Back to cricket, finally

After weeks of uncertainty and infighting the inter club tournament has got underway. Thankfully the ordeal has ended. The players who are the lot who suffer most from such incidents must be so relieved.

First class cricket which began in England over one hundred and fifty years ago and then followed in Australia has had its share of upheavals but it has never come to a situation such as this. It has been resolved, but what direction are those involved in clubs taking this game. To develop the game, the facilities and the players is the need of the hour. Fighting for a meager gain is far from the requirement.

Club cricket is unquestionably the established sector of the game in Sri Lanka. Provincial cricket must eventually take over that mantle. Still the provincial game is a staged event. Unlike in countries like England, Australia, India, South Africa and New Zealand the infrastructure is inadequate for the games to be fully operational in all regions of the island. The dearth of quality employment also discourages youngsters to remain in provinces outside the West.

All reasons why the club tournament must be given all the attention to ensure the players develop in the game. In fact the lower levels of club cricket must also be developed. More so with school cricket reverting back to the Under 19 age group. The change to the under twenty, three seasons ago was the correct move as far as the game was concerned. Unfortunately the state schools have been up in arms, indicating that they have no disciplinary control over the students, once they complete A/L Exams and do not attend classes anymore.

It is only a poor reflection on the students, teachers, principals and the schools itself if they cannot protect a good thing. Cricket is a national treasure and whatever helps raise the standard of the game must be protected sacredly. The extra year of organized cricket in school helped many nineteen year olds’ to grow. Physically they were stronger and so too mentally. They had completed the school work and were very relaxed. They were more confident and believed in their ability. They had the opportunity to develop one more year before throwing themselves against club players. Now all that is lost.

Domestic cricket is finally underway - Pic by Ranjith Perera

State or district cricket in Australia is the equivalent of our club game, although played over two Saturday’s. There are between fifteen to seventeen teams in each of the six states. Each club has four teams and two grounds, most often adjacent to each other. Beginning first weekend in October until end March (there is a two weekend break in December) there is cricket every Saturday and on about half-a-dozen Saturdays. For ages this system has been in place. That is only the top of the club system. The levels go another ten deep. .The top tier players move on to play for the state and then country. Club at all levels also run junior age group tournaments, starting from under thirteen. Hundreds of thousands who have an interest in the sport have this opportunity of joining a club and getting a game. It could be for pure enjoyment, it could be with a view to develop and reach the top; the avenues are available.

That must be what SLC should aim at achieving. Club cricket and provincial cricket must run hand in hand. One needs the other for survival. The end must be to ensure that there is cricket being played at all club levels, during weekends, in the period September to end March, the following year. One requirement definitely will be to have more grounds available.

In the Premier Division, the format has been changed again, to reduce the number of days from four to three. This is followed by a one day game during the week, between the same teams that contested each other in the three day game over the week end. It seems a sound system, in that there is competitive cricket available for the players in both forms of the game.

The shortcoming, which has prevailed for donkeys years is that it is only for a short period of time. Even if six players from each club go on to play provincial cricket, the others are simply doing nothing. Match play is what ultimately develops a player. Practice is to work on technique, various areas that need improvement, fitness, but for the mature players it is being involved in scoring runs and taking wickets. Should that be confined to two or three months of the year then the player cannot progress. He stays stagnant or the progress is minimal. The system as in Australia must help players grow. There must be quality cricket available during the season and the quantity must also be adequate. Players must get satisfaction out of the sport which runs into long hours, both at training and matches. The ultimate satisfaction comes from success and that is scoring runs and taking wickets.

At last for now the games have begun. Players and teams are always expectant at the beginning of the season. They are eager for their teams’ success and personal success. They wish for the game to develop and progress. Yet, though twenty five years has passed since achieving Test status progress has been very slow in the development of the domestic structure. It is time to really press forward to get closer to what is available for the players in established cricketing nations.
= Ranil Abeynaike is a former Sri Lanka cricketer and curator of SSC

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