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Why Sri Lanka Cricket needs competitive contracts

The declining appeal of a central contract issued by Sri Lanka Cricket prevents the cricket board from retaining the services of the island’s best cricket talent and it is already forcing an exodus.

Sri Lanka Cricket Contracts Dispute - Tom Moody Aravinda De Siva

When the ICC in 2017 reduced eligibility requirements to qualify for national selection from five to three years of residency, it provided national cricket boards from high-income countries with an opportunity to entice talent from developing nations.

The Americans, who have obtained full ODI status, are engaged in an aggressive recruitment drive at this very moment, presenting players with a pathway to permanent residency, and later citizenship, in the United States.

This year, both Shehan Jayasuriya and Amila Aponso took up offers to play in USA Cricket’s Minor League and have relocated to the States.

Perhaps because Jayasuriya and Aponso are in their late 20s and weren’t regulars in Sri Lanka’s national squads, their departures did not concern fans, but losing Wanindu Hasaranga and other promising young talent will underscore the importance of competent management at the cricket board and sane policies.

It is extremely unlikely that a majority of professional cricketers in Sri Lanka will reject the chance to migrate to the USA or any developed nation, given the state of Sri Lanka’s economy alone. It would be unreasonable to blame them for such a prudent choice.

And, with T20 leagues mushrooming across the world, there is a surging need for talent. Being tied to a low-paying central contract from SLC will eventually become a hindrance for players, as they would require clearance from SLC to participate in more-lucrative T20 tournaments overseas.

When SLC’s central contracts are unappealing and too rigid, it creates an obstacle to retaining highly-skilled players.

Sri Lanka’s cricket board went from issuing a total of 33 central contracts in the 2018-19 season to 24 contracted players this year. The increase in base wages seen in the previous contract period too have been slashed.

When Sri Lankan cricketers succeed on the field, they do so in spite of a dysfunctional system and inept management. So, when they perform as poorly as they have in recent times, scapegoating the players and attempting to discipline them through punitive measures is pointless and juvenile.

Sri Lanka’s on-field performances have been dismal and that has seen them nosedive in the rankings, but simplistic solutions will not turn things around.

The introduction of a new performance-based points system to award contracts may have had sound intentions behind it, but grading players on “professionalism”, “leadership” and other subjective factors allows bias to contaminate the entire process.

In addition, a punishing new fitness test that requires players to run two kilometres in eight-minutes and 33 seconds in order to be considered for selection was introduced overnight to prevent players nursing injuries from being picked, SLC’s chief selector explained in an interview.

In recent times, Sri Lankan players have suffered hamstring and other muscle injuries mid-series, leading to a focus on players’ fitness. What was required was a thoughtful management of the workload of players prone to hamstring and other muscle-related injuries, not a two-kilometre sprint that prevents key players from being selected and could lead to more injuries for those with a history of muscle tears.

Lasith Malinga, who hasn’t retired from T20Is, recently joked that he could bowl four overs in a T20 game but couldn’t complete the 2km run test or pass the skin-fold test.

Even in his current physical state, Malinga is very likely the best T20 bowler in the country, and qualifying for the T20 World Cup is going to be harder without him.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s cricketers all united to turn down SLC’s new performance-based contracts, which they say lacks transparency and allows for favouritism to impact the process, and they did so even when threatened with suspension on the eve of their departure for the tour of England.

The players have agreed to the pay cut, but are rightly objecting to an unfair grading system that has made an SLC central contract undesirable.

Since the retirements of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena, coaches have been rapidly hired and fired, captains appointed and sacked in quick succession, and overall team selections have been haphazard and bizarre, which has upended long-terms plans.

When Sri Lanka’s cricketers take the field, they do not even have the peace of mind of knowing that their places in the side are secure. Vital positions in the batting order remain permanently unfilled, with selectors routinely experimenting with the batting line-up.

It won’t be incorrect to say that muddled thinking, impatience, and a lack of foresight from SLC officials all played a significant role in Sri Lanka’s slump. By attaching financial incentives for winning matches, and the introduction of a grading system and fitness tests, are SLC officials implying that the on-field defeats stem from unmotivated and unfit players? Oh, the chutzpah!

Perhaps counting on pressure from public backlash to force the players to cave, SLC officials in recent days leaked to the media details of the new contracts, including specifics of players’ wages. Going by social media sentiment, many Sri Lankan fans bought into SLC’s narrative and believed exorbitant salaries were being paid to undeserving cricketers.

In reality though, with T20 leagues and USA Cricket scouting the globe for talent, SLC’s contracts are more unattractive than ever and cannot prevent an exodus of talent.

Sri Lanka requires competitive contracts to protect their talent pool, or Jayasuriya and Aponso won’t be the last to flee Sri Lanka’s shores.

© Island Cricket

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4 Comments

  1. This is just a very sticky situation. I agree with the contracts that they need to be transparent. I think maybe giving 45% to performance 45% to fitness and maybe only 10% to other things might be more acceptable.

    First they need to give non international players a decent wage so players are less likely to go. Hopefully they can somehow do this sooner than later before we lose anymore players. I’m more sad about Aponsu because the guy wasn’t tested much at all. And he had potential. Shehan had enough chances and he wasn’t at a international standard to the slot he played.

    In terms of shuffling players I’m most sad about Dimuth because the guy got our ODI cricket from the hole we were in to a losing but not losing by much standard. I understand he’s old school but he’s like a Atapattu to me. Holds the innings together.

    Fitness standards like the 2KM run is a good thing. There has to be a measurement for fitness and it changes with the times. That’s normal. First there was beep test then the Yoyo test and now the 2KM. This strict fitness standard came because our fielding was in a very bad state for a few years. Dropping catches, not running double singles enough, clear panting after scoring 60, 70 runs. And a few of our team members like Malinga and Mathews gotten lazy and put on a few pounds. This wouldn’t be a problem if we were winning games like the old times. But, when you are losing series after series at home or away, there is a problem. Selectors and coaches cant do nothing. And as a international player it is a duty of the player to keep fit to the standards required. I think even if the selectors wanted Malinga to play they can’t do it because if they make and exception to Malinga, people like Mathews and other seniors will ask the same and then we are back at the beginning.

    This English tour will answer a lot of questions. Lets see how they do.

  2. Excellent read and some very important points.

    The most important being the potential brain drain due to unattractive contracts. I understand that even a guy like Lakmal could earn more playing English county that for SL and of course the t20 leagues will give players an option not to sign central contracts – much like most of the Windies stars.

    Another point is blaming the players for what is largely an administration stuff up including the day light robbery at SLC. I don’t get how we can keep taking so much action against the coach, selectors, captains etc. but absolutely no action against inept administration.

    While the new performance grading system does have subjectivity and can be improved, I think the pertinent point is the need to change and make performance a basis for reward. I support the need for a radical change and like any change, your not going to get it right first time and of course any change will be have resistance.

    Same applies for fitness, while it was probably a rushed affair in COVID etc. we couldn’t keep competing at international level with pot bellied guys wobbling around the field, It’s simply not acceptable in this day and age of super fit athletes. Once again a change is the important point and not necessarily getting it all 100% in one shot.