Scant evidence of Sri Lankan parties

By Chris Rattue

Sri Lanka celebrate a wicket during the fourth ODI against the Black Caps. Photo / www.photosport.nz
Sri Lanka celebrate a wicket during the fourth ODI against the Black Caps. Photo / www.photosport.nz

Has an over-enthusiastic, flamboyant Sri Lankan sports minister under pressure to fix the national cricket team got the wrong end of the stick?

Or were the Sri Lankan cricketers really partying their way around New Zealand, that's when they weren't squabbling with each other?

It appears that social media posts from Sri Lankan fans in New Zealand have inspired sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara to call for an investigation into the just-completed tour where the tourists were overwhelmed in the test and short-form games.

From the no-smoke-without-fire department, the Herald understands that there may have been some inner tensions, particularly an issue between captain Angelo Mathews and middle order batsman Kasun Vithanage, who played in the two tests and final T20 game. But what cricket team doesn't include a bit of angst? And there is an impression for now that a new minister eager to show he will not be mucked around is playing to the crowd, and giving a cricket mad country what it wants to hear.

Minister Dayasiri is not backwards in coming forwards in media profile. His latest claims - which appear to be based on scant evidence - come after he alleged in December that wicketkeeper Kesal Perera's food or urine sample may have been tampered with as retribution for blowing the whistle on a match-fixing approach. Early this month, and in relation to the Perera claim, he demanded that police arrest two Sri Lankan cricket support staff who he said "have been involved in match fixing for some time now".

Sri Lankan cricket writer Andrew Fidel Fernando, whose work appears on ESPN's highly regarded CricInfo, told the Herald that he (Fernando) had found just a handful of media posts from Sri Lankans living in New Zealand about player behaviour, and they were vague rather than damning. One suggested players had been up until 2am before the final T20 match in Auckland. Fernando said that as the game started at 2.30pm those players still had plenty of time to sleep and prepare.

"I didn't see more than four posts, and they said things like "Did staying up until 2am help you see the ball?'," Fernando said.

The Sri Lankan management did not impose blanket curfews to Fernando's knowledge, and relied on players using their own judgment especially when it came to senior players.

"You might not get on with all your colleagues but you can still do your job," said the Colombo-based Fernando, who was still in Auckland when spoken to by the Herald .

As with other cricketing countries, there have been spats between Sri Lankan players in the past including one involving Tillakaratne Dilshan and Upul Tharanga, who still formed a decent opening partnership.

But with the current Sri Lankan team struggling to match the glories of old, the spotlight is becoming much harsher.

The new sports minister, appointed in September, is a rather flamboyant figure with a background in martial arts. Restoring the lustre of the Sri Lankan cricket team was seen as one of his prime objectives.

One profile described him as "a sensation with the general public for his appealing nature, overly popular as an entertainment draw as a vocalist and tele drama theme song writer with a fun going personality going by his appearance at television reality shows".

Fernando, who has covered the Sri Lankan team for three years, was unsure if the minister had legislative power to force an inquiry but he certainly had the influence to do so.

"It will depend on how this plays out in the media and what is in the manager's report. There could be some ramifications," he said.

"There has been nothing like this around the Sri Lankan team (in the last few years) and I would say they are among the best behaved teams in international cricket."

- NZ Herald

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