Mahela Strikes Back

Don’t mess with a legend. That’s our advice to SLC president Thilanger Sumathipala. You just look bitter and rather out of touch.

One of the smarter things England’s management have done in recent times is hire Mahela Jayawardene – unquestionably a cricket legend – as a ‘consultant’ for ten days ahead of the World T20.

One of the stupider things the SLC president has done is criticise the move. Apparently Mahela’s decision to help England makes him something of a judas. Ouch. Here’s what he had to say:

I had a lot of respect and gratitude for Mahela’s knowledge, but now he’s advisor to a competing team of ours. I’m very disappointed that a national captain, within a few months of retirement, has been retained by another team at a World Cup.

You could go to a club, a province, an IPL kind of team, or a county. But this is a World Cup. You can’t have a player who has just left your country’s team joining a competitive nation.

All the contracted players who are playing, once they retire from the game, should have at least 24 months before joining another team for giving advice or coaching. You need that minimum cooling-off period, because you were recently in the team … you know the team’s strengths and its weaknesses because you’re inside the team. You know your team planning ahead of the World Cup. I think I’ve been very sad and disappointed by this.”

I don’t think this is just a matter of contract. You captained Sri Lanka, you played for your country, and after a few months you go and represent another country and advise against your own nation? I’m talking here about ethics of cricket.”

Ethics of cricket?! Let’s just get a few things straight here.

Even if – and it’s a big ‘if’ – you think it’s unethical, immoral or fiendishly malevolent, to work for a rival test nation, Mahela hasn’t played for Sri Lanka in any form of the game for a year. He hasn’t played an international T20 for two years. Therefore if we talking purely about T20 cricket – and I think it’s fair to say considering that Sumathipala’s main problem seems to be upcoming World T20 that we are – then Jayawardene actually meets the SLC president’s arbitrary 24 month rule.

Secondly, I can’t see how anyone of sane mind can question Jayawardene’s loyalty and commitment to Sri Lankan cricket. He played 149 tests for his country, 448 ODIs and 55 T20s in an international career that spanned almost two decades. How many games has Thilanger Sumathipala played?

What’s more, Mahela recently spend the best part of a year trying to revamp Sri Lankan domestic cricket – a role which he performed for free. His plans were subsequently rejected by – yes, you guessed it – Sumathipala’s administration.

Here’s what the understandably upset Jayawardene had to say about the SLC president’s attack:

My role with England is to help develop their cricketers, and to help with how they should approach different challenges – like playing spin. The pools hadn’t been decided when I agreed to do it. England didn’t hire me to give information on the Sri Lankan team. They have analysts and coaches to do that. I’m quite disappointed to see those comments from the board, to be fair. In my heart I’ve had Sri Lankan cricket right at the top, but I’m also a professional.”

Talking about his work to reform Sri Lankan cricket, Jayawardene has this to say:

All that 12 months of work was put aside when they took over. I am not upset, but I’m disappointed. If they don’t recognise my work, then how am I supposed to work in that environment? Was their decision to scrap that made ethically? That said, they are an elected body, and they are entitled to do what they think is best. There are actually no hard feelings. I wish them all the best, and hope that they can take Sri Lankan cricket further.”

I don’t really blame Mahela for being upset. Sumathipala might suggest he goes and coaches an IPL team instead but who knows what offers were actually on the table? Once ex-players move into coaching they have to take opportunities as they arise. Working with England, who desperately need advice when it comes to playing spin bowling, was a great chance to make a difference. What’s more Mahela had already helped England in the UAE, so he had already established a working relationship with the England management.

The comments from the SLC president are even stranger considering that they’ve just hired Graham Ford, who has extensive experience working in England, as their new coach. And let’s not forget that Sri Lanka’s coach during the last T20 world cup (in which they played England) was Paul Farbrace, a man as English as bangers and mash.

Although some Sri Lanka supporters won’t be happy about Jayawardene working with England (for just ten days!), you’d expect the president of their board to have a little more common sense. The cricket world is smaller these days. It’s a fact of life that players and coaches of different nationalities work together and become friends.

Is it unethical for Trevor Bayliss, an Australia, to coach England full time? Is it immoral for Graeme Hick to coach Australia’s emerging batsmen? Was it devilishly mischievous for Paul Collingwood to coach Scotland against England during the last 50 over world cup? The examples are numerous in other sports too. Should Robbie Deans have been kicked out of New Zealand when he jumped at the chance to coach the Wallabies rugby team? Should Italy have excommunicated Fabio Capello when he took the England job?

I appreciate that Jayawardene is a legend in Sri Lanka, and that he didn’t retire all that long ago, but it’s hardly like he’s walked out of the Sri Lankan dressing and immediately hopped into bed with England. Neither did he reject Sri Lanka in favour of England.

What’s more, Jayawardene’s actions are far from unprecedented … Jeremy Snape was hired by South Africa as a psychologist less than a week after retiring from first class cricket. He was part of England’s World T20 squad just nine months beforehand. Snape soon helped South Africa to a series win in England even though he still had friends in the England dressing room. It didn’t make him a judas; he was simply a professional doing what he could to establish a career after cricket.

Although it’s hard to see someone of Jayawardene’s stature struggling for work in the future, cricketers do suffer considerable anxiety when they give up playing. This is something that comes across loud and clear in Simon Jones’ autobiography. Players can’t simply assume that coaching or media roles will automatically appear. And even if they do, who knows if they’ll be any good at it.

In today’s world, I find it incredible that anyone – not least the president of a national board – could begrudge a national cricketing icon from furthering his career. If James Anderson retires in 12 months time and immediately gets a job helping Sri Lanka’s bowlers, I’d say good luck to him. It would be churlish to do anything else.

James Morgan


  • In the immortal words of Sir Geoffrey (and as you rightly point out) “It’s roobish is this”. There might be some sense in it if Mahela had been employed to “dish the dirt” on Sri Lanka, but he hasn’t. This smacks of the adage that patriotism is the last resort of the scoundrel”. it also suggests that Mahela’s good friend Sanga was not far off the mark in his criticisms of the SLC in his Cowdrey Lecture.

  • I should imagine Jayawardene has elected to work for England for the same reason as the likes of Hick and Morgan chose to play for them. It might not be right, but money has always meant more than loyalty to many people.

    • Although some cricketers might have a mercenary edge, I think Morgan and Hick played for England because they couldn’t play test cricket for their native countries. Ireland can’t play test cricket and neither could Zimbabwe (I recall) when Hick came over to the UK. I think it’s opportunity to play at the top level rather than money.

      • That’s one thing I find uncomfortable about with Morgan.
        He’s effectively given up the longer form so he can play at the top level with Ireland.

        • That doesn’t read right at all!!

          What its supposed to say is now he has effectively given up the longer form of the game, he can play at the top level in limited overs with Ireland. So what attracts him to England?

            • Except that at the moment, Ireland are able to play a desultory amount of international games of any stature outside of the big tournaments. That will need to change before any promising Irish player isn’t going to be tempted to throw their lot in with England.

              • Whilst that’s true, is it right?
                Yes they should play more of course, but if there best side isn’t picked then they aren’t attractive opposition.

                No easy answer I suppose.

  • The SLCB was named by the country’s sport’s minister as the third most corrupt institution in Sri Lanka in 2010 (education and the police were the top two). Former captain Arjuna Ranatunga said last year, In the recent past cricket has been politicised in Sri Lanka. The game was administered according to what the former president and some politicians had wanted. The game had been destroyed as a result of that”.

    No doubt there are complexities to the situation that an outsider like myself would find difficult to understand. However, those are two fairly strong pieces of evidence that SLCB aren’t in much of a position to be lecturing anyone very much about their conduct.

    SL on the pitch lost heavily to Bangladesh yesterday in the Asia Cup.


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