From Doosras to dooshanaya | Sunday Observer

From Doosras to dooshanaya

Terror strikes the batsman when having to face the deadly Doosra ball from a Sri Lankan bowler. It was Sri Lankan cricket – in the name of legend Murali – which invented that artful (and often fatal) style of spin bowling. Today, a rival cricketer appears to be more alert for corrupt tactics by Sri Lankan players and administrators rather than the finer art of the game.

Today, Sri Lankan cricket is becoming more notorious than famous. While names like Jayasuriya and Aravinda live on in the hearts of millions across the globe, more recently, other names linked both to the teams as well as the administrative and technical spheres are prominent in the news. These are of suspects and accused in numerous local and international scams.

Sri Lankan cricket mis-governance is as publicly debated today as player performance has been since the sport’s origin in this country. It has already been acknowledged that the country’s cricketing capability has suffered partly due to these manipulations and the demoralising effect that it has on player and team performance.

Part of the adventure of sport is the endeavour to achieve the impossible in prowess. And diminutive, under-developed, war torn Sri Lanka achieved the impossible in1996 to win the World Cup. Our cricketing prowess was nurtured by a dedicated, methodical – if impoverished – administration which did not have the advantages of fame, industry value and social wealth.

It was that first fame in 1996 and the subsequent sustained demonstration of player skills and astute management that won the respect of the cricketing world; and, the attraction, inevitably, of the commercial world. Clearly, it is the subsequent inability of governments to ensure an independent and professional administration of the sport that has led to the current state of affairs.

If sporting zeal, creativity and professionalism had remained key to Sri Lanka’s cricket governance, things would have been different. However, politicians thought fit to legitimise their official roles in the game, a role that business leaders also thought to emulate. Still, the ultimate political deciders in government could have ensured that the in-coming business tycoons operated under rigidly ethical and professional conditions.

At the same time, fame and success inevitably drew in industry in the forms of product sponsorships, branding/advertising and, most powerfully, television media. Sri Lanka joined the billionaire club in terms of its share in a booming, wealthy, global cricket sporting industry.

In this global market, business is, no doubt, crucial to the success of a sport. But while business is a vital stakeholder in cricket in terms of income generation and sports promotion, the management of the sport itself is neither simply a business nor should it necessarily be led by wealthy business tycoons. Sadly, the cricketing community, perhaps caught unready by the sudden fame and wealth, failed to adequately manage the intervention of business in the actual cricket administration itself.

No wonder that some tycoons reportedly won their way into Sri Lankan cricket governance by splashing wealth around the clubs and cronies and fixing elections. It was not a surprise then that one-time dedicated (and unwealthy) cricket enthusiasts with good records of professional success (at that time integrity was presumed and not a special attribute) were quickly unseated and Sri Lankan cricket administration began to decay.

The successes built on the hard work during the early years of the original Board of Control (set up in 1975) were later exploited by the far richer Sri Lanka Cricket, the corporatized organisation that replaced the BCCSL. True, a bureaucratic structure alone is insufficient to ride the highway of cricket as a lucrative and intensely competitive industry - the world that Sri Lanka entered after 1996. What we failed to collectively ensure is that the successor body was not greedily manipulated by those who ran it and their crony subordinates.

The responsibility for the unholy mess that is Sri Lanka cricket today must be taken firmly by its successive leaderships. Many second-rung national administrators – the professionals – have had the civility and nobility to accept such responsibility and resign or retire in disgust over the years as the scandals mounted. Sadly, such top-level leaders as SLC Chair, the Hon. Thilanga Sumathipala, MP, and his tycoon predecessors have not thought fit to take on their share of the responsibility. Neither have the politicians who have held cricket governance as part of their portfolio in power.

Just last week the sport’s governing body, Sri Lanka Cricket, yet again detected a seemingly criminal cash misappropriation case. In this case it was an attempted misappropriation of a somewhat smaller scale than some other international transactions now under probe. The public, especially, cricket enthusiasts, have long gotten used to reports of such scams and attempted scams.

Also, last week, the special investigative team from the International Cricket Council arrived in Colombo to begin on-site investigations into the series of corruption cases for which Sri Lankan Cricket’s governing body is now better known.

There is a stench down Maitland Place, Colombo, and it seems that the cleaners have arrived. That the world body has had to step in is a sad testimony to the sheer failure of Sri Lanka’s own national leaders – who have kept a firm political grip on this publicity-driven sport – to do the cleaning themselves. Today, the dirt has spread across continents in international-level match-fixing scams that mirror the corruption within the country’s cricket body.

Soon it might no longer be ‘shock & awe’ that is felt by our cricketing rivals facing Sri Lankan prowess, but more disgust and derision at the extent of corruption and cynical manipulations of people, games and systems. One should add ‘children’ as well, given the effect all the years of mal-administration at the top has on schools’ cricket, the spawning grounds of our national sporting greatness.