Monday, 13 July 2003
W.G. Karunasena

The Sri Lankan Cricket Board signs contracts with the country’s top 25 players. While this is common practice elsewhere, for Sri Lankans it took on a financial meaning only after 1996 and the madness that followed. Contracts mean that the SLBCC own you, but they also owe you sums that would be considered vast by the Gunasekeras and Tisseras of my era.

There is talk that Australia will not offer a contract to Mark Taylor next season. Such thinking is unthinkable in Sri Lanka. If you once scored centuries, you can live off that steam for at least three seasons of failure. Once you have cemented your place in the side and the cement has dried, a sledgehammer may be required to remove you.

Those days, players like the Skipper and the Captain enjoyed the main scraps on the table. Stars like Aravinda were courted by sponsors. The rest of them had to work desk jobs at banks or sales jobs at insurance companies, or live off parental charity and occasional club prize money. Today things have changed. Permanent reserves like Charith Silva are millionaires, has-beens like Ravi de Mel are overpaid pundits, and club players like Uvais Amalean have crawled into high-paying SLBCC positions. Even umpires like Ponnadurai Buultjens and Francis Felsinger have got élite panel gigs and are minting.

Of the 25 cricketers who are fed, clothed, housed and made rich for a year by Sri Lankan cricket, only around 14 will see any real action. It is possible to lounge in the wings of Sri Lankan cricket and plan your retirement without actually playing.

I do not mean to sound bitter. I agree they deserve to be compensated for standing in the heat and the dust and running after a ball while the nation jeers; but that much?

Last year Charith Silva built a mansion in Rajagiriya despite appearing in only two tests over the last seven years. After years of waiting in the wings, Pradeep Mathew disappeared in 1995, missing the financial frenzy that followed World Cup victory by mere months. For this reason, I have my doubts whether he lives in a mansion. Though I am convinced that somehow, somewhere, he still lives.