The most anyone has heard about Sri Lankan cricket in the last few days is probably about the dispute between the players and the board on players' huge pay cut and the unrest that followed. Well, they have also lost the ODI series to Bangladesh, for the first time in their history. Although they won the last match comprehensively by 97 runs. And they are currently at the bottom of the ODI Super League and at risk of not qualifying directly for the upcoming 2023 cricket world cup.
The Lankan Lions have won just 34 out of 105 international matches since the start of 2018 with a W/L ratio of 0.567.
They have played 27 Test series since 2015 CWC and won 10 of them, only 4 of them being away from home. They lost 13 Test series meanwhile. In the meantime, they won only 5 out of 22 ODI series they played.
Before beating Bangladesh on Friday, they last won an away ODI in 2019, in the CWC against Windies.
Just to remind, Sri Lanka won the CWC in 1996 and played in two consecutive finals in 2007 and 2011. They were the champions of the T20 WC in 2014. But all those feel like distant memories now.
Sri Lankan Cricket (SLC) is unstable, both on and off the field. If anyone's thinking this is something new for them, they are wrong. This has been coming for so long. The fall was inevitable.
"I don't see light. I am inside the tunnel but I don't see light. I am not surprised, and I hope I'm wrong.... For somebody in the system to not know where they are going is dangerous."
"I don't see light. I am inside the tunnel but I don't see light. I am not surprised, and I hope I'm wrong, but for some of these players and support staff who are in the system and are the face of Sri Lanka cricket at the moment, it's the same and that's dangerous. For somebody in the system to not know where they are going is dangerous," former skipper Marvan Atapattu said back in 2019 raising his concerns for SLC's future.
Financial crisis definitely played a big part in the fall. The recent dispute between the players and the board led to some of the senior players being dropped from the ODI squad against Bangladesh. Thus they had to tour Bangladesh with a less experienced side.
Why the dispute? Sri Lankan players are refused to sign new contracts that saw their payments slashed by up to 40 per cent. The players felt they were being held 'at gunpoint'. Senior players like Angelo Mathews and Test skipper Dimuth Karunaratne saw their annual fee dropping from $130,000 a year to $80,000 and $100,000 to $70,000 respectively.
This financial problem or dispute is not new for SLC. There were reports back in 2019 that SLC was at the risk of going bankrupt within the next 9 months after the CWC.
In 2011, the International Cricket Council (ICC) had to pay 42.36% of the fees due to Sri Lanka's cricketers from the 2011 World Cup to September 2011. The Sri Lankan players, who had not been paid since the tournament ended in April, were owed a total of about $4.3 million by SLC, who had not been able to pay the players because of financial constraints. SLC also had to seek financial help from the government and state banks back then.
It is an open secret that political interference has been pretty acute cricket in Sri Lanka for quite some time now. And it is ruining their game.
"The key issue is that political interference is bringing the downfall of Sri Lanka cricket," former captain Arjuna Ranatunga told ESPNcricinfo back in 2012.
The SLC cannot become an independent body due to the extreme political meddling. Everything their board does need to be approved by the Sports Ministry, even the squad for a series, a rare case in cricketing world.
Sri Lanka, with a population of 22 million, has 24 first-class cricket clubs with 147 votes electing the administrators while India, with more than a billion people, has a voter base of only 38.
So many ex-cricketers voiced their opinion against this meddling and even rejected board roles when offered. Mahela Jayawardene was offered a management role in 2019, but he rejected that stating he will not have anything to say and everything is kind of done and dusted beforehand.
"There's no point in me getting involved tactically, or whatever if I don't have a say in the whole structure. The team is selected and everything is done and dusted. There is no room for me to come in and add something," Mahela said after he was asked to take up a role in the management in 2019 CWC.
Corruption has got its way into Sri Lankan cricket. Sri Lanka was rated as the most corrupt cricket nation by ICC in 2018, AFP reported. ICC felt Sri Lanka's cricket administration is corrupt from top to bottom.
There have been allegations of fixing against local and international players in both domestic and international matches. A few of them have already been punished by ICC.
Former skipper Sanath Jayasuriya was banned for two years after admitting to violating the anti-corruption code as part of ICC's widespread probe into match-fixing in Sri Lankan cricket in February 2019.
After being charged in Oct 2018, Jayasuriya immediately declared his innocence. Jayasuriya finally admitted to "concealing, tampering with or destroying evidence".
Former Sri Lankan cricketers Nuwan Zoysa and Dilhara Lokuhettige were banned for six and eight years respectively for corruption.
A documentary program 'Cricket's Match Fixers' broadcast by Al Jazeera in 2018 showed how matches are fixed in Sri Lanka, both in domestic and international matches.
Sri Lanka lack stability in their team selection as well. This problem mainly rose since the departure of their senior players like Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan almost at the same time. They have struggled to develop a stable team since then.
Sri Lanka have had 12 ODI captains since 2011 WC, the most by a team. Clearly, they lack a stable leader who would lead them from the front during their critical situation.
Sri Lanka's poor domestic structure is also responsible for its downfall. They have a centralised cricket system that is concentrated in Colombo. But more and more players have started to come through from other parts of the island.
The problem is that the country had misplaced priorities and was concentrating on building big stadiums while ignoring facilities for outstation cricketers.
But SLC are set to launch a five-team provincial tournament which they hope will replace the 14-club Premier competition in the future. Each of the five provinces will have its own sponsor and separate organisation.
"It will greatly increase the competitiveness of domestic cricket and help bridge the gap between domestic level and international cricket," said Jayantha Dharmadasa, the interim chairman of SLC a few days ago.
Unlike Sri Lanka, Bangladesh cricket do not have financial problem or corruption issues as yet. But the poor domestic structure has been a concern. The shortage of pipeline players is worrying. It is high time the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) took the necessary steps to revamp our domestic cricket to give a proper fight against the big teams continuously. Otherwise, all this potential to become a top team will be nipped in the bud.
And a similar condition may rise after our senior players retire. Bangladesh team sometimes over depend on the four senior players - Shakib Al Hasan, Tamim Iqbal, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah Riyad - to win matches. But what will happen when they retire? The answer may sound frustrating. We do not have players who are ready to come and fill in their shoes instantly. The future, after the 2023 CWC, thus looks dark. There is still some time to build a solid pipeline for the tough time ahead.
Sri Lanka cricket have fallen into a black hole. They are struggling to find any way out of it. But they are not doing enough either. If it continues for a few more years, then SLC will keep falling down and maybe get lost in the history books soon.