Are the "Terrible Trio" distracting focus from Sri Lanka cricket’s deeper issues?

Dickwella, one of three senior sri lankans to be sent home

Tony Bishop

So far, the limited-overs series between England and Sri Lanka has been woefully one-sided. England have experimented, rotated and had a few injuries to deal with but, regardless of personnel, have been in a totally different league to their visitors.

Sri Lanka, for their part, amid contract disputes and disciplinary issues, have looked all at sea. Despite some determined captaincy by Kusal Perera who made a fine 73 at the Riverside, with the occasional exception of Dushmantha Chameera with the ball and Wanindu Hasaranga with both bat and ball, Sri Lanka have been woefully outgunned in all departments.

To pour oil on to already deeply troubled waters, three players broke from their bubble to see a little bit of the locale and, in the words of folk balladeer Roger Whittaker, had to "leave old Durham town", tails between legs and potentially facing large punishments and long suspensions. The leaving, it seems, will undoubtedly "get them down" as Roger sang back in 1969.

How is this being seen locally in Sri Lanka one wonders? Island Cricket and The Daily FT seemed to be towing the Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) party line, whilst also, at least, pointing out that the three were not the first to be guilty of a bubble breach: England's Jofra Archer in Southampton and both Pakistan and West Indies tourists in New Zealand are cited, to make the point.

One headline doesn't name the three, but brands them the 'Terrible trio', imbuing them with an air of either naughty children or folk-tale outlaws. Another, is more factual in naming the three and saying "Mendis, Dickwella and Gunathilaka return to Sri Lanka; face one-year ban, hefty fines".

What is common, however, is the strong representation of the official SLC point of view. Both report that "the players also due to miss out on the upcoming six-match white-ball home series against India starting on July 13 and on arrival were sent on their 14-day quarantine to the Club Hotel Dolphin, in "an inquiry into the incident that took place in Durham on Sunday".

SLC has to decide whether the inquiry into the players' conduct will be carried out by their own disciplinary committee or an independent one. What seems inferred is that there is a mood of intolerance towards the trio, exacerbated not just by the defeats but, more importantly, by the feeble performances.

SLC sources they say "have launched an investigation into the incident to ascertain if the cricketers had breached the bio-bubble and hotel curfew, and if found guilty could face a ban up to a minimum of one year and heavy fines".

Meanwhile, the country's sports minister, Namal Rajapaksa, has tweeted that SLC must take strict action against the players who violate the rules.

"Opportunity and time can be invested into youngsters to represent the country, in an attempt to revive #Srilanka cricket. However, playing with a lack of intent and poor discipline should not be tolerated. SLC must take strict action against players who violate these rules," he tweeted.

And this is where it gets interesting. The minister appears to blame Mendis, Dickwella and Gunathilaka for playing with lack of intent. It may be true, but they would certainly not be the only ones in the Sri Lankan ranks to face that criticism.

Had they delivered stirring performances in the spirit of the great Sri Lankan tourists of the recent past, would the contraventions of bubble protocol have been more sympathetically dealt with?

Given the chaos and confusion that appears to embroil Sri Lanka's cricket authorities and structures, are the terrible trio in fact, useful cover to draw the heat from those authorities and allow those in power to virtue signal?

Andrew Fidel Fernando's exceptional recent article for Cricinfo catalogued a litany of long-standing issues with the structure and governance of Sri Lankan cricket, all of which would strongly suggest that the current team's tepid efforts are a direct result of these and the players themselves, while poor, are not so directly to blame.

Among issues highlighted were: a bizarre contact system heavily disputed by the players, where the Test captain earns less than Niroshan Dickwella; an inadequate and outdated domestic structure; a board of over 140 members, with some representing clubs that no longer even exist; lack of accountability among the board, which has also rejected proposals to revamp the sub-standard system.

Others are domestic pitches, so dry that finger spinners have frequently comprised 90% of the top 10 wicket-takers every first-class season for the last six years; bloated T20 tournaments and strange short-term provincial tournaments – and five men's head coaches in the last eight years.

Notably high on the challenges listed by Fernando, is an ineffective sports minister in Rajapakse who has failed to effect any changes tangible changes to cricket's administration.

A government minister, seizing a tactical opportunity to condemn someone else's actions and in the process deflect from his own lack of achievement? Surely not. Certainly, wouldn't happen in the UK. Would it?