Mahela’s ‘unprofessional’ swipe at SLC

Undiplomatic conduct of a gentleman cricketer


By The Line Judge

It was a tumultuous week for Sri Lanka cricket legend Mahela Jayawardene who was thrust into the limelight for contrasting reasons. On the eve of the IPL (Indian Premier League) final, Mahela who is coach of Mumbai Indians may have earned the ire of Sri Lankan fans when he stated in an interview which went viral that he was not interested in coaching Sri Lanka. A few days later he basked in glory after Mumbai Indians won a record-extending fifth IPL title, the third under his watch since taking over as coach from former Australian great Ricky Ponting in 2017.

Mahela’s main argument was that he would not like to be associated with an “unprofessional set-up” like Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC). “If you take the Mumbai Indians, they have given me the freedom and they have supported my ideas. That’s important and I do not wish to join an environment that I am not comfortable with,” he was quoted as saying.

Agreed that SLC is riddled by politics and the system needs an overhaul but to completely malign the administration with a sweeping statement is undiplomatic of a gentleman cricketer. As chairman of the National Sports Council, it is unethical for him to display any hint of bias against SLC, which is one of 60-odd sports in the country the sport ministry has to overlook.

Perhaps Mahela erred with his emotional outburst because he has to wear many hats at the moment. A former Mumbai Indians star, his allegiance to the Nita Ambani-funded franchise in the most lucrative global T20 league remains strong. Considered one of the smartest and shrewdest captains Sri Lanka has ever produced, Mahela did not have any coaching credentials before being lured by the Mumbai Indians.

However, much of the credit for Mumbai’s success should also go to their captain for the past seven years Rohit Sharma who smashed 68 to lead their comfortable run-chase of 157 in his 200th IPL appearance. So much so that there are calls from commentators for Sharma to lead India’s T20 side.

Sharma has transformed Mumbai since taking over the captaincy from Australian great Ricky Ponting in 2013, and all five of their titles have come under his leadership. “Rohit has won five IPL titles; he is the most successful captain in the history of the tournament,” former Indian opener Gautam Gambhir told ESPNcricinfo. “Without question Rohit Sharma should be the Indian T20 captain,” ex-England captain Michael Vaughan wrote on Twitter, describing him as a “fantastic man manager and leader”.

Mahela for his part said after the match that Mumbai Indians did not have a roller-coaster ride and the result was due to their great preparation and management.

“Big-hitting has been in MI’s DNA for a long time. We have tried to bring in the touch play a little bit to balance it out. Credit to the management who bought into our ideas and that helped create history today. It’s all about helping the team preparation-wise and explaining their roles to them. We have a good leadership group out there, and a great support staff who have helped them out,” he said.

However, a coach is only as good as his team. It will be a challenge for Mahela to replicate the success he achieved in the IPL with the Sri Lanka national team. It is easy to criticize from the rooftop like politicians who are in the opposition camp but fail to deliver when they are given the reins of power. A good cricketing example is former Sri Lanka opener Chandika Hathurusingha who enjoyed unprecedented success with Bangladesh for nearly a decade but was a flop when he was in-charge of Sri Lanka albeit for varied reasons. He was considered one of the leading coaches in the world but was fired with 18 months still remaining in his contract after a disappointing World Cup last year. Then sports minister Harin Fernando insisted that Hathurusingha was overpaid and accused him of failing to produce results.

Sri Lankans seems to have an aversion to coaching national teams in their own country with the exception of a few like Olympic athlete Thilaka Jinadasa who enjoyed success as national netball leading the country to the Asian title twice. But just as prophets are not honoured in their own land as related in the biblical tale, Jinadasa quit in a huff during her second stint after failing to see eye-to-eye with the authorities. Former Sri Lanka captain Nizam Packeer Ali, a football legend in Bangladesh, was deemed a failure when he was national coach.

On the other hand, Sri Lankans have been an inspiration as coaches overseas especially in cricket. Former Sri Lanka fast bowler Champaka Ramanayake coached the UAE, former Sri Lanka vice captain Roy Dias was in-charge of Nepal during their formative years and former Sri Lanka captain Duleep Mendis shepherded Oman from obscurity to achieve one-day status and also qualify for the upcoming T20 World Cup.

In rugby, two Sri Lankans Niranjan Ranasinghe and Ravindu Athukorale are part of the coaching set-up of Manukau Rovers, a Premier rugby club in Auckland, New Zealand.

Mahela hit the nail on the head when he stated that “coaching at this level is management and creating an environment for the players to achieve their best.”

Sri Lankans do take pride in the fact that Mahela has achieved success with Mumbai Indians just like Lasith Malinga was the ace in their pack until the previous IPL season. No one will grudge Mahela for making hay while the sun shines and sing for his supper. But he should be mindful of how he achieved legendary status, instead of putting his foot in his mouth and shooting from his hips.


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