The Muppets and the Joker – The Sequel


Mahela JayawardeneIf Ijaz Butt, during his 3-year tenure as PCB chairman, seemed intent on making Pakistan the most ineptly run cricket administration in the world, then the current Sri Lankan sports minister and SLC officials seem just as determined to emulate his efforts.

While performances on the field have fluctuated since April last year, with only sporadic successes, too far and too few in between for comfort or cheer, the authorities back home have managed to make a complete mess of things off the field.

Their appointment of Tillakaratne Dilshan as captain in all formats of the game, rejecting Kumar Sangakkara’s offer to stay on as Test skipper, got the ball rolling, and since then we have seen one bad decision follow another.

Anyone having followed Sri Lankan cricket over the last couple of years would have known that Dilshan was not the correct choice. While his integrity had come into question in the past, his captaincy skills too were somewhat under a cloud of doubt.

Apart from that, Dilshan is essentially a carelessly aggressive player, and his success up to some extent lies herein, shackling a player of his nature with the burden of leadership only resulted in us losing one half of our most successful opening combination of late.

Yes, with no other obvious candidate around, the decision might have been born more of desperation and hope rather than certainty or belief in his leadership capabilities, yet it was still the wrong decision, and one we paid a heavy price for.

The only thing worse than the decision to appoint Dilshan as captain at the time, was the appointment of Thilina Kandamby, as his deputy.

Then following Kumar Sangakkara’s much acclaimed and passionate speech at Lord’s in July, the minister was quick to call for an investigation into the speech, denouncing Sanga for criticising the cricket administration in the country, while being a contracted player of SLC.

What he had failed to realise was that the players’ expired contracts had not been renewed at the time, and that hence Sanga was not violating any terms of contract by speaking out.

Following a directive from the ICC, cricket board elections were held for the first time after seven years, and marred by allegations of political interference. Tthey ended in more or less a farce with the officials being elected unopposed, after opposition candidates withdrew as a mark of protest.

Amidst all this, the players also had to go without pay for close to eight months, until the ICC intervened and paid part of the fees due directly to the players’ bank accounts.

In light of all this, the latest of these blunders shouldn’t come as a surprise, and yet somehow it does.

At the tail-end of the South African tour it was revealed that the selectors, captain and coach were all going to be replaced (sacked) shortly, in a complete over-haul of the system.

Since then, Ashantha De Mel, who was sacked from the job in 2010 and called a “Joker” by former captain Marvan Atapattu, when he held the same office in 2007, has replaced Duleep Mendis as the chairman of selectors. Mahela Jayawardena has once again been named captain, following Dilshan’s so-called resignation at the end of the South African series. And Graham Ford has been announced as the new coach.

Yes, we needed change, that is undeniable, but what we needed was constructive change that would help us grow, not change just for the sake of changing.

Yes, the selectors needed to go, but their new replacements don’t instill confidence. Like providing Dilhara Fernando as the solution to a team’s no-ball problems, they don’t exactly leave us better off than we were before.

Yes, Dilshan had to go, but is Mahela the right choice in the long run? While this was probably the best decision of the three, I still feel they didn’t quite get it right. (a point I would like to further explore in another post maybe).

Furthermore, I do believe the situation could have been handled much more diplomatically. While the records will show that Dilshan ‘resigned’ from his post, we all know that it was more or less just a symbolic gesture after the events of the previous week.

Resigning was all he had left to do to save himself the ignominy of being officially sacked, and I do believe they should have given him the opportunity to do so with some dignity, before the announcements of his impending dismissal were leaked to the media.

Now, anyone who knows anything about me would know that that admission wouldn’t have come easy for me. I wanted Dilshan gone from the minute he was named captain, and I wanted him fired, him resigning would not have satisfied me, and if he were to resign i would have rather it happened under the circumstances it did than any other way.

And yet, once the emotion is removed, even I can admit that he should have been given the opportunity to resign first, without the rumours of his sacking in the air. And if I, his harshest critic, can admit that there was something wrong with that situation… well then there’s really got to have been something wrong.

Looking at him in that final ODI in Johannesburg, he seemed resigned to his fate. It was Mahela who was on the walkie-talkie, with the D/L sheet in his hand giving out instructions to the players in the dug-out, while Dilshan sat in front of him detached and watching the match, with a forlorn look on his face.

This is not to say that I felt sorry for the guy, but I will stand up and admit that it wasn’t fair and that he shouldn’t have been treated like that.

Which finally brings me to the most appalling and heartbreaking of the three decisions to have been taken last week, the removal of Geoff Marsh as our coach, after only four months and two series on the job.

If nothing else it shows a complete lack of foresight, thought and deliberation. Here was the man who despite all the misgivings about the coaching job in Sri Lanka, despite the charges of political meddling in the sport in the country, despite the uncertainty surrounding the financial state of the board, still took the job.

The man who had exceeded all expectations and led us to our most successful tour since the World Cup and Murali’s retirement, in only his second assignment. It was by far our best tour of South Africa, and yet at the end of it Geoff finds himself at the short end of the stick.

In all that has been said and done in the last few days, not ONE explanation has been given as to WHY Geoff was fired – they’re probably still having trouble coming up with a plausible one.

That Graham Ford is a good coach cannot be denied, and yet this is the same guy who while in talks with us about the coaching position here in 2007, backed out of them the minute he heard he might get the Indian job, and then after accepting that, pulled out of that at the last minute too.

To think that someone who already flaked on us once should replace Geoff, who did nothing wrong, is disheartening to say the least.

Ford may turn out to be one of our most successful coaches still, and though it’s of no fault of his, I fear I may always look at him through the tainted glass of Geoff’s sacking. But as long as the team does well, I guess that’s all that matters.

If my heart broke as I saw Geoff rise to his feet, fists clenched, with barely concealed glee on his face, after that last six in that final ODI, it occurred to me as I watched Tharanga congratulate him, that if we thought things couldn’t get any worse a couple of months ago we were wrong… Sadly, very wrong…

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