Playing pandu with our cricket in the nation’s name

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Those were some really rough and bouncy overs. Reminded one of the heady days of West Indian speedsters when even the world’s best batsmen were ready to duck for cover. That, of course, was in the era before helmets and most other protective gear were donned by batsmen stepping onto the field dressed like the legendary knights of King Arthur when the age of chivalry was still alive.

But cricket today has advanced so much that only seasoned cricketers like Angelo Mathews worry about helmets and ICC rules when every second counts or you are “timed out” and evicted from the field by some highly-paid cricketers or other hangers-on put out to grass and now seated behind electronic equipment.

Today multiple bank accounts and accumulated assets serve a far more useful protective purpose than all the gear worn by those actually on the playing field trying to protect their wickets not to mention their battered bodies.

O tempora, o mores, as they used to say. How times have changed! In this day and age, cricket is played from corporate boxes where those fattened by more dollars and less sense dictate the game with a gin and tonic in one hand and a couple of canapḗs in the other as they watch the flannelled fools chase red, white and pink balls.

This week, a joint parliamentary team battered a besieged Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) outfit from both ends on an unpredictable pitch. That is not to say that some of the government bowlers did not help the batting and battered side with a few loose balls, wides and dropped catches.

There was an old saying—now very much is disuse—that the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton. If those who unanimously passed a resolution last Thursday not-so-politely asking that the seeming witches broth called Sri Lanka Cricket, pour itself into the nearest drain and cleanse itself of its sins, believe the battle of Maitland Place has been won on the baying fields of Diyawanna Oya, that would be somewhat premature.

Despite Thursday’s talkathon that skinned those who administer Sri Lanka Cricket with accusations of wrongdoing, corruption, taking two payments for the same job, and lavishly spending what in essence was the nation’s wealth, the Diyawanna Oya side appeared to forget something vital.

There are on-field umpires, third umpires, fourth and fifth umpires lodged in their palaces in New Delhi or wherever, and others in Dubai who will not say bye-bye to their kindred spirits with first and business class air tickets tucked into their jacket pockets to distribute.

Though the Auditor General and COPE, (to some extent) exposing what cricket aficionados might well call the nefarious doings of the Maitland Place cricket cabinet which far exceeds the country’s cabinet in numbers and arguably in grey matter, it is the Big Brother in India and probably those in Dubai who are playing their own game of pandu.

That, of course, is not to mention that Sports Minister Roshan Ranasinghe did name some names including one or two under a judicial wig if such outdated headgear is still worn in our tropical country.

Though Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe did try to soften the blow and the Speaker also tried to apologise, forgetting that not too long ago he too took a dig at the judiciary.

There was also Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera entering the fray and warning of the dire consequences if the ICC intervened. It might have been far, far more useful to the multitude if Minister Wijesekera helped the struggling millions by lowering the shocking electricity rates.

He could also help by ensuring that politicians including those from his own side and others in big business who have been dodging their electricity bills pay them and leave others more competent to deal with the ICC issue if and when it surfaces.

It was indeed strange to read SLC officials saying it expects the cricket selectors, coaches and managers to explain Sri Lanka’s disastrous and tragic performances in India. When it comes to hypocrisy this takes the cake along with all the cream.

It is SLC cricket that should be answering the several charges, especially with regard to financial profligacy and other acts of seeming malfeasance levelled by the Auditor General in his report of Sri Lanka’s last tour of Australia.

That is not all. SLC officials have had the audacity to claim that they have no responsibility to Sri Lanka authorities, that it is some sort of private entity, yet parades the world under the Sri Lanka flag and claiming to represent Sri Lanka.

Who the hell gave them the authority to appear for this country and make money out of it, if they owe no allegiance or responsibility to authorised institutions in this country? It would indeed be interesting to see if SLC officials would respond to summons issued by COPE to appear before it on November 14 or run to mamas in legal attire and hide behind a wig.

Watching and listening to the parliamentary debate on this week’s motion one was not surprised to hear some members including cabinet ministers talk of fighting corruption and eliminating it and another asking the people not to lose faith in the judiciary.

That would surely surprise a knowledgeable section of the populace which cannot be unaware of the barbs that had been fired at the judiciary by the other two prongs of the separation of powers not too long ago which even had the Bar Council approaching the House Speaker on it.

Perhaps Justice Minister Rajapakshe should be reminded that respect and faith should be earned not demanded or expected. It surely is time to remind the Justice Minister that the judiciary in Sri Lanka has no code of judicial conduct as a then chief justice shyly admitted to a large gathering of chief justices and leading legal academics in Vienna about six years back.

But to all that on another occasion if needed.

Right now, however, it is well to remember that there have been many occasions when Sri Lankan cricket authorities have tried desperately to hide various incidents that would normally bring disrepute and disgrace to the cricket establishment.

One incident dates back almost 20 years here in the UK, specifically in Southampton, which is reported in my columns to this newspaper and a later attempt by the cricket authorities to hush it up could be related, if necessary.

However, a more recent column written in May 2020 when the Covid pandemic was still not under control, refers to President Shammi Silva’s announcement of plans to build another cricket stadium in Homagama.

“So when the news broke that Sri Lanka Cricket(SLC) whose international reputation was even lower than our national team’s position in the world ratings, that another new stadium is to be constructed, it was as welcome as the prevailing heat in and round Colombo.” (19.5.2020)

Déjà vu, one might say while talking of current happenings.

As for Minister Wijesekera’s comment about the ICC, let him talk to his cabinet colleague Harin Fernando, then Sports Minister, about the minister’s comments on his return from Dubai.

Minister Fernando said that the ICC rated Sri Lanka as the most corrupt cricketing nation. He said the ICC feels that “Sri Lanka’s cricket administration is corrupt from top to bottom.”

With that, Your Honour, I rest my case. For today that is.

(Neville de Silva is a veteran Sri Lankan journalist who was Assistant Editor of the Hong Kong Standard and worked for Gemini News Service in London. Later he was Deputy Chief-of-Mission in Bangkok and Deputy High Commissioner in London)



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