Make it all more meaningful
Recently I read in an article when players of other countries who represented their countries in the 1996 World Cup are coaching and are engaged in other cricket related vocations, some of the Sri Lankan cricketers are still there with a firm grip over their positions in the team.
Then a few weeks later former opener Marvan Atapattu in his Muppets and Jokers tirade lashed out saying that even at the age of thirty seven they are still needed by the system as the present local cricketing machine has failed to churn out players who are fit enough to challenge the status quo. At the same time even the Lankan skipper Mahela Jayawardena blamed the weak cricketing infrastructure and pointed out some of the insufficiencies that is developing into a vehicle that is taking the whole system into a bottomless pit.
In fact we have to agree with those stalwarts. Just imagine during the last premier league season most of the games failed to run through its given quota of playing hours. Even the player who was chosen as the best player of the tournament – Anil Rideegammanagedera is not even considered to be included in the Sri Lanka ‘A’ squad or anything close to that by the national selectors-- a situation quite unacceptable in cricket in general.
Why we delved into this subject when there is a more important international contest in progress is also thought provoking. However we feel that it is high-time that we stepped into the systems coach and took a garden visit and ascertained to ourselves about what is in store for the preservation of this lovely game that has taken this tiny island right into the world map.
For over a hundred years local cricket survived on a school-club based system that was enough for the needs of that era, but, as the demands of the bigger picture took the main focus the inadequacies of the prevailing system began to appear. The main fault lay where in the past the players came from the few selected schools to fill in the few places available in the few clubs based mainly in Colombo. As the gospel spread in the 1980’s the talent started coming in from all parts of the island, but, the club structure still remained the same though mushroom clubs started sprouting out. The perennial clubs still retained the wielding power with the built-in infrastructure while the other clubs even did not have its own club house. The result, the tournaments were always lop-sided, so the outstation players were forced to migrate to Colombo. There were main reasons for this migration. If you needed to catch the eye of the selector you have to be in the right club. The second was if you needed to get employment and stay employed you have to live in Colombo. As a result the system began to open at its seams and the standard of cricket started dropping. Ironically this is the present state of local cricket.
At the same time recognising this anomaly administrations of the past tried to introduce the Provincial system, but, in every attempt it failed and the games themselves became more farcical than competitive. But, we heard that the system was going to be re-introduced with former national opener Sidath Wettimuny as the driving force behind it.
Changing the present structure is essential. But, it should be done in a manner that the changes they bring forth would be sustainable. Wettimuny explained that the present restructuring would be done in a more meaningful manner.
There would be five centres revolving the grounds of Kettarama and Moratuwa breaking the Western Province into two sections, Welagedera Stadium from the North Central Province, Pallekele Stadium from the Central Province and the Galle Stadium from the Southern Province.
Each of these stadiums will function under an Operations Manager who will be in charge and be responsible for the smooth flow of operations there. The players would be drawn up from the available resources and the birth places of the players in the bigger picture. In addition there would be corporate participation of funding of the project too. At least the main ingredients for the bigger picture are put into place.
Another huge supporter of this Provincial system is former member of the ICC Elite Panel – Asoka de Silva. Being a respected member of the local cricket community and also a former Test player and a local Provincial and Club cricketer for many decades, we took time also to get his candid views about the re-launching of the Provincial tournament and how it would help infuse a new line of thinking and make the game more professional within the country which in return would bridge the gap between local and international cricket.
De Silva explained “If you need to get the transformation more effective, first you must decentralise the entire system. For instance a player coming from the South of Sri Lanka must play for that Province.
“First the schools of that province must have their own tournament and the provincial selectors must push them into different levels of the Provincial structure until you end up with a Provincial Team that could compete with any other provincial team in the country. At the same time every Provincial centre must have equal facilities with all backups like coaches, trainers etc. Moreover each separate centre must have their own corporate backing so that cricketers would not have to bother about the monetary aspect of it because they would be professional cricketers operating within their own bases. This will also bring in a new sense of belonging and the competition automatically becomes more intense.
“In a scenario of this nature and if a Province has twenty contracted players there would be one hundred professional cricketers who would be equally good and competitive waiting to infuse more vigour into the national grid” De Silva said in conclusion.