COLOMBO — Veteran Sri Lanka batsman Sanath Jayasuriya has come under fire for his decision to enter politics while still playing for the national team.
Jayasuriya will contest April 8 parliamentary elections as a candidate for President Mahinda Rajapakse's Freedom Alliance party in his home constituency of Matara.
The 40 year-old, the oldest cricketer still playing at the top level in the world, retired from Test cricket in 2007 but has vowed to continue his international career in the shorter forms of the game.
"His career is waning. He has set a bad precedent by entering politics before retiring completely from cricket," said Arjuna Ranatunga, the 1996 World Cup winning skipper, who took to politics only after he quit the game.
"Hereafter, players who don't get selected will get on the ruling party platform in exchange for a place on the national team," said the former capitain, who has defected from the ruling party to the opposition.
Jayasuriya campaigned for the president during January's presidential poll which was won comfortably by Rajapakse, a war hero for his legions of supporters but an authoritarian populist to his critics.
Rajapakse ended the country's 37-year ethnic conflict last May when he crushed the separatist Tamil Tigers in a military campaign since dogged by war crime allegations.
When Jayasuriya was forced into retirement in 2006 due to poor form, Rajapakse personally intervened to have him reinstated.
The batsman, who plans to play on until the 2011 World Cup, has dismissed his critics, saying he can juggle his international career while being a member of the 225-member national parliament.
"There is no rule or ethics for sportsmen not to get involved in politics," Jayasuriya told the English-language Nation newspaper. "I do believe that it would be fine as long as I do not allow these two fields to mix."
Jayasuriya, who captained Sri Lanka from 1999-2003, is almost certain to win and could become the first member of parliament to play international cricket.
Sports Minister Gamini Lokuge said national sporting stars have a right to dabble in politics so long as they do not neglect their game. "It's on merit. If they qualify, they can represent the country, while being an MP."
Other critics claim Jayasuriya is trying to cash-in on his fame to prolong his dwindling career and cement his place in the national side but he dismisses them.
"I have performed to my level best and I will continue to perform. It will not be affected by politics. My political career has its own purpose and I have different ambitions as a cricketer."
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