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The rotting pride of SL Cricket: A case of the gentleman leaving the game

The rotting pride of SL Cricket: A case of the gentleman leaving the game

09 Nov 2023 | BY Sumudu Chamara

Sri Lanka cricket, which not so long ago was one of the prides of the country, loved by a plethora of ardent fans who are now disappointed, has found itself at the centre of controversy, disappointment, and backlash. 

Disappointed fans question “what happened to Sri Lanka’s cricket” followed by the question “what happened to our cricketers”. With the finger of blame almost always pointed towards the cricket administration for their imprudent actions concerning cricket and corruption and also the political authority for their lethargy, the recent spate of match losses has resulted in an unforeseen level of public furore. The matter is now a topic of discussion in the Parliament, the court of public opinion, the international cricket community, the Court of Appeal, and most importantly, Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC).

Although the SLC and the political authority remain the most criticised parties in this discussion, cricketers are not at all immune to criticism. Fans, many of whom unleashed their disappointment and fury on social media, opine that the cricket team had “failed” the country and fans, and that it is time for a complete overhaul of Sri Lanka’s cricket team along with the restructuring of the SLC.

Celebrating victory and dealing with defeat

Losing is neither easy nor pleasant. When it comes to a country like Sri Lanka that has suffered a large number of match losses during the past few years including several very embarrassing ones,and also witnessed unscientific, arbitrary, and detrimental decisions by the cricket authorities, the pain of match losses can be intense. In fact, until recently, despite a number of such disappointments, Sri Lankans have remained rather civil and did not go beyond criticising the cricketers. They demanded steps aimed at resuscitating the cricket sector, and even pointed out what needs to change. However, as a result of continuous match losses and a great lackadaisicalness shown by the cricket administration to take the necessary steps, fans’ patience seems to be running out.

One post on Facebook read: “The Cricket Board (a reference to SLC) does nothing more than turning a blind eye to the issues that have crippled Sri Lanka’s cricket for their benefit and buying time promising various solutions that they are not going to fulfil, while players remain indifferent to whether they lose or win because at the end of the day, they get paid. This drama which brewed the crisis that we see in cricket today has to stop before we, the fans, take the matter into our hands. We don’t want fans attacking cricketers’ houses and burning cricketers’ dummies like in India.”

Alarmingly, there are many who concur with these opinions, and except for a handful of cricketers, many are no longer revered.

One may feel that fans’ anger and disappointment are justifiable. To a great degree, they are justifiable, especially given the fact that Sri Lanka’s cricket fans have been patient for years. However, despite the anger expressed towards the SLC and politicians, many seem to focus only on the cricketers’ skills as the reason for Sri Lanka cricket’s decline. This is true both when criticising the cricket team for the unsatisfactory performance and when criticising the SLC and politicians for their failure to include in the team the best cricketers that the country has. In that context, although their anger and disappointment are justifiable, they seem to overlook an important fact, i.e. cricketers’ skills are not the only factor that determines a cricket team’s success. There are a number of other factors such as the resources available to cricketers, the cricketers’ mental status, especially after match losses, the cricket administration’s decisions concerning the team’s composition and structure, national level policies that have an impact on cricket or cricketers, newer or complex training methods, various requirements that cricketers’ have to fulfil to remain in the team, and also the proper use of technology to assess and improve the cricketers’ skills in which cricketers’ have limited say or control. Confining cricket’s success to cricketers’ skills and evaluating cricket’s fate based on that, therefore should not be the proper approach to dealing with the state of cricket in Sri Lanka. One social media post said that “the more pressure exerted on cricketers for positive changes, the sooner the country will see the revival of cricket.” While that sentiment is driven by a good intention, the approach would not be the most effective one because cricketers are only one factor.

While being receptive and wise enough to understand that there are a large number of behind the scenes factors that play a significant role in Sri Lanka cricket’s success or failure, fans also need to be more familiar with the concept of defeat. It is true that cricket fans remained extremely patient, in fact, for years, before taking to the streets against the SLC. However, fans would have been able to manage anger and disappointment triggered by defeat more effectively and peacefully had they become accustomed to the reality that defeat is part and parcel of any sport, and that even the best of cricket teams in the world have no guarantee of victory. Fans of the “gentleman’s game” should be more open-minded.

The ‘gentlemen’s fame’

Being gentlemanly in the gentleman’s game is not a topic that concerns only cricket fans. In the current context, i.e. during the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) Cricket World Cup, how gentlemanly cricketers are also emerged as a topic of discussion.

The first incident where this concern was raised was during a media briefing held before Sri Lanka’s match against Bangladesh. When the Sri Lanka Team’s Captain Kusal Mendis was questioned as to whether he would extend his congratulations to Indian cricketer Virat Kohli for his 49th one-day international (ODI) century, through which he equaled the record set by Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar as the highest number of ODI centuries, he answered “no, why would I congratulate him?”, after which he smirked as if he was expecting others who were present at the press briefing also to agree with him.

Various people, especially fans, had different opinions about Mendis’ response. While most of them resoundingly agreed that his response was inappropriate for a man of the “gentleman’s game” and as being unprofessional for a Team Captain, there was a small segment of netizens who praised Mendis merely because they viewed India as a major adversary in the ICC Cricket World Cup with whom a cordial match was not possible. Some were of the opinion that Mendis was not ready to face the camera, and that in that unpreparedness, he gave an answer which even he did not think through. Regardless, Mendis’ response has already added a black mark to the country’s cricket team. International media outlets were critical about Mendis’ response, which is reasonable given the fact that even though Mendis had no obligation to congratulate any person, in cricket, congratulating someone who has achieved something, even if they are from another team, is the norm. Cricketers of other teams have shown that gentlemanliness towards Sri Lankan cricketers and vice versa, and cricketers going beyond mere handshakes to openly congratulate those who have achieved such is common in international cricket.

Mendis’ incident, which some deemed a “minor” incident, was followed by a bigger incident during the Sri Lanka versus Bangladesh match which raised the question of how gentlemanly the current Sri Lankan cricket team is. That is, Angelo Mathews’ time based out, which was an unprecedented and shocking highlight of the ICC Cricket World Cup, especially because the rule under which he was timed out was unbeknownst to many cricket fans. Whether Mathews’ timeout was a fair decision or not is a question, because Mathews is challenging with video evidence that he had five more seconds to start batting. It will perhaps be investigated in the future and some sort of agreement may be reached. What is not going to change is how the Sri Lankan team reacted to that decision. The Hindustan Times reported that the match “would not only go down as one of the most controversial ones of this tournament but also in the entire history of ICC Cricket World Cups.” While local cricket fans went berserk on seeing what happened to Mathews, especially because the match was a decisive one to Sri Lanka in the ICC Cricket World Cup, as a display of disapproval, the Sri Lankan team declined to shake hands with the Bangladeshi cricket team at the end of the match. What is more, during the match too there were heated moments between the two teams, which further tarnished our team’s name.

It is understandable that Sri Lankans, both fans and the team, are upset about Mathews’ time out, and are also surprised at how it happened, given that it was the first time a player was timed out at an ODI. If they want to express opposition, that too is understandable. What path they choose to achieve it is what calls for careful thought. While Mendis’ incident made many question about the Team Captain’s qualities, how the team refused to shake hands with the Bangladeshi team has put the entire team in a questionable situation in front of the international community. The international community’s comments about the Sri Lankan team’s behaviour and the international media outlets’ reporting about the same bear witness to it. The argument raised by many that support Sri Lanka is that the Bangladeshi team’s request that Mathews be timed out was “ungentlemanly” because he was already on the ground, even though the Bangladeshi team was well within its rights to make that request and the umpires merely implemented a rule that was already in place.

It is unfortunate that we have failed to show the gentlemanliness that we expect from others. It seems that in our quest to create skilled cricketers, we have ignored the qualities that go beyond batting, fielding, or bowling skills. In the process of reviving Sri Lanka’s cricket capabilities, the gentlemanliness that we have ignored should also be restored.

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