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Test of loyalty a costly exercise for Sangakkara

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Sri Lanka’s best batsman subjected to shameful loyalty test
By Shanaka Amarasinghe | September 9, 2013

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Is Kumar Sangakkara being unfairly targeted by certain SLC officials? © AFP

I recently heard a lengthy interview by Kumar Sangakkara, explaining his side of this entire Hyderabad versus Kandurata fiasco, which has become a political issue rather than the commercial issue it always should have remained. The fallout is that Sangakkara has chosen to play for Kandurata. A decision he says he is ‘very happy with.’

The headline on an article on Cricinfo reads: "Sangakkara slams SLC while choosing Kandurata", which for me is a little confusing. If my mum baked chocolate cake and ribbon cake, and asked me to eat the ribbon cake, and I did, and I was ‘very happy’ with it, why would I be slamming my mum, the baker? Unless of course, I really did want to eat the chocolate cake? Food (cake, even) for thought.

Sangakkara has accused SLC of ‘creating a narrative’ which pits him as Judas, choosing money over his country. Playing for Kandurata, which is an entirely local team owned by SLC, and also from his home province, it’s easy to see why tunnel-visioned local fans may see this as a national cause. Also, it is fairly reasonable to say that the form he’s in, Sri Lankan cricket fans are more likely to want a Sangakkara-led Kandurata team to win the Champions League, rather than a Sangakkara-led Sunrisers team, but this is unreasonable on the part of the fans, and it puts the player in an impossible situation.

Ultimately, the choice for Sangakkara, regardless of how he had been placed at that crossroads, was whether to lose $140,000 or not. He has chosen to forego that sum of money, which adds up to about 19 million rupees for two weeks work. Considering that he still gets $560,000 (75 million rupees) for the IPL nevertheless, it seems like a small sacrifice for the love and adulation of his fans, especially from the greater Kandurata region.

So it was never really a question of money, you see. It was the ‘principle’, as Sangakkara says in his interview. SLC made it look like he was going to play for the franchise that paid him money to do so. They tried to whitewash their bunglings in having the SLPL scrapped and organising the Super4s post haste, in order to field a Champions League team, by making a massive issue out of Sangakkara’s perceived loyalty issues.

Everyone of the SLC officials would have chosen the money. There is no question.

As far as I’m concerned, Sangakkara needs to be loyal only to himself. Nineteen-million rupees is a college fund for one, or both of his kids. This is not the sort of thing you turn down lightly.

On SLC’s side, it wanted its best player to play for the local franchise — not really a heinous crime there. In the sort of touch and intent that Sangakkara has showed of late, you can hardly blame either Kandurata or Hyderabad for wanting him. The only problem is that in this instance SLC are franchise owners as well as Sangakkara’s employers, so they wield undue influence, and would no doubt have coerced some level of acquiescence of this latest decision.

In that sense, I am loathe to believe that Sangakkara is ‘very happy’ to be playing for Kandurata. If he was, then the decision wouldn’t have taken so much time or this much fuss. The only reason that is a difficult decision, is because of the amount of money involved in him choosing one over the other. So although SLC have guilted Sangakkara, and exploited the ‘country v money’ aspect of this, the entire issue is not so far removed from ‘loyalty v finances’, as Sangakkara’s latest utterances would have us believe. My mum’s cake would always have to be the best tasting, even if it wasn’t.

My problem though, is that if Sangakkara had chosen Hyderabad there would have been a negative connotation to it in the eyes of the Sri Lanka public, and that is stupid. Cricketers are professionals, they should be allowed to ply their trade. If you work in a horribly mismanaged office and are offered vast sums of money to do what you do already, for a competitor, you’d take the job. So we shouldn’t be judging others who’d do exactly the same.

Losing credibility in the eyes of the public was a factor in Sangakkara’s decision, and if the public were able to be dispassionate and viewed their cricketers as people and not as some demi-god, things would be less emotionally fraught for both parties. However, the larger than life phenomenon that Sangakkara has become has had its foundations laid on the adulation of an adoring public, both here and abroad. And in his case, there is an opportunity cost for pissing them off. Local sponsors would not have been too happy, and endorsement deals are made and broken on choices like this. Just ask Lance Armstrong or Tiger Woods.

It is also incumbent of the media, who easily pick sides, to provide perspective. This issue has been trumpeted by Sangakkara’s detractors and acolytes, and there is no independent analysis of the facts.

SLC are hopelessly unprofessional, but we already knew that, so Sangakkara had to make a choice, and making tough choices is what ‘heroes’ are made of. The more dignity and less whingeing, with which these tough choices are made, the more heroic.

Shanaka Amarasinghe is a lawyer by profession and the host of the sports talkshow ‘The Score’ on the Sri Lankan radio station YES FM.

© Island Cricket

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