By Easwaran Rutnam
COLOMBO, Jan. 16 (Xinhua) — Former Sri Lankan cricket captain turned politician Arjuna Ranatunga says the current national cricket selection panel should be sacked following Sri Lanka’ s poor performance in the United Arab Emirates and South Africa.
Ranatunga also accused the government of interfering with Sri Lankan cricket resulting in some senior players also making political comments instead of just focusing on the game.
Sri Lanka cricket has had a poor run over the past few months suffering a Test and One-Day International series loss in the United Arab Emirates against Pakistan and later losing the Test series in South Africa.
The most humiliating loss for Sri Lanka was recorded in the ongoing One-Day International series against South Africa.
Chasing 302 runs for victory in the second One-Day International against South Africa last week, the Sri Lankans were bowled out for just 43 runs, their lowest total in limited overs cricket.
Ranatunga told Xinhua in an interview on Monday that he suspected the current selection process for the national team was based on political interference and not the merit and performance of each player.
He also said that the national selectors made a huge blunder when they failed to pick in-form batsman Thilan Samaraweera for the Test series in South Africa.
“Samaraweera was not picked in the original squad but was later included as a replacement for an injured player. He then went on to score two centuries and was the most consistent batsman in the Test series against South Africa. The national selectors should admit that they made a blunder in the selection or they should either resign or be sacked,” Ranatunga said.
Ranataunga led the Sri Lankan cricket team to its only World Cup win in 1996 and he attributed the success to the fact that back then the players did not face pressure from politicians or the local cricket board.
“Our treasure was cricket and now it is in a mess because of political interference. It is really sad because past players really worked hard to bring Sri Lanka cricket to the top and that hard work is being messed up for money and the game in Sri Lanka is on the decline,” Ranatunga said.
Recently the Sri Lankan cricket board had its first election after several years and one time cricket board President Upali Dharmadasa was elected uncontested as the president of the board.
However Ranatunga is not happy with the election saying a few others who had initially come forward to contest for the presidency had later stepped down as the members who were eventually elected had political backing.
Among those elected to the current cricket board is Ranatunga’ s brother Nisthantha Ranatunga. He was appointed as the secretary to the board.
“I am glad that I am not in this government because if I was then people will blame even me for not doing enough to resurrect the game,” he said.
The Sri Lankan cricketers had not been paid their salaries for several months by the cricket board and only recently was part of it paid from money obtained from both the International Cricket Council and the government treasury.
“The current cricket board is in a mess. The Sri Lankan sports minister may say the board is not bankrupt but maybe he does not know the mathematics. There is a major issue in the cricket administration and this is sure to be affecting the players as well,” Ranatunga said.
Ranatunga accused former Sports Minister Gamini Lokuge saying he opened the doors for politicians to get involved in the game.
He said that another former Sports minister C.B. Ratnayake attempted to rectify things but was subsequently removed from his post and replaced by current minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage.
“It is good at times when ministers get involved in rural cricket to help cricket clubs and budding players to come up. But they should not get involved with a national team. They should also not comment on national cricketers. Today we see not just the sports minister but even other politicians making comments about the national players and such comments can affect the performance of those players,” Ranatunga said.
Ranatunga feels a television deal expected to be signed in April this year to promote Sri Lankan cricket will further add to the mess faced by Sri Lanka cricket.
He says a major overhaul of the Sri Lankan cricket board is required to get the team back on track and to prepare them for the next cricket world cup.
Cricket is one of most popular sports games in Sri Lanka which co-hosted the 2011 Cricket World Cup but was beaten by the India in the final.