Sumathipala challenges government decision

The crisis in Sri Lankan cricket has deepened with Thilanga Sumathipala, the president of the suspended Sri Lanka Cricket, challenging the government's decision to take over the board on the grounds of financial misconduct. Sumathipala sent all board employees home for a week's paid leave and locked up the SLC headquarters, posting extra security guards outside to stop government-appointed officials from entering the building.

The bold move enraged Jeevan Kumaratunga, the sports minister, who vowed to take stern legal action against Sumathipala. "People are acting as if cricket is their parent's property and are trying to cling on to power," he told The Island newspaper. "The administration of cricket is in a sad state and that's why I decided to appoint an interim committee. I will be taking appropriate legal action to stop this menace."

The drama started at 10am on Monday (March 28) when board employees were told to return home for a week's holiday after a staff meeting. Sumathipala claimed that employees were suffering from "mental trauma". Sumathipala then issued a letter to Duleep Mendis, the board's chief executive, ordering that "he have no correspondence whatsoever on behalf of Sri Lanka Cricket until such time as we resolve the current crisis", and that he should to take steps to prevent any unauthorised persons, including the interim committee, to access the board's headquarters.

Sumathipala's executive committee, elected on Sunday in defiance of the sports minister, justified their actions on legal grounds, arguing that "under the law neither the minister nor the secretary to the ministry nor any member of an interim committee is empowered to enter or take over any immovable property belonging to Sri Lanka Cricket". A media release also argued that a government interim committee has "no legal authority whatsoever to act in the name of or on behalf of Sri Lanka Cricket".

Sumathipala wants an opportunity for the suspended executive committee to defend allegations made by the minister, who appointed a six-man interim committee headed by Jayantha Dharmadasa to take control. Damien Fernando, one of those interim members, was refused entry to Sri Lanka Cricket's premises by security guards on Monday morning. Dharmadasa, meanwhile, was unable to contact Mendis.

The crisis has thrown into confusion the matches to be held in Sri Lanka over the next few days. The final one-dayer of the triangular tournament involving the A teams of Sri Lanka, Pakistan and England is scheduled for Tuesday (March 29), when Sri Lanka clash against Pakistan, while the two teams are also supposed to play an unofficial Test which starts this weekend. An unnamed cricket official quoted in Daily Mirror said, however, that the games would go ahead: "We will try our best to make sure that the image of Sri Lanka Cricket is not tarnished internationally just because we have this sort of petty problem."