My mind goes back to playing for the SSC second eleven as a schoolboy in the early nineteen seventies, when both first and second division club games were of one and a half days duration. Government offices and mercantile firms used to work half day on Saturday therefore play would commence at one o’clock. For most it was a dash to the grounds in work attire, a quick change and on to the field. No lengthy stretching and warm up sessions and fielding practice, as is the case now.
Division three matches, as it is now were one day games. At all three levels it was competitive cricket, yet played in a fairly leisurely manner. A few years later with the five day week coming into effect Division one and two games were played over two days and almost immediately became far more competitive. There was also an inter-association three day tournament with a school and Board teams also participating that was played at the end of the season.
However, it was the clubs that sustained the game. Few realize or perhaps even think about the fact that resulting in the performances at club the level those who played in the National team performed very creditably. It was these performances that led to the country obtaining test status in 1981.
At the clubs the Administrators, members and players made many sacrifices of contributing with their time, efforts and finances. Club had to survive on their on steam. An example is that the S.S.C. built a swimming pool in the early nineteen fifties to attract members and to raise funds to support cricket. It was the income from swimming that helped maintain the grounds and the expenses for cricket. This was the case until about twenty years ago. Now, with sponsorship, advertising and income from International, Domestic games and assistance from Sri Lanka Cricket, the game at the club embraces a very professional status. All thanks to the wise men who guided the destiny of the club in turn could be referred to as the ‘good old days..’
Most of the clubs that have existed for awhile have made steady progress. Since the time Sri Lanka began to apply for Test status, after the 1975 inaugural World Cup, most club and even schools that have grounds constructed with turf pitches. Some have moved on more by constructing swimming pools and gymnasiums which are requirements for the development of players.
Unfortunately, their affiliation to the governing body made them eligible to vote and seek power and position. It is the democratic way and that is well and good. In fact up until the nineteen nineties it was only a sacrifice to hold office. The voting system brought in many clubs some without a ground or even a home venue. At times a few of them were not even playing in any tournaments! The system began to get diluted and then finances became the next issue. With life getting tough and people not having time to sacrifice as in the past funding started to become an issue. Clubs began to look towards the governing body. Some clubs got assistance and there was the cry of them being favourites and that the vote is what counts to receive hand outs. Gradually it has got to a stage where all clubs receive assistance of some nature. Clubs playing at the highest level, quite naturally, get the lions share. From information received the governing body has doled out 290 million rupees towards clubs and club cricket during the last season. It is time to get to the drawing board and discuss the issue and design the way for the present and the future.
Provincial cricket was launched in a big way during the last season. The 50 over tournament and the T20 tournament was conducted successfully. In the forthcoming season the thinking is to incorporate the four day tournament as well. All of this is a step in the right direction.
In terms of obtaining sponsorships a National tournament will always be an attraction, far ahead of club cricket. To decentralize the game, provincial cricket is the answer. From a young age there is the opportunity to come up through the structure. What is important at the present is to ensure that the club game is protected and can exist alongside provincial fixtures. The day will come when the Provincial tournament takes first place. It is also essential not to kill the goose that has been laying the golden eggs all these years – the clubs. Club and provincial cricket must go hand in hand until both are healthy and produce players to excel for Sri Lanka.
- Ranil Abeynaike is a former Sri Lanka cricketer and curator of SSC