Sri Lanka has a memorable record of the game of cricket. Prior to 1972, cricket was restricted to matches played by combined Ceylon teams, in overseas countries. The game was structured to enable inter-club first-class tournaments in 1937, known as the Daily News Trophy.
Seemingly, over the years, when Sri Lankan cricketers began to demonstrate their skills with ‘willow on leather’, the Sri Lanka Board of Cricket was established on 30 June 1975, as a national sports body. The Board approached the International Cricket Council with a view to convincing the ICC to recognise Sri Lanka, to be included in their list of International Test Player Nations. The ICC repeatedly maintained that “Test cricket is a money-spinner and Sri Lanka was an unknown quantity in the international cricket world, as such, it would not be prudent to accommodate into the ICC coterie.
As Minister of Sports, the late Gamini Dissanayake was the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Cricket Board in the early 1980s. He made a charismatic case for Sri Lanka cricket in June 1981 and won over the fustiest of cricket administrators with an eloquent plea on behalf of Sri Lankan Cricket to be granted ‘Test’status. Consequently, in 1982, Sri Lanka played the inaugural Test match at the Oval Cricket Grounds in 1984, having qualified as the eighty Test playing country.
The game of cricket has weathered many a storm ever since. At first, the game suffered due to the political instability in the country, without having a peaceful climate. Next it was a question of financing foreign tours, which thankfully local sponsors raised the requisite money. However, by 1996, Sri Lankan cricket hit the zenith in the game by winning the Cricket World Cup. To achieve such status, the cricket team had all the ingredients required to win, such as team effort, determination, application, commitment, discipline, encouragement, financial support and the much needed catalyst – luck.
It is an open secret that since politics crept into the Sri Lankan Board of Cricket, the down fall of the game was evident. It was widely publicised that some of the Cricket Board officials did not have a profound knowledge of the game, as to how it works, how players organize their day and spectators’ expectations from the cricketers.
A few days ago, Al Jazeera TV opened a can of worms about match fixing where some of the Sri Lankans too got involved in the fraud, which resulted in suspension of the curator at the Galle International Stadium and a professional player who became exposed in the Al Jazeera documentary on corruption of cricket.
Sri Lanka has produced world class cricketers, namely Muttiah Muralitharan, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardena, Sanath Rajasuriya, Roshan Mahanama, Marwan Atapattu, Chandika Haturusinghe, Chaminda Vaas, Upul Chandana, to name a few, but many of them abandoned or they were sacked by the Board (as alleged) due to interference of internal politics within the Board.
Only a few days ago, an interview in Sinhala on youtube, which is going viral on the internet, where a journalist questions Muttiah Muralitharan about two issues, concerning a force entry to a particular cricket club grounds and coaching players; and also, about mowing the lawn of that particular club grounds.
According to the interviewer, one of the cricket officials, Charith Senanayake has been speaking to the media about it; also transpired that the Board of Cricket has tarnished Murali’s name by citing him as a ‘ traitor’.
Murali in his usual style is seen on TV defending such allegations still smiling, but at times flaring his eyes and delivering a couple of ‘doosras’in his reply to the officials of the Cricket Board by stating thus: “ Board Officials are not happy about my accepting a coaching contract in Australia, which I agreed to, three months prior to the Sri Lanka series”. Apparently the Board had enquired whether Murali could participate in the Australian tour, which he had politely declined by explaining that the Australian contract entailed coaching two Australian spinners, only for 10 days, and moreover, while the Sri Lanka team played against Australia, he could not possibly sit in the Australian dressing room.
Tamil Union match
Referring to Senanayake’s accusation that he entered a club ‘illegally’ to coach players, and even mowed the grass, Murali mentions about a cricket match that was played at the Tamil Union grounds recently, but, dismisses such allegations as ‘coaching of players forcefully and mowing the grass’ as a pathological and a baseless lie.
Once he became aware of such denunciations, Murali had approached Charitha Senanayake and said to him: “Charitha you and I have played cricket together, how could you spread such rumours to the press and the media?”Charitha Senanayake’s reply had been that the matter was under investigation by the Cricket Board, but Murali states that the curator attached to the Cricket Board is responsible for the entire ground and the pitch, and if anyone were to interfere with the grounds, it would be against the very ICC regulations. If at all, he says, ‘before jumping the gun Senanayake should have contacted the curator and verified prior to coming out with such fabricated balderdash’.
The Cricket Board’s apparent allegation about Muralitharan being atraitordoes not hold water at all. In 1995 Australia was very hostile and critical about his bowling techniques and it was the Sri Lankan fans, Murali says, who helped and supported him up at the time. In such a backdrop, he asks the journalist in the video, “ How I can become a traitor?
In 2011, Murali wanted to remain in the game for nostalgic reasons. So, he concentrated only on consultancy contracts, which made him sign agreements with the Hyderabad franchise, followed by the Bengali pact. Subsequently the Australian Cricket Board had contacted him to find out whether he could coach two of their spinners.
Murali states that the Sri Lankan Cricket Board’s intention appears to be projecting a false statement that he (Murali) was unwilling to train Sri Lankan cricketers, but only the foreign players. “Unless I am requested to do so, how could I possibly coach players by force? The Sri Lanka Cricket Board never requested me to do so, except Nishantha Ranatunga once made a request, at which point I gladly obliged by coaching the players completely free of charge.”
Rather than promoting our world-class cricketers such as Mahela Jayawardena, Kumar Sangakkara, the Board of Cricket, he said, attempt was to chase players such as Marvan Atapattu, Chandika Haturusinghe, Chaminda Vass, Upul Tharanga, Ruwan Kalpage, Roshan Mahanama and others away. Consequently, they are being employed by foreign countries as cricket coaches. Mahela Jayawardena who worked as a Consultant with the Cricket Board was sacked last year; today he is on the ICC Cricket Committee.Roshan Mahanama was employed by the ICC for twelve years. Despite such shabby treatment from our own Board of Cricket two Sri Lankan cricketers, Mahela Jayewardene and Kumar Sangakkara have been identified as legends in the game of cricket, and their portraits were unveiled recently by MCC at the Lord’s Pavilion.
Murali blames the Board Officials for favouring their own preferences and ‘importing’ foreign coaches to pay them in dollars, which in turn affects the Sri Lankan economy. When they point a finger at me and call me a ‘traitor’ I want to ask them what they have done to this country in terms of cricket. He says he has been playing cricket for 20 years, after which he established a charity called the Foundation of Goodness, with the help of other patriotic cricketers such as Mahela Jayawardena and Kuma Sangakkara and built one thousand houses for 50,000 poor families within one year.
“ We have helped the poor and the deprived in Seenigama and offered free education to children of such families; constructed 45 cricket pitches in poor schools, and organised a ‘Murali Cup Tournament” free of charge, with the sole aim of uniting the North and the South.
Through the Foundation of Goodness,we have afforded talented cricketers to play matches in foreign countries out of our own money, without getting a cent from the Sri Lanka Cricket Board, he stresses. So, ‘ I challenge those who accuse me as a traitor to go to Seenigama and see for themselves what we have done for the poor folk and ask themselves what have they done? Or to go in front of a mirror and ask themselves what they have done so far.I did not want to come out with whatever we have done up to now, but those who call me a traitor have compelled me expose the sheep in wolf’s clothing”, he asserts in the interview.
Muttaiah Muralitharan’s advice to budding cricketers is to exhibit their talent in the field and treat every game as pitch and toss, as one cannot expect to achieve success only through the Board of Cricket! At the end of the day, he explains, ‘All that matters is how you play the game, but not whether you win or lose, and that is the spirit of sportsmanship.’
pic credit: Sri Lanka Sports News, Lords Pavilion,Ceylon Newspapers
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