The Sumathipala cricket doctrine and the great divide

S R Parthiravithana (Sunday Times)

Don’t you ever think, even for a wee fleeting moment that, “and they lived happily ever after” belonged only to fairy tales and grandmother’s bedside stories. Even today, some may live by that notion, and others, for years on end, strive to make that a reality. Finally, some do encounter that pot at the end of the rainbow, while for others it remains just a hair’s breadth away – forever.

Last weekend, Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) summoned its membership for yet another occasion and conducted an EGM, thus fulfilling its President Thilanga Sumathipala’s desire to take full control of the bat, ball and all other paraphernalia which are tagged with the phrase ‘Sri Lanka Cricket’.

In spite of the teething problems relating to the inauguration of the Asia Cup Under-19 Cricket tournament, the Sumathi Boys’ main objective of educating ICC CEO David Richardson about the coming Lankan Cricket Administrative Changes, was a success. During his visit, Richardson got a comprehensive briefing on the ‘SLC Way Forward’ programme, which outlined its short, mid and long terms plans. The SLC hierarchy briefed the ICC CEO on the impending changes to the constitution and the organisational structure of SLC.

“We are pleased that the ICC has recognised the vast strides we have been able to take towards placing Sri Lanka firmly back in its rightful place as a Cricketing super-power. Several years of administrative upheaval had placed SLC in a very vulnerable position, and the return of an elected administration has seen SLC rising as a phoenix from the ashes. We are happy that the ICC CEO has accepted our invitation to visit SLC, so we can update the ICC on the vast progress made in the past 11 months, as well as on the significant plans we have for the future,” Sumathipala said.Image result for SL Cricket sumathipala cartoons

Certainly, his win at the last AGM was quite convincing. But, if SLC rose like a phoenix from the ashes, it is much debatable. There are factors that we take as the yardstick to measure the real progress. The first is, has Lankan Cricket been freed from its political shackles? Would Sri Lanka be safe from interferences if there is another political power governing the country? Here, there are wheels within wheels of political implications within and outside Parliament, and thus the situation is automatically embroiled in the Political cacophony of Lankan Cricket. Thilanga Sumathipala and Arjuna Ranatunga – both are members of the present government and do live in different poles of the globe where Cricket cohabitation is concerned.

Then there is a huge section of prominent Cricket craftsmen in the calibre of Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardena, Sidath Wettimuny, Muttiah Muralitharan and Michael Tissera who would prefer to take a miss if their names crop up pertaining to governance under the present setup. Then, it was not long ago, former National captain Roshan Mahanama did not mince his words when he said that SLC should be devoid of any politics.

In addition to this, Thilanga’s nemesis Arjuna Ranatunga and the rest of the Ranatunga clan who are also countable stakeholders, are also taking aim at the leadership till the slip-up occurs.

This indicates that the great divide in the game of Cricket still persists.

At times, one feels that Sumathipala himself is afflicted with a kind of a phobia. He lives like a kid with demons under his beds once the lights are out. During the recent administrative purge, he admitted that he prefers to work with persons whom he could trust. But, in the corporate world, one encounters many people with different faces, and could we pick out which ones are the poker-faced and which ones could be trusted, yet the job done at the end of the day is what matters. Some even say that Sumpathipala do not go by group decisions of his own committees; he prefers to have his own point of view to prevail on most occasions.

Yet, one cannot blame Sumathipala wholly for this situation. His story has a history. This is a situation that was created by circumstances that cropped up since Sri Lanka won the Cricket World Cup under Arjuna Ranatunga in 1996.

Though he was part and parcel of the hierarchy which took power after the Ana Punchihewa topple, Sumathipala’s tenures were always hindered by perforations – there was a frog in every pond that he sought to have a dip.

Because of Sumathipala’s presence in Cricket, the system imploded and the result was the introduction of Interim Committees; some interims ran for more than five years at a time. However, it must also be said, in spite of the implosion of the system, Cricket at some junctures found allies in the calibre of Rienzie Wijetilleke (1999-2000), Vijaya Malalasekera (2001-2002), Hemaka Amarasuriya (2002-2003), Sidath Wettimuny (2015) who, if not for the interims, would not have come forward to infuse their expertise into the governance of the system. So much so, from 1996, the system changed hands from — Ana Punchihewa (1995-1996), Upali Dharmadasa (1996-1998), Thilanga Sumathipala (1998-1999), Rienzie Wijetilleke (1999-2000), Thilanga Sumathipala (2000-2001), Vijaya Malalasekera (2001-2002), Hemaka Amarasuriya (2002-2003), Thilanga Sumathipala (2003-2004), Mohan De Silva (2004-2005), Jayantha Dharmadasa (2005-2007), Arjuna Ranatunga (2008), S. Liyanagama (2008-2009), Somachandra de Silva (2009-2011), Upali Dharmadasa (2011-2012), Jayantha Dharmadasa (2013-2015), Sidath Wettimuny (2015) and Thilanga Sumathipala (2016 – to date).

The truth is, since 1998, the system, besides interim committees, has mostly been Sumathipala domination. So, it is natural that he has built his own defences against intruders. May be, he goes with the norm of ‘trust no one’.

Now, he is going helter-skelter closing the gaps that may hit him back politically, if things happen to go wrong. At the moment, his concentration is on fine-tuning the district and provincial votes which are anyway politically biased. Once that fence is put up, the vote base of the Sumathipala faction would be secure.

Then, it would be the second term, which also happens to be at the discretion of the Sports Minister. Right now, Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera and Thilanga Sumathipala drive down the same lane where real politics is concerned, while his nemesis Arjuna Ranatunga is on the other side of the driveway – in the UNP bank.

So, it is likely that the Sumathipala faction, for the first time, will go the full mile. Their tenure ends in 2020 and, at the same time, the general elections are also likely to be held or, are scheduled for that time. When that happens, what is in store is anyone’s guess but, ridding Lankan Cricket of politics is one long dream. Yet, could they live happily ever after?