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Sri Lankan game hit by the waving of cheques and guns

Building 2011 World Cup stadiums caused huge debts while national team perform miracles by merely taking the field
  • @stephenbrenkley

Sri Lankan cricket is in a mess. It is always in a mess. Not that anyone might tell this from the valiant performances of the team: World Cup finalists twice in succession, with an array of stellar performers, perennially defying the odds and with an accomplished home-team chance of becoming World Twenty20 champions.

The other night at the ICC annual awards ceremony, their batsman, wicketkeeper, former captain and all-round good guy, Kumar Sangakkara, visited the rostrum three times to be named as cricketer, Test cricketer and, for the second time in succession, peoples'-choice cricketer of the year.

While the tear-drop island was about it, Kumar Dharmasena, once a moderately successful international all-rounder, was named as the world's top umpire after standing in only 10 Test matches. Mahela Jayawardena, reinstated as captain earlier this year, is just about the most respected individual in world cricket, a category for which there are no votes, merely an overwhelming sentiment.

On that evidence, all might be considered hunky dory. Not a bit of it. It is a minor miracle that the team continue to take the field, let alone prevail on it as often as they do.

It would have helped considerably yesterday if Sri Lanka's match against South Africa, dead rubber though it was, had not been so badly affected by rain. The match in the controversial new stadium at Hambantota on the south-east coast, which may or may not be a president's vanity project, was the first sell-out of the tournament.

A golden opportunity existed to show that this country is passionate about cricket wherever it is played, in the capital, Colombo, to the rural backwaters, or rather jungle where the Hambantota stadium sprang up. Instead, almost 34,000 turned up to watch a seven-over match which South Africa won easily.

Doubtless trained in these abbreviated affairs by their recent experiences in England, they charged to 78 for four, with their captain, AB De Villiers, clumping 30 from 13 balls. Sri Lanka were never in the hunt, losing two wickets before the second over was out, and eventually mustering 46 for five. It was a one-sided match in a competition which has been full of them.

Sri Lanka will be in a Super Eight group which includes England, moving from one new ground, on the south-east coast, to another in the midlands hill country at Pallekele, near the ancient city of Kandy. These places have contributed substantially to the emptying of the coffers.

Supplemented by the political in-fighting in the corridors of cricketing power, which can often be easily confused with the corridors of political power, it has all left Sri Lankan cricket broke, the debts reaching $23m (£14m). Last year the players went unpaid for six months and it was only the generosity of Sangakkara and Jayawardena, who had endorsements and wages from elsewhere such as the Indian Premier League, which kept some players afloat.

They have been regularly bailed out by the ICC. Coming into this tournament to make sure it was staged, Sri Lankan cricket has received £1.5m in funding, comprising an advance of £0.6m on ticket sales, an advance of £0.6m on fees to it from ICC global events before 2014 and an interest-free loan of £0.3m. This is in addition to funds previously doled out.

The normal state of play is that each successive cricket administration blames its predecessor for the shambles. It has not been unknown in the last decade for annual meetings to have been disrupted by the waving of guns. There are the usual allegations of corruption which tend to fly about when massive sums of money are involved but they remain unsubstantiated. The direct cause of the heavy losses is the building of new grounds for the 2011 World Cup, which Sri Lanka, while being the middle partner, staged jointly with India and Bangladesh.

It was decided to build two new stadiums as well as renovating one of the myriad venues in Colombo, the Premadasa Stadium. The total bill was almost $20m.

It could easily be argued that Kandy, the country's second city, needed a stadium for the 21st century to replace the Asgiriya ground, a charming old colonial setting belonging to Trinity College, of which Sangakkara himself is an old boy.

Hambantota is different. It is the name of the town and the province whence hails the President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa. The ground has been carved out of the jungle, five hours drive from Colombo. There is a significant development plan for the area with a port being built in Hambantota city, which might make it a boom town with access to Indian Ocean shipping.

Indeed, Hambantota made an audacious bid to stage the 2018 Commonwealth Games, narrowly losing out to Gold Coast City in Queensland. There are believed to have been around 50,000 Chinese construction workers around. But it is still a rural backwater, not a natural home for an international sports ground. And when Rajapaksa goes, which does not look likely any time soon, what then?

There is another ground in the centre of the country, Dambullah, built only in 2001 and driven by a former president of the Sri Lanakan cricket board, the controversial Thilanga Sumathipala, whose supporters were involved in the gun-waving incidents. It has not staged an international match for two years.

Warner and Watson on song: Super show sends Aussies through

David Warner and Shane Watson blasted Australia to a rain-affected 17-run win over West Indies yesterday, sending them into the Super Eights. The second team to advance from Group B will be decided when West Indies and Ireland meet tomorrow.

West Indies scored a formidable 191 for 8 thanks to aggressive half-centuries from Chris Gayle (54) and Marlon Samuels (50), leaving their opponents to chase what would have been the fifth-highest successful run chase in T20 international history.

Warner launched Australia's brilliant reply with 28 off 14 balls. Watson continued the challenge with an unbeaten 41 off 24 balls, and Mike Hussey had 28 off 19 before the match was stopped after 9.1 overs because of a downpour that didn't let up. Australia, at 100-1, were ahead of the 83 par score on the Duckworth/Lewis method.