Though it was always expected and even we too had spoken about it, when I saw the six faces placed in-a-row in our sister paper with the story saying that the ‘six seniors’ in the Lankan side were contemplating retirement in the near future. At once my train of thought began to ‘chug’. The contribution [...]


The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

System failure: Senior-six saga exposes Lanka’s woes


Though it was always expected and even we too had spoken about it, when I saw the six faces placed in-a-row in our sister paper with the story saying that the ‘six seniors’ in the Lankan side were contemplating retirement in the near future. At once my train of thought began to ‘chug’.

The contribution made by Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardena, T.M. Dilshan, Lasith Malinga, Rangana Herat and Nuwan Kulasekera to the nation’s cricket cause and the resulting impact are just unfathomable. May be one might need a few volumes to finish the narration.

Action at the Sri Lanka Ports Authority XI vs Ragama CC Premier Division match at the Moors grounds, yesterday. Both these teams have no home ground of their own and more or less are run by individuals or a few devoted fans. (Pic. Ranjith Perera)

They are all cricketers who were brought into the system from the then prevailing club structure that had nurtured the Lankan tree of cricket for the past century.

Since Sri Lanka surprised the whole cricketing world when it annexed the ICC World Cup in 1996, the game in this country was never the same again. Even the very heart of Lankan cricket — the club cricket system began to evolve, but in a negative manner. Every Silva, Fernando and Perera wanted their share in it and more cricket clubs began to join the fray and all of them had a vote at the Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) annual general meeting. The result – the Premier division cricket got top heavy and the quality of cricket played at that level got diluted.

We now inch forward with this heavy burden of a bad cricket structure. In the midst of this scenario the Sri Lankan cricket is getting ready to face the stark reality. Within the next two seasons the ‘six seniors’ would be gone — most of them after the 2015 World Cup in Australia/New Zealand.

Right through cricket history in the big league of International cricket, we have produced pairs of cricketers who have taken the world stage by storm. Starting from the combination of Duleep Mendis and Roy Dias; Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva, Sanath Jayasuriya and Marvan Atapattu, Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas and now the combination Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakkara – they have kept the main stream of Lankan cricket afloat with the other talented contributors. That is because the local cricket structure in Sri Lanka helped and nurtured a system of breeding good talent.

Now let us pause and come into the present context and the road which I intend driving. It was only a few days ago, the India-led big three nations of cricket took over the control of the game and brought in some stipulations that the cricketing world would have to abide by. The old system of every full member playing against each other is in the five-year calendar is a thing of the past now. At present the game is driven through its commercial value and the Future Tours Programme will have more accent on how much a country could make out of a tour. Naturally, then the TV people would pay good money to buy the rights to cover the tours; people would want to watch the matches only if the competing teams are balanced and the series is an interesting one. Yes, there are also some criteria like history and standard, but, the bottom line would be how profitable each series would be to a given country.

This means that every country would strive to keep their game competitive and consistently be so.

May be the moving out of the ‘senior six’ is inevitable, but it couldn’t have come at a worse time. For any country replacing performing seniors is a painful and hard task. The recent ups and downs of Australian cricket are ample testimony to a situation of that nature. Yet, the Australian system is professional enough to provide the square pegs to the square holes, so seemingly they are recovering after a slight setback. Yet, is the Lankan system equally adept at facing a similar situation?

The point is to keep the international status, the Lankan cricketers would have to keep performing at optimum level throughout. If they slack and begin to lose to sides like Bangladesh, they well could give up cricket and close the Sri Lanka cricket head office.

In the post-‘senior six’ era, one thing is evident. Still we cannot think of a pair of cricketers who could take their world by storm. Sri Lankans will always have cricket talent, but, do we have a system that is geared to sustain and harness it.

Right now, the Lankan top league cricket is not focused. On one side, we are trying to live with the time proven club system but petty politics and power-greedy individuals have exploited it to such a low level that the club system has become a vote sustaining circus. The managers of the game are well aware of the situation and how grave it is. But, no one could do anything about it. If they do, they would lose valuable votes at the next AGM.

In the good old days a few clubs — around 8-10 — played good competitive cricket and the system itself sustained the game on its own. For instance, a top -grade club had its own first side which was called the ‘Sara’ team. Then it had its second side called the ‘Donovan’ side. This second string side played a huge role. It was the bench strength of the top side and even when a player in the top side has a slump in form they can go down and play a few games and come back while adhering to the tournament rules. Then the club had its third team. Here all the young school leavers who join the club get a look at. In this third side there are a few players who cannot fit into the top side because of age but, are veterans. They take over the youngsters and play a tournament which was called the Daily News trophy. In this manner the club possessed its own talent supply to the top level in the club and to the national grid. Each club had around 50 good players at any given time.

But, now there are more than enough cricket clubs and each has a vote at the SLC AGM. The system of club nurturing its own cricket is gone. No club has a good bench strength and when its ‘stars’ are on national duty, its performance slump. There are clubs playing in the Premier division, but do not have a ground of their own. Then how could one expect the club to grow. They are run by individuals and once the individual is not in a position to sustain the club, it runs into the oblivion.

The level of cricket at clubs like BRC, Galle CC, Panadura CC, Kurunegala SC, Moratuwa SC has slumped. They all have their own facilities.

Then for the past twenty years the cricket’s magic wands are trying to cook up the Provincial System. Yes, this could be a panacea to Lanka’s cricket ailments, but, seemingly there is no way that this could be put into action. It cannot be a reality under the present voting system. So forget it. Pocket-liners in the administration are taking Provincial cricket as their own belly builder.

Besides, SLC wants to expand the game in the country, but, its recent achievement is that it has slashed the number of contracts given out to cricketers. This means some cricketers are either giving up the game for more secure jobs or playing third grade club cricket in England, Australia and Canada, which is of no use to the Lankan cricket cause.

Worst of all, is that the gap between the Lankan domestic cricket and the International game is widening by the hour. It is learned that at some of the clubs their main fast bowler does not bowl even 100 overs through the entire season. The games are played on sub-standard wickets. This means just ordinary trundlers are among the wickets. Batsmen get a few opportunities to bat on quality wickets.
For instance most of the other top cricket playing nations have their own cricket bases like the counties in England. Here there is a system that harnesses talent and sustain cricket in that entity from the junior level. But, here in Sri Lanka the vote-greedy administrators have killed the system which was the closest to it and now the very future of the game is at stake.

This is the surface reality of Sri Lankas cricket. Is this the situation that we strive to sustain and be competitive in international cricket?
Over to you Jayantha Dharmadasa, Nishantha Ranatunga and the rest of the cricket company!

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