Sadly, our system does not bring in guys who think cricket: Sidath

EXCLUSIVE - SLC's interim chairman gets candid

By LOKENDRA PRATAP SAHI
  • Published 6.09.15
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Sidath Wettimuny

Sidath Wettimuny, the soft-spoken chairman of the interim committee running Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC), spoke to The Telegraph for about 45 minutes a few days ago.

The interview took place in Sidath's ultra-spacious office at the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC), in Colombo, where SLC is headquartered.

All three Wettimuny brothers - Sunil and Mithra being the other two - have, incidentally, played for Lanka, making the family very special.

At 59, Sidath is the youngest, with Sunil (who made a career as a pilot and is now settled in Germany) the eldest. He's 66. Mithra's 64.

Excerpts...

Q Are you in a position to be envied, or are you actually in a truly hot seat?

A (Smiles) Not enviable at all. I'm here for a short time, on an invitation from the sports minister... I've been focusing on the core areas which, unfortunately, have been neglected.

Specifically, what are you working on?

For example, we don't have an indoor facility in SLC's main stadium, the Premadasa... We have the academy there, but nothing indoors.

That's a huge surprise...

Absolutely. Today, a majority of our players are coming from fairly remote areas. So, I'd like SLC to develop the infrastructure outside Colombo in a big way. We should reach out to them, rather than the talent always looking to come to the capital. Clearly, cricket is no longer an elitist sport.

Lanka have been playing Test cricket for over three decades, so it's more than odd that the fundamentals are being addressed now...

Because of so many changes in SLC, over the years, nobody has had the time to see something genuinely good through. The next guy in the hot seat doesn't say 'this is good, let's see this through'. That's the bane of our cricket.

You've served on quite a few government-appointed interim committees. Don't such committees make it worse for SLC?

The functioning does get affected... I've myself served on six interim committees in the past 15 or so years. The problem really lies with SLC's constitution. We've got voters who may not even have a proper cricket ground. The SSC and the Tamil Union Cricket & Athletic Club (P. Sara Oval) each have two votes. But many others with next to nothing by way of a ground and infrastructure also have the same number of votes. Is that fair? But nothing can be done till the constitution is amended.

Will that happen?

Don't see that happening as it suits some to maintain status quo. Compared to India, we are a small country. But, in SLC, 80-odd voters have around 140-plus votes. The number is that many. Obviously, people don't want to lose whatever they're currently enjoying.

So, five years on, I could be asking exactly the same question either to you or one of your successors?

Indeed, yes. The change has to come from within. Right now, I don't see that happening. That's the sad reality. Only an Act by Parliament could recast things in SLC.

You're the chairman till elections are held...

Yes. Elections should be held by January. I won't be a candidate, for elections aren't my cup of tea. Once a full-time chairman has been elected, I'll devote all my time to my clothing business.

The sports minister appoints the interim committee. But should the government really be interfering in a sports body?

Look, the question which needs to be asked is why the government has to intervene? Problems have arisen from 1996, after the removal of Ana Punchihewa as president, soon after we'd won the World Cup! The problem which began then, continues. Sadly, our system does not bring in guys who think cricket. That's the tragedy.

Well, have you had a free hand?

The government hasn't interfered. Not at all.

Have the selectors adequately prepared for life without Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara?

They certainly have a plan and the present lot came on board not long ago. So, we have to be fair to them... We have the talent, though a vacuum could be felt for a length of time in the near future. I expect results to be seen in the next six-eight months. I guess we have to be patient. That said, big names are big names.

Going forward, is SLC focusing on the two shorter formats or paying attention to the oldest format as well?

Our focus is on quality. Mahela is on SLC's cricket committee and he's concerned about the quality of our domestic cricket... From February, we're starting franchisee cricket and that would include a four-day competition. The cream of our cricket will play and, for greater involvement, we're looking at sponsors from within the country.

There was an issue with the national players' payments...

Nobody has any arrears now. Payments isn't an issue. SLC's financial management is on the right track.

To go back a little, you were the chairman of the selection committee when Arjuna Ranatunga's innings as a player came to an end, in 2000. How was that bit handled by you, in particular?

I had a long chat with Arjuna... He probably wasn't happy with what I had to say, about the need for drastic changes, but he understood that we had to go forward and there had to be changes. All for the good of our cricket, of course.

You played 35 ODIs, but were largely seen as a Test batsman. Would you have enjoyed the T20 format?

I would have, for sure. Playing T20 isn't a problem. Good Test players will be successful in ODIs and in T20 cricket. However, a good T20 player could struggle in the oldest and longest format. T20 is definitely easier than Test cricket.

Till the late 1990s, even Test matches attracted a full house in the subcontinent. Today, it's very different...

My take is that the number of people interested in the sport and in the results hasn't dwindled. It's just that a big percentage of the fans prefer watching Test cricket on the TV. Working life has become stressful and many find it more comfortable watching the action either in the office or at home.

Neither India's nor Lanka's openers could put up a decent partnership right through the three-Test series. Why?

Much of it has to do with the basics. Most openers don't get their feet to the ball, the head isn't in the right place... The fundamentals aren't strong, perhaps owing to the influence of T20.

[India's best was a dismal 14 in the first innings of the first Test, in Galle. Lanka's was a mere one run better, 15, in the same Test (again, first innings).]

Favourite opener?

Sunil Gavaskar. Just imagine he got hundreds and double hundreds, against some of the fastest bowlers ever seen, and that too without a helmet. Wow... Sunil had amazing skills.

To talk of 2015... Is there an opener who has impressed you?

Shikhar Dhawan, I feel, is good. Alastair Cook as well... Speaking generally, I quite like AB de Villiers and Ian Bell... In answering off the cuff, I may have missed one or two names.

The final question... Your thoughts on captains Virat Kohli and Angelo Mathews...

Both are young... Angelo is learning... Kohli's body language is aggressive and he could become a good leader... It's premature to judge Angelo and Kohli. We need to give them some time to grow as captains. It's not an easy job.