, it appears that the members in the current selection committee have not learnt anything from the past mistakes.
In support of my statement I would like to point out few shortcomings in the latest debacle. The fast bowlers who have excelled in the last two years have been either dropped from the squad or dropped after one match. One of the batsmen who has exhibited immense talent in ODIs & T20s in the recent past has been ignored in this competition. In 2017 the Indian Captain, Virat Kholi referring to this player’s performance in the 3rd Test stated, “He will be a great asset for Sri Lanka”. Few other talented cricketers who have performed well at international level during last 2 years have also been overlooked. The Selectors may have their own reasons for the omission of these players, but I feel that the confidence of these talented young cricketers at international level has been seriously damaged by dropping them from the side due to an irrational selection process.
I firmly believe that the changes to the batting order for a few players have had a huge negative impact on their confidence because they are batting at unusual positions. I respectfully request the Captain and the Coach to look at the performances of the following three past and recent cricketers at the international cricket. Mark Ramprakash was one of the finest batsmen England has ever produced but his international career was cut short due to changes in his batting position many times, resulting poor performances at international level. England’s Moeen Ali, a very good batsman and a high performer at county level has shown erratic batting performances at international level due to batting at different positions. Most recently the England Captain, Joe Root was promoted to bat at no.3 from no.4 position but failed miserably. Joe Root himself decided against the management decision and changed the batting order for him to bat at his usual position of no. 4 in the 2nd innings of the recently concluded 5th Test against India where he scored a century. So, it is very important that the responsible managers at SLC think very carefully about these finer points before making decisions which may have serious negative impacts on the confidence of our talented young cricketers.
As a nation we are suffering from the unnecessary interference by some of our politicians who think that they have got the knowledge, experience, and the expertise to resolve all issues in our national institutions. Ministers from successive governments in the recent past have adopted this method to flex their muscle over the decisions made by senior members of the civil service and independent institutions. The Ministry of Sports is no exception.
We have seen in the past, Sport Ministers getting involved in teams’ physical fitness, criticising players in public for dropping catches, putting undue pressure on team selections, direct administration of democratically elected (though I do not agree with the SLC’s current electoral system) independent sports institutions, undermining decisions made by CEOs on employee transfer matters, etc to name a few.
The Hon. Minister of Sports is a person who is responsible and accountable for developing and raising standards in ALL sports in Sri Lanka to the highest international level. The ministers should not get involved in things that they do not need to get involved in. e.g taking direct control of administrative matters of sports bodies and other government institutions by themselves. These kinds of interferences remind me of the famous Portuguese Proverb “Not my circus, not my monkeys”. Trying to take control of what is in someone else’s circus can produce disastrous consequences. I Hope our politicians will reflect on this proverb and think twice before they interfere unnecessarily in the management of the internal matters of independent sports bodies and other government institutions.
Yes, we have lost badly to Bangaladesh and Afganistan. Yes, our batting, bowling, fielding, and thinking were mediocre. Yes, the players were lacking in concentration of performing their tasks. Yes, it appears that we have made a few mistakes in the preparation and selection of players for the Asia Cup tournament. The players have already made apologies and accepted that their performances were well below the brand of cricket that the srilankan cricketers used to play in the past.
I hope the Hon. Minister of Sports would concentrate on his ministry level administrative matters related to SLC by finding a solution to reducing the number of SLC representatives who are currently eligible to vote from over 100 to less than 50, as proposed by some of our well-respected past cricketers. I believe that if this proposal is implemented it will improve the openness, accountability, and responsibility of the SLC because it will reduce the environment to form a group culture from the top office bearers and their henchmen, resulting in the ability to act against allegations of corruption and mis-behaviours very quickly.
The Hon. Minister has problems in other sports bodies which are not performing their duties honestly and efficiently to produce world class athletes. We have experienced this dilemma in the recently concluded Asian Games where Sri Lanka Athletics could not win a single medal. It would have been more beneficial if the Hon. Minister of Sports would have focused his attention on ALL sports bodies to ensure that legislations are in place to stop elected officials using these sports bodies as gravy trains to fulfil their personal gains. These are the kind of issues that the public and the sports lovers in Sri Lanka would expect to see the Hon. Ministers being directly involved in.
There is no doubt that we have talented cricketers and an internationally well-respected coach. We need to have the courage to learn lessons from our failure, adopt a more structured policy to change our plan very quickly to prepare for the forthcoming world cup. I suggest that the practice of mindfulness meditation for at least half hour a day for all players until the end of 2019 world cup should be made mandatory to develop concentration, which is a major shortcoming in our players. It is scientifically proved that athletes who practice meditation every day gain immense benefits, such as training the mind to focus on job in hand, positively respond to fear, tension & emotions, deal with negative thoughts effectively, and increase the absorption capacity in the brain etc. amongst other things. I believe that it is a waste of time having pep talks from our famous past cricketers just before the start of a major competition if we have not prepared our players mentally and physically to get inspiration from such talks.
“Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be” – John Wooden
Yes, Sri Lanka’s cricket hit rock bottom. But it is not the end. If we are brave enough to change the course now, as we have experienced that the existing plan is not working, I am optimistic that we would be able to repeat the same words of Robert Winder at the end of the 2019 World Cup Final to say “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.”
Good Luck Sri Lanka Cricket!
*The writer is a former cricketer who has played for Isipathana College and SSC