Sri Lankan cricket fans are one of the most knowledgeable, sportsmen-like, grateful and respectful supporters any team could have. They are also very sentimental and emotional, but all of that energy is used to show love and support for their team and players, but never to hurt, insult or offend them in anyway. Loosing never has angered Sri Lankan fans and they’ve always trusted that the team was giving it’s best for the country each time they took the field. This India tour was no different.
The recently concluded Indian ODI tour however has brought harsh criticism from fans, but towards SLC. Fans and the media (the few who are still independent that is) were quick to criticize the cricket board for accepting this tour. Criticism only grew stronger and turned in to anger with each loss, not because the fans hated their team for losing, but because the fans loved their players too much to watch the pain and suffering they’ve been subjected to, by their own cricket board. The recent public outbreak of frustration, anger and even hate was never aimed at the team. It is simply an indication of the growing negative sentiment towards those who run cricket in Sri Lanka.
There is no doubt that this tour was ill-timed. These cricketers have had a grueling cricket season which saw them play away from home for the first half of 2014 and then two back to back test and ODI series at home against South Africa and Pakistan. The amount of cricket they played had begun to show in their diminishing fielding standards and fitness levels. SLC recognized these issues and plans were in place to address them prior to the England series. World cup preparations were well in place with seven ODI’s against England and seven more in New Zealand, in addition to the two Test matches, right before the world cup.
It is during this time that India came calling. First of all, the manner in which the tour was accepted by SLC raised public suspicion. SLC admitted that it was the secretory Nishantha Ranatunga who had committed to the tour. This was done so quickly that plans were revealed even before the West Indians had completed their last match in India. The decision to accept the Indian tour was made so quickly, in the middle of a period when the team was fully focused on world cup preparations that even the country’s president found it questionable enough to warrant an investigation. Needless to say, this investigation ended in typical Sri Lankan style where it was found that Nishantha Ranatunga rightfully consulted all of the executive members and received no objection. Therefore, the tour had the fullest support of the entire executive membership within SLC. Yes, Sri Lanka cricket fans are one of the most knowledgeable, sportsmen-like, grateful and respectful people. But they are certainly NOT STUPID!
There was no doubt that SLC’s iron man had made a decision to send the national team to India with little or no feedback from the players, team management or selectors. Yes, every one of those groups defended and justified the tour, but what other choice did they have?
What did SLC stand to gain? Surely the decision was based on financial reward. If not directly from this tour, then as a result of the inbound tour India committed to in 2015. There is no doubt this tour was a necessity for SLC, but certainly not for the cricket team!. Yet SLC couldn’t refuse the tour due to fear of repercussions for saying no to India. In the fans eyes, the ‘politically appointed’ Sri Lanka cricket leadership has stooped to such low levels that they have no backbone to stand up for what is right for their team. Instead, they are helplessly and hopelessly dependent on India for anything they can get to help dig themselves out of the financial turmoil they got themselves into. SLC is in great financial turmoil in spite of repeated assurance by the minister and the board that things are stable. This was SLC’s opportunity. An opportunity to make up for some of their own financial catastrophes made possible largely through mismanagement and corruption. An opportunity to kiss arse for some money rather than to stand up and fight the big bully for what is right and deserved by a full ICC member.
There is no harm in bending backwards every now and then. We have all done that and will do in the future. Desperate times call for desperate measures. After all, these cricketers are professionals and should be able to handle adversity. Under circumstances where a honest, ethical, non-corrupt and democratically elected cricket board was trying to save Sri Lanka cricket from the turmoil that its predecessor had created, this tour would have been ‘understandable’ and even acceptable. However, under current circumstances, if Sri Lanka’s cricket is even the actual financial beneficiary of this tour is in itself a question that has sparked public interest and debate.