The possibility of a bitter showdown between the BCCI and Sri Lanka Cricket appears to have been averted with the island nation's government hinting that the deadline for its players' return from the IPL could be extended by a few days.
After weeks of wrangling over top Sri Lankan players' return from the IPL for their tour of England starting May 10, a compromise appears to be in sight with Lankan Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage saying that they might be allowed to stay beyond the original May 5 deadline.
"I have received several e-mails from the BCCI and I will meet the selection committee and the SLC officials to discuss
the matter. We might extend the May 5 deadline," Aluthgamage said.
"The Players have to leave for England on May 10 and we might consider postponing that too. We don't want to embarrass the BCCI, we have good relations with India and we want to maintain this. We are trying to work out new dates for the players," he added.
Eleven Sri Lankan players, including Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene who are captaining their respective
franchises, are currently in action in the cash-rich IPL.
Their early return would adversely impact their respective teams' combinations as the franchises were under the impression that the players would be available till May 21. But Aluthgamage claimed the BCCI was well aware of the Lankan players' international commitments.
"The ICC's Future Tours Program is pre-decided and according to it, Sri Lanka has to tour England from May 10. So, the BCCI cannot say that it was unaware about it. We are calling our players just five days before the tour," he said. There was also speculation that Sri Lanka's climbdown came after the BCCI gave them a deadline to sort out the issue and even threatened to withhold the 10 per cent cut from the players' fee which the SLC was due to get after the IPL.
The SLC stands to earn approximately Rs two crore from the Rs 21 crore that the participating players would pocket
from the event. Aluthgamage said the selectors are the ones who want the players to assemble by May 5 for the tour starting May 10 as they want them to get acclimatised to English conditions.
"The selectors feel the team has been playing only Twenty20 and one-day cricket for a while now. So, it needs to
adapt to the English conditions, besides there is a new captain at the helm which is why the team needs the extra time
for preparation," Aluthgamage said.
"I am sure, a solution would be worked out. For the players, it is always country first over IPL and I am sure they would return by the deadline set by us," Aluthgamage said.
The controversy began after the Sri Lankan government asked the SLC to direct all its cricketers playing in the IPL to return home by May 5. It got murkier after the government and the SLC rejected the BCCI's request to allow its star cricketers to play in the lucrative Twenty20 tournament till May 15.
Speculation was that the Lankan government's move was in retaliation to the treatment meted out to Sri Lankan minister
who had accompanied President Mahinda Rajapakse during the World Cup final in Mumbai on April 2. The Ministers were reportedly peeved that they were not allowed sit at the same enclosure and some of them had to buy their own tickets.
"I know that we had some problems with BCCI because we made request for more tickets (in the World Cup final in Mumbai) because a few cabinet ministers had come. They did not give it.
"But that is a totally different matter. That is about protocol and the current issue is about cricket. Protocol and cricket are totally different matters," Aluthgamage clarified. The Sri Lankan Board's decision to call back its players by May 5 had created a furore in India as the IPL franchises put pressure on the BCCI to extend their stay.
The Sri Lankan players were repeatedly asked about these developments at their routine post and pre-match press
conferences. Retired spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan had slammed the SLC for asking the players to return midway through the IPL, claiming that the No Objection Certificate had permitted them to play to till May 20.
"I think the board (SLC) has given them permission till May 20. I don''t know what happened suddenly. The players were
told to come on May 5. It is the fault of SLC because they signed the NOC till May 20 so if they change it to May 5 it is
something wrong," Muralitharan, who quit international cricket after Sri Lanka's defeat to India in the World Cup final early
this month, said.
"Players will get demoralised because if they go back on May 5 they play half of the IPL and they are going to miss a
lot. SLC should have informed the players earlier, then the IPL franchises would understand and everyone would understand," he added.
Two Sri Lankans -- Sangakkara (Deccan Chargers) and Jayawardene (Kochi Tuskers Kerela) -- are captaining their IPL
franchises and their premature exit would mean their teams would have to find new skippers. Apart from these two, Tillakaratne Dilshan, who has now been named Sri Lanka's captain, Lasith Malinga, Suraj Randiv, Thisara Perera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Nuwan Pradeep and Dilhara Fernando are among the other Sri Lankans in action in the IPL.
The BCCI's displeasure over the matter was made clear with vice-President Rajiv Shukla describing Sri Lanka's decision to recall players early as "inappropriate".
"According to us, the Sri Lankan players are here to stay till May 21 as they have promised and the franchises are also
under the same impression. But now they want to go early and it is not appropriate," Shukla told reporters in Delhi.
"Nothing has been decided as yet. The BCCI president is in touch with the Sri Lankan board and some kind of a dialogue
is going on between the two boards," he said.