He was explaining about an incident which took place when he was at the helm of cricket in Sri Lanka. “At an ICC meeting, I was in conversation with Bangladesh Cricket President Nazmul Hasan Papon. I was explaining the steps the Lankans had earmarked to upgrade facilities in Sri Lanka. We were talking about the proposed swimming pool and allied facilities that would be a part of our cricket soon.
“After listening to my explanation, the Bangladesh cricket chief replied, ‘we have three such facilities in our country’. I was taken a back a bit, but then, I realised their forward planning was spot on. But ironically, today, those very upgrades to our system are stillborn”.
Then, I cleared up my mind. I knew as to why Bangladesh is more competitive in the game of cricket today.
Nevertheless, my initial questions to Sidath Wettimuny were how he saw Sri Lanka’s cricket debacle during the Bangladesh series and was it an ominous sign? Wettimuny explained, “What we are seeing now is the symptom of a disease that we have been carrying for a while. We can’t blame the cricketers. To me, we are in this position because club administrators, for the last so many years, have not allowed people who contested the elections to think of a first class tournament which is better than club cricket. We are still basking in the glory of 1996, saying, we won a World Cup playing club cricket. But they do not realise that everything has changed since ’96. But, we still want to cling to this club cricket and say that it can deliver, but the truth is it can’t.”
“For so long, I have said that we need a tournament which is at a far higher level than club cricket. To me, when I see our national players, the best example I can come up is that, you ask an ‘O’ Level student to sit the exam without the two year preparation. You have to bridge that gap between international cricket and our domestic cricket. We have not done that for a long time. I think the club administrators are at fault to a great degree.”
Yet, I had my own doubts. Even in the past, we have tried out this provincial philosophy. But, we only have managed to pick some ‘ahindas’ and form a few teams and conduct a tournament. But, up to now, we have not managed to deliver the goods.
Obviously, the cricket doyen did not agree with my sentiments. Wettimuny explained, “The problem is that, nobody has given time for these tournaments — be it provincial or Zonal or inter-city – to take root. If you go back in time, I think it was during the Interim Committee of Vijaya Malalasekera that we started that 5-11 Provincial tournament. Believe me, with six phone calls, I raised Rs. 60 million, bringing in some of the best sponsors in this country. They just loved it. But, as soon as that tournament was over, the team that followed us (the administration that came after us) just dismantled the whole thing. Then, if you look back, it has been the attempt to bring in these tournaments.”
“The last time I was in the Interim Committee, I wanted to bring in the zonal tournament. We really wanted cities. One important thing you need in this tournament is crowd interest. So we said, if we played Colombo, Kandy, Kurunegala, Galle and have one northern and have one North-East combined team, we would generate a lot more interest. But then, it was scuttled and that was it.”
At this end, we pointed out “even now, Thilanga Sumathipala and Sri Lanka Cricket are involved in a tournament that the local clubs are known as – as you said – Colombo, Kurunegala and Galle.”
Wettimuny explained, “Just having a tournament is not right. You have to build the base; you have to build the infrastructure that goes into those teams. In fact, Mahela Jayawardena did a very good document of what he felt – what is required to build such units. But, that has been forgotten. I read, Sangakkara saying the same thing. I think it is time we brought people like Mahela and Sangakkara into our administration to correct these. They are playing all over the world, seeing the best cricket in the world; they know what is happening, why aren’t we using them? If we go on in this manner, we will be in the bottom of the pile. Whereas, it won’t be long before countries like Bangladesh will overtake us. We are beginning to see that now. Now Bangladesh has developed their system and infrastructure very well. It shows we are lagging behind and we have this horrible habit of dismantling whoever has done something before. We are not building blocks on top of each other and making progress. We keep destroying what somebody else has done before. Ultimately, it is the game that suffers. You feel so sad that, as a Sri Lankan – as an ex-Sri Lanka cricketer – we were world champions in this game. Let’s not forget that we have abundance of talent. I still say that our talent is far superior to that of Bangladesh. But, there is more sustained effort and development in those countries now, while we are running in the same place. Where have we moved in the past 10-15 years?”
We stressed a point at that moment? We pointed out that now the majority of the players who were members of the ’96 winning combination is with the Sumathipala administration – the system.
Lord Sid, as he is also known in the cricketing circles, said, “What is the system? Haphazardly bringing in people does not resolve any problem. You need sustained, controlled plans which run smoothly for years. You do something now, and it is changed the next moment. Next year it is something else. At the end, we are doing nothing. I see some worrying signs now. I have the greatest respect for Asanka Gurusinha as a batsman. I was at the Dambulla match, and I see him in the middle of the ground talking to Sanath Jayasuriya and two players. I did not see the coach anywhere! I see a problem there. You see, you got a coach and you got a cricket manager, I do not know whether the functions of these two are defined clearly. The way I see it – I am just guessing – Graham Ford won’t last long. He is going to be an unhappy man, if he is going to see somebody else taking cricketing decisions. So where are we going? Is that the right way ahead? You can’t do patchwork and develop our game. You need to have proper concrete plans. You must know why we are doing certain things. So I see worrying signs.”
Yet, the accepted norms in cricket administration have to be followed – we observed. Then, if the system is wrong, what is the solution, we asked Sidath Wettimuny. He said, “The situation is getting bleaker and bleaker. In my opinion, we have to revamp our cricket system completely. At times, I wish, like what happened in India, the Supreme Court or, whatever getting involved. We only could wish if the President and the Prime Minister would realise that this is the only thing that held our people together. Done so much during times of strife, wars and everything; we stood out as a nation and did wonders in cricket. They should not let this fall.”
- S. R. Pathiravithana