Clubs undermined, provinces up for grabs

Like a good old river enriched by it feeder points meanders its way into the sea, the Lankan Club Cricket format fed by arguably the most well-organised school cricket system in the world, nurtured the local cricket entity for a century or more.

The club cricket system, though not professionalized, had its good points as well as the bad ones. The club system built its own castle and governed itself democratically -- administration-wise -- but, yet it served the purpose in churning out cricketers of good skill to the national grid on a regular basis.

However it was only a few main clubs that sustained themselves and gave out almost branded products and held their own through the rough and tumble, but, that itself was not sufficient enough to keep cricket above water.

As cricket was getting popular and the focus on the game began to change in the afterglow of the country winning Test status in 1982, the spectrum broadened. Yet the game was governed by semi-professionals with a bunch of semi-professionals also donning the flannels. Ironically this system had its own black holes. There were bad-egg clubs which survived only to fatten the lotus eaters who used their votes for other purposes than the promotion of the main base game.

This resulted in persons with identity problems vying for the reins and using the good game of cricket as their ‘launder moat’. With this infuse, the system begun to go haywire, thus inviting the politicians to poke in their dirty tentacles. Initially, the Interim Committees were introduced to clean up the stables and they were manned by professionals whose only purpose of getting involved was to clean up the mess and put cricket back on track. But, their efforts were in vain, once again the bad eggs were in the basket and these clubs became the kingmakers once handed back.

This anomaly became an opportunity at the same time for some politically motivated backbenchers who were equally bad but, were soundly knocked out by the prevailing system. Thus, came in the second phase of the interim philosophy which even put the Oxford Dictionary to shame. Those who came during the latter part of the (permanent) Interim system were political stooges who would not have any status in a proper democratic framework, while those gentlemen who initially served in the real interim system shunned any association with the latter. Now the system has gone so bad not only are there lotus eaters, but, also it carries a stack of parachuted vermin too.

Now there is a move to change the whole cricketing hierarchy in the Lankan system. Now the Provincial Cricket System which was more of a joke than serious cricket is to come out with a new face.
The system looks good and follows the lean-and-mean theory, which means it could only make the base game stronger if properly maneuvered.

In the new format the Inter-Provincial cricket would become the major tournament which would carry the ‘premier cricket’ title and would be financed by a Singapore-based promotion company for the next five years. Still the main stakeholders would be Wayamba, Basnahira North, Basnahira South, Kandurata and Ruhuna.

Under the new scenario one who is born in the south does not necessarily have to represent the Southern Province. The players will be eligible to play according to a structure that would be defined through the existing club system, which now would only become a feeder point to the main provincial grid.
Initially, the twenty contracted players of Sri Lanka Cricket would be equally dispersed among the five provinces and then the twenty Premier League clubs (A and B) and the two top Sara Trophy Clubs would be slotted systematically under each province. Then from that point onwards players in a certain club slot would be eligible to only play for that given province.

Manager Cricket Operations Sri Lanka Cricket Ashley de Silva explaining the new system to the Sunday Musings said, “Now the players within the Provincial slot only would be eligible for selection for that province. So if a cricketer thinks that he should remain in a certain club it would enhance his chances of being selected to the province he would be with. At the same time if another thinks that he would have a better chance of catching the eye by turning out for another club he can make the move. This means the huge bench strength in bigger clubs would wean while the smaller clubs would get their fair share of good players culminating in a system where talent is equally distributed.”

De Silva further explained, “If there is a base of twenty players in each province, the National selectors then would have a base of 100 cricketers to focus upon for national recognition. This is more or less built on the English county system. Besides that, all players who are selected for the Inter-Provincial teams would play under an SLC contract, while the existing club subsistence will also run concurrently”.
Upon this development, the local calendar would be full -- with cricket being played almost the year around.

The local club limited-overs tournament will begin in December this year and end mid month while the Provincial Limited overs tournament will begin thereafter to end just before the World Cup 2011. The T-20 tournament will follow the World Cup, but, may take that time slot from 2012. The main 4-day Provincial tournament would be played following the T-20 tournament.

Meanwhile, the Singapore-based promotional company is expected to sell the respective Provincial Teams to various sponsors worldwide. The sponsors in return would be given the opportunity of employing two overseas players per province for the shorter versions of the game.

So much for the near future of cricket! On surface it looks neat and tidy, but, one wonders if there are light fingered gentry who stand to gain a packet through this deal. At the same time with the lowering of the status of the local club structure and making them almost dispensable and the SLC holding on to the administration of the Provincial system, one wonders how the local cricket structure could find its way back into a democratic mainstream.

For cricket’s sake, we hope that this move would turn towards the good of Cricket in Sri Lanka. As it is with the present politically webbed system one has given up all hopes. Our earnest hope here is there are no termites behind the closet.

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