Sri Lankan cricket almost matches South Africa for off-field drama
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JOHANNESBURG - South African cricket has had its fair share of drama and controversy this year, and Sri Lankan cricket has been no less lively.
The respective national men’s teams will meet in One-Day and T20 International series’s over the next fortnight, with those matches taking place against a backdrop of upheaval off the field for both sets of players and coaches.
South Africa’s issues stretch from an administrative overhaul at the mother body Cricket SA, that demanded intervention from the government, to the project about Social Justice and Nation Building, which has ripped open painful wounds about racial discrimination in South African cricket.
Sri Lanka head into Thursday opening One-Day International in Colombo, dealing with a plethora of drama that stretches from the field into social media.
Results-wise, it's been a struggle. They’ve won just two out of 12 ODIs this year, sitting in 12th spot, one place below South Africa on the ICC World Cup Super League table, which will determine the seven automatic qualifiers for the 2023 World Cup.
The Sri Lankans have lost series’s in the West Indies, Bangladesh and England and also suffered a defeat on home soil to a second string Indian team.
Amidst that disastrous run, there was an on-going fight over contracts, which was only resolved last week, with 18 players signing contracts to cover the period from August 1 to December 31.
However Angelo Mathews, the great all-rounder was not amongst those, with reports that he was unhappy with the compensation offered, and thus has not made himself available for international selection.
Then there’s the case of Niroshan Dickwella, Kusal Mendis and Danushka Gunathilaka, none of whom were offered contracts following a suspension from international cricket for one year because they breached Covid regulations and the team’s curfew while out in Durham during the England tour in June.
Isuru Udana, much loved by the folk in Paarl, for his role in helping the Rocks team to win the Mzansi Super League title in 2019, retired from international cricket at the end of July.
It means Sri Lanka has had to rely on youth. They’ve given nine players their ODI debuts this year, which didn’t help in building any kind of consistency.
All the while, coach Mickey Arthur has defended his own interactions with players on twitter, even though he’d advised the players to stay off the social media site.
“Some of the stuff listed there is beyond comprehensible,” Arthur said ahead of the series against India in July. “My advice to the guys is - just stay off it. You get absolutely hammered on it, there is only one way to handle it and that is not to look.”
Arthur does look though and didn’t take kindly to former Sri Lankan international and now well known TV commentator, Russell Arnold calling out an argument Arthur had with captain Dasun Shanaka on the field following a close defeat to India. Arnold felt the interaction between coach and captain belonged in the dressing room.
Arthur felt differently. “Russ we win together and lose together but we learn all the time!” Arthur tweeted in response to Arnold. “Dasun and myself are growing a team and we both were very frustrated we did not get over the line! It was actually a very good debate,no need to make mischief out of it!”
Arthur doesn’t only tweet at ex-players either, taking umbrage at one user who criticised him for not congratulating Sri Lankan players who were handed contracts in the IPL. “I speak to the players on most days and don’t have to use social media to congratulate them,” Arthur replied. “I do that behind closed doors. Before you comment, think a bit.”
Although a series between teams currently occupying positions 11 and 12 on that World League table doesn’t appear compelling, it will make for some intriguing play when the three match ODI series starts on Thursday. It could prove a useful distraction for both teams, to get onto the field, with the sport in both countries dominated by so much that has happened off it, for much of this year.