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Sri Lanka cricket board ordered to release IPL-contracted players

By P. Karunakharan, IANS,

Colombo : Sri Lanka’s sports minister has ordered the interim governing body of Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) to leave out the IPL-contracted players while selecting a team for the England tour, scheduled for May 2009. These cricketers can now play in the lucrative Indian tournament instead.

Sports Minister Gamini Lokuge, who has been speaking for 13 Sri Lankan players who signed the contracts with the Indian Premier League (IPL) well before the SLC agreed to the England tour next year in place of Zimbabwe, gave this instruction at a meeting with the SLC interim body Wednesday.

“I told them (SLC member) to release the 13 IPL-contracted Sri Lanka players to play IPL tournament and select a team with the remaining group of players, who are also equally talented, for the England tour,” Lokuge told IANS Thursday.

Asked whether the England Cricket Board (ECB) would agree to a second-level team from Sri Lanka, Lokuge said: “If there is any problem it should discussed and sorted out”.

“I understand that their (ECB) television rights and income for the proposed tournament could be jeopardised if you do not send the star players. That is why I told them (SLC) to talk to the ECB and find a way out at the earliest, if England finds it difficult to play with the team we select and send,” the sports minister said, stressing that the IPL-contracted players should not be disturbed in any way.

According to reports, SLC chairman Arjuna Ranatunga, who was virtually at loggerheads with the sports minister on this issue, was absent at Wednesday’s meeting as he was reportedly out of the country.

Sri Lanka are due to play two Tests and three one-dayers in England next May. The timetable clashes with the 2009 IPL tournament.

The players argue that the IPL contracts had been signed long before the idea of a tour to England was mooted and want to go ahead with their initial commitments.

The sports minister’s decision has virtually ended the month-long crisis for SLC to decide between IPL and the England tour.

Skipper Mahela Jayawardane, Muttiah Muralitharan, Sanath Jayasuriya, Kumar Sangakkara, Pervez Mahroof, Thilakaratne Dishan and Dilhara Fernando are some of the key players who have signed three-year contracts with the IPL. The 38-year-old left-handed Sanath Jayasuriya is the third highest paid player of the IPL.

Sri Lanka’s 23-year old new spin sensation, Ajantha Mendis, has also signed up with the Kolkata Knight Riders for three years.