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Let sanity prevail

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by Rex Clementine

Sri Lanka Cricket has played down the ongoing pay crisis with national cricketers, telling us that everything will be tickety-boo after the Bangladesh series as they are currently negotiating with the players. But the fact remains that the players refused to sign the contracts and many of them are angry at the suggested pay cut. The new contracts are so flawed that some players would be forced to go through 200% pay cuts.

No doubt these are testing times as SLC has rightly pointed out. The board’s finances have suffered major losses due to the pandemic. But if there’s going to be a pay cut, let it begin from the top. The CEO’s salary of Rs. 1.8 million a month has not been slashed. But he wants players to take a pay cut. The CEO is not covering himself in glory these days as we witnessed during the COPE hearing recently.

In fact, the CEO’s salary has tripled in the last five years. In that scenario, there’s no rationale in asking the players to get a pay cut while the head of the organization enjoys his perks. It is very easy to say that this was a suggestion from one of the sub committees and pass the buck. But the CEO has been in that position for a decade now and before that as Director Cricket Operations for a considerable time. He should have given a piece of his mind to whoever the mastermind, who wasn’t thinking clearly in drafting the contract.

If the proposed contracts go through, Suranga Lakmal, a former captain and a respected senior player, would be earning an annual retainer worth around US$ 45,000, which is close to Rs. nine million. The CEO, at the same time would be earning over Rs. 21 million. How can that be fair? Whoever who prepared this contract is prejudiced.

Apart from a significant reduction in the annual retainers, the seniority payment too has been completely taken off. The mastermind who drafted these contracts is said to be a former captain, who in his prime earned as much as Rs. 100 million annually from SLC. When the board wanted this amount reduced, he had a bone to pick with the administration and together with his crooked agent, who ran a cricket website, sought political intervention. Time was when some of our captains spent more time at Temple Trees than the time they spent at the crease. Literally, they were asking for the pound of flesh and had it their way.

The board’s counter argument then was that they wanted a fair share of revenue go to domestic cricketers in order stop the brain drain as professional cricketers were regularly traveling to England and Australia to earn a living. SLC failed miserably. Senior players were powerful.

Now the roles have been reversed. Since the mastermind is in administration currently, he feels domestic cricketers need to be looked after and hell with elite players. The poacher turned gamekeeper should not be allowed to get away with his ill-advised policies. Let him take his dumb, nonsensical and undiplomatic policies elsewhere.  

The players are up in arms. They are contractually bound to remain silent or else all hell would have broken loose by now as the recommended pay structure has taken things back to what it was 20 years ago.

Having said all these, it must be mentioned that players did need a shake up. The conduct of some of them in recent years has been unbecoming of professional sportsmen. Take the two kilometer run for example, which they are supposed to run in eight minutes and 30 seconds. Look at how many of them fail this basic drill. Or the skin-fold test, which you can pass with bit of discipline in your food intake and social life. Someone who is as young as Avishka Fernando, who has got a huge future ahead of himself, failing a simple fitness tests is awful.

Then there are allegations of players teaming up with trainers and physiotherapists and submitting false fitness reports. No wonder the ICC has categorized Sri Lanka as the most corrupt nation in cricket. Rarely a month passes without us hearing Sri Lankan cricketers either being charged for drunk driving, knocking someone on the road or being involved in a fight (some fights are now fought in social media). The new contracts ensure that players get penalized substantially if their conduct is not up to the mark.

Discipline is a must in all walks of life. So whilst retaining aspects such as minimum fitness standards and conduct of players in public, the pay cut that has no rationale needs to be reviewed.



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The kid who came to Colombo to study law

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by Rex Clementine

In late 1990s, there was a kid from Kandy who came to Colombo to pursue his studies in law. In 1980s, the universities had been closed due to the JVP insurrection and as a result there was a backlog in enrolling students to complete their degrees.  The kid from Kandy had to wait for two years for his chance to enter university in a bid to become a lawyer going in the footsteps of his father. So with lot of spare time at his disposal, he decided to play some cricket and was employed by Informatics for a salary of Rs. 4000. Brendon Kuruppu was running cricket at Informatics.

Around the same time, the national cricket team fared so poorly in the ICC Cricket World Cup in 1999 in England despite being defending champions. Captain, seniors, cricket board and the selectors were all sacked. President Chandrika Kumaratunga wanted change. The new selection panel headed by Sidath Wettimuny was looking for youth. Kuruppu was part of the selection committee and told his colleagues about this immensely talented kid from Kandy at Informatics. He was a hit with Sri Lanka ‘A’ and soon ended up in the senior side. The nation may have lost a successor to Romesh de Silva (PC) but cricket found someone who could fill the big shoes of Aravinda de Silva. Kumar Sangakkara is his name.

On Sunday night Sanga became just the second Sri Lankan to be inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame. The Kandyans were having a field day on social media so proud of the fact that both inductees from Sri Lanka into that rare club are from Kandy. Muttiah Muralitharan was inducted in 2019 and two years later now Sanga has joined him.

Sanga’s first cricket coach was his father – Kshema Sangakkara, a leading lawyer in the Central province. As his son was growing up he hired Kandy’s best cricket coach – Sunil Fernando to tutor his son. A few years later, he raised the bar even further hiring of all people the legendary Bertie Wijesinghe.

Yet, young Sangakkara was nothing spectacular in school cricket. The standout performers in his age group were mostly Colombo based. There was little doubt that Mahela Jayawardene, Tilan Samaraweera, Avishka Gunawardene and even Upehka Fernando were going to represent Sri Lanka one day but Sangakkara was nowhere close.

But the basics of his game were rock solid thanks to some fine coaching. Success followed in international cricket after the selectors persevered with him patiently. Sanath Jayasuriya, Sangakkara’s first captain needs lot of credit for backing the young player under his charge and letting him express himself freely batting at prime number three slot.

Sangakkara would soon go onto become Sri Lanka’s most prolific batsman.  He dominated bowling attacks in the world while his leadership skills were highly impressive. In his first assignment as captain, Sri Lanka reached the finals of the ICC World T-20 in 2009. In his next assignment, the team recorded their first series win against Pakistan at home.

There was more success as Sri Lanka won a first ever series in Australia under his leadership. His father Kshema remained unimpressed though. Even after he had smashed the most stunning double hundred against an attack that comprised Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akthar, Kshema Sangakkara would tell his son, ‘you batted like a donkey today’.

During a tour of Australia, Sanga had been woken up in the middle of the night by the hotel receptionist who informed him that he had received a fax from home. Bit worried as to what was happening back home he went to pick the copy of the fax. It was from his father. So what was in the fax?  Dad had sent some batting tips from Sir Don Bradman’s book ‘The Art of Cricket’ and with that there was a message, ‘read it before you go out to bat tomorrow.’

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Hurricanes and Highlanders both win with a bonus point

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by Rajitha Ratwatte

Hurricanes at home to the Queensland Reds at Sky Stadium in Wellington. Basically, a dead rubber with the finals now definitely between two of the Kiwi teams and the Hurricanes all but ruled out. The tournament also taking on an air of “much of a sameness” and only the Australian teams showing improvement, probably due to playing better opposition. The Kiwi teams getting sloppier and losing their discipline and professionalism as the tournament progressed. A notable feature was that this was going to be the last game in New Zealand for Ngani Laumape a great servant of Wellington rugby and the current incumbent of the no12 jersey and sometimes All Black winger. A lucrative contract from a French club and not enough certainty from the All-Blacks selectors, who seem to have their eyes focused elsewhere, being among the reasons for the loss of this great player to NZ rugby.

The Reds started off with a basic error by not kicking the required 10 meters and the centerfield scrum that resulted gave Laumape his chance to show just how good he is by scoring under the posts in the third minute. 7–0 to the hosts. A few minutes later Laumape went over again but the TV replay showed him to have dropped the ball over the line due to a great tackle by Dangunu on the Reds’ wing. The Reds had developed a nice tactic with big forwards gaining momentum from long runs in and getting the ball of their nippy halfback McDermott in the second or third phase and breaking through the “Canes defence. Number eight Wilson made a great break this way but lost the ball inches from the line. Another try was denied to the Hurricanes in the 25th minute when Jordie Barret who had a very physical game, went over the line but the TMO ruled a knock-on. The ball seemed to be greasy and there were plenty of handling errors and loose passes. The Reds’ forwards were dominating the set pieces and Tyrell Lomax the ‘Canes loosehead prop was yellow-carded in the 27th minute and this meant they lost Du’ Plessis Kirifi (temporarily) in the number seven jersey as well because another prop had to come on for the scrums. A minute later McDermott came off the back of an advancing scrum and scored under the posts for the Reds, 7–7. The ‘Canes took a penalty mainly to run the clock down during the Lomax yellow card and took the score to 10–7 at halftime.

Within three minutes of the restart, Dangunu was yellow-carded by Ref James Doleman who was to issue two more yellow cards and award a penalty try before he was done for the day. Rueben Love the 20-year-old Hurricanes fly-half scored his first try in Super rugby in the 45th minute and Jordie Barret managed a difficult conversion taking the score to 17–7. The Reds still playing with one man short scored through their dynamic hooker Amosa in the 48th minute and Bryce Haggerty their number 10 converted taking the score to 17–14. At this stage, the Hurricanes captain and number eight Aardie Savea went off the field injured, and the Reds may have seen an opportunity. It was not to be however as Dan Coles came in off the bench (What an option!) and inside his first three minutes in the game, scored what is now his trademark try off a rolling maul constructed at the end of a line out. Only a five pointer this time and the score 22–14. 62 minutes into the game one of the most experienced commentators in NZ was reduced to the single expletive “blimey” when the referee aided by the TMO awarded a penalty try to the Hurricanes and dished out a yellow card knocking the ball deliberately over the dead ball line (i.e., a professional foul in a scoring situation) in a bizarre interpretation of the rules. 29-14 and Nani Laumape was subbed off the field to loud cheers from appreciative fans. The Hurricanes duly achieved the bonus point in the 70th minute Through Devon Flanders (36–14) and did one better before the full-time whistle when Dan Coles got his second off another rolling maul. The Final score 43–14 a record win for the Hurricanes over the Reds.

The second game on Friday was the ACT Brumbies hosting the Otago Highlanders in conditions very familiar to the Highlanders, extreme cold, in Canberra. Mike Frazer was the referee, and the Brumbies went into an early lead scoring an unconverted try through their winger Len Ikitai. Brumbies skipper and loosehead prop Alalatoa had a “brain freeze” and was caught blatantly offside in the 16th minute. The resultant touch kick and line out saw Ash Dickson the ‘Landers hooker score off a rolling maul and Mitch Hunt their fly-half had no difficulty taking them to seven points over the Brumbies five. Jonah Nareki got into the game in the 26th minute making great territory off an advancing scrum and passing to Aaron Smith who helped himself to a seven pointer 14–5. Lachlan Lonnegan the Brumbies hooker pulled one back for his side scoring on the stroke of halftime taking the score to 14–12 at the break.

The Highlanders sustained an unrelenting attack in Brumbies territory from the start of the second half. First, it was Aaron Smith who scored off an attacking scrum (21–12) and inside the next 10 minutes two more tries, one from Billy Harmon, unconverted (26–12) and another from Tomkinson on the wing (33-12) ensured a win with a bonus point for the Highlanders who have a very good chance of featuring in the final next week.

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Sanga inducted into ICC Hall of Fame 

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Former Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara was indicted into ICC Hall of Fame yesterday. He’s the second Sri Lankan to be recognized after Muttiah Muralitharan, who was inducted in 2019. 

Vinoo Mankad, Desmond Haynes, Andy Flower were among the 10 legends of the game to be inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame on Sunday.

In the Early Cricket Era (pre-1918), South African Aubrey Faulkner was inducted, along with Australia’s Monty Noble. In the Inter-war era (1918-1945), West Indies’ Learie Constantine and Stan McCabe of Australia were inducted.

In the 1946-1970 post era category, Ted Dexter of England and Mankad were chosen. In the ODI era, Desmond Haynes of the West Indies and late Bob Willis were named, while in the modern cricket era, Andy Flower and Kumar Sangakkara were inducted.

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