x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

A lost cause for Sri Lanka

It was not wise for the cricket board to take on their richer and more powerful counterparts in India by asking their players to exit the ongoing Indian Premier League to prepare for the upcoming tour of England.

Although he plays in the Indian Premier League, Lasith Malinga, the Sri Lankan paceman, says he is not fit enough to bowl in Tests yet. Philip Brown / Reuters
Although he plays in the Indian Premier League, Lasith Malinga, the Sri Lankan paceman, says he is not fit enough to bowl in Tests yet. Philip Brown / Reuters

For want of a nail, a kingdom was lost. So says the old proverb. Years from now, Sri Lankan cricket may look back on this week and wonder if the actions of those entrusted with running the game caused similar long-term damage.

By taking on the Indian board, Sri Lanka has bitten the hand that feeds it, and knowing Big Brother's vindictive nature, a ruthless backlash is not far away.

It started, as these things invariably do, with piqued egos.

Mahindananda Aluthgamage, the country's sports minister, was one of those invited to watch the World Cup final at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. According to him, the Indian board treated some of the guests with scant respect.

"Although I am the minister of sport in Sri Lanka, I myself had to buy tickets for the final," he told the BBC. There were also multiple security checks to go through.

What Aluthgamage does not say, though, was that these measures applied to everyone. This correspondent queued up for nearly an hour to get through security. Up ahead, Michael Vaughan, an Ashes-winning England captain, waited patiently for his turn. In the context of cricket, it could be argued that he was a far more important guest than a politician.

Aluthgamage's anger crystallised into a decision to call Sri Lankan players back from the Indian Premier League (IPL) on May 5, so that they would have adequate time to prepare for a tour of England starting on May 14.

The Indian board says that Sri Lankan cricket had given the players no-objection certificates that allowed them to play on until May 20. The first Test at Lord's is scheduled for May 26.

"The BCCI [Board of Control for Cricket in India] has asked us to reconsider our decision, but we have not changed our stance," said Nishantha Ranatunga, the Sri Lanka Cricket secretary.

"We did sign a no-objection agreement with the players to play in the IPL. But there was no date to return. I am sure the BCCI will understand country must come first before IPL."

The club versus country row has impacted on even those not picked for the tour of England.

Lasith Malinga said after the World Cup final that it was highly unlikely that he would be around to spearhead Sri Lanka's bowling in 2015. Though only 27, he has suffered chronic knee problems that have limited him to just two Test appearances since 2007.

With the Mumbai Indians, who retained him ahead of the IPL auction last January, there are only four-over spells to consider and a nice fat pay-cheque - franchises have not revealed how much they pay the retained players, though rules allowed a total spend of US$4.5 million (Dh16.5m) on four - must ease the pain.

He played a big part in Muttiah Muralitharan's victorious final Test at Galle last July, but was in no kind of shape for the rest of the series. The physical limitations almost mandate that his future in the game is as a limited-overs bowler.

For Sri Lanka Cricket though, he has become another bone of contention. "It looks a bit awkward when someone says he is injured and continues to play cricket," said Duleep Mendis, the former captain who heads the new selection committee.

"That is the reason why we have decided to write to Malinga and ask him to return home and undergo a rehabilitation programme.

"Malinga has specifically mentioned in a letter that he is not available for Test matches right now because he has a nagging knee problem."

Differences between boards and players over the IPL is nothing new for the West Indies.

Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard will miss parts of the series against Pakistan to fulfil their commitments with Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians respectively, while Chris Gayle, dropped after the World Cup debacle, has been signed by the Royal Challengers Bangalore as a replacement for Dirk Nannes, the injured fast bowler.

Gayle was ignored in the January auction primarily because the IPL clashed with West Indies' home season. Even Ottis Gibson, the West Indies coach, admitted that the lack of an IPL "window" was hurting his players, many of whom play an attacking brand of cricket perfectly suited to the format.

Gayle said he was not even informed he was being left out of the squad.

"I came to find out via the media that a Twenty20 squad was announced, and a one-day international squad was announced, and I was stunned when I saw a big headline in the newspapers, 'Gayle, Sarwan, Chanderpaul dropped'," he told a Jamaican radio station.

In his case, the board has reluctantly issued the no-objection certificate.

Sri Lanka, whose last couple of lucrative television deals have been tied in with the number of days they play against India, have chosen to play hard ball. You sense it is a battle they cannot win.



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