Club cricket: Don’t kill the cricketing goose

If you are a corporate head and you are running a profitable business that is soaring by the hour, must you introduce a system that would change your marketing strategies? Likewise I do keep thinking what’s wrong with the Lankan cricketing system – a system that has produced results and the team is perched at No 3 in world ranking in both forms of the game.

Yet we find that there is a certain clique of former national players who think that the present Club system is rather archaic and Sri Lanka must move to convert the present system into a broad-based provincial-like system so that it could meet the current needs of ever changing international cricketing demands and let every passenger at the station board the train.

Now Sri Lanka Cricket is in the process of converting the present cricketing structure from a club based one to a provincial based one. The argument is that the provincial system will not kill the club system. The authorities will let the club system run and use it as the main feeder point to the provincial system. But, ironically what we could see is that with the advent of the provincial system the club structure would automatically derail and then if the provincial system cannot sustain itself Sri Lanka could become the next West Indies in the international arena.

It all boils down to ‘who pays the ferryman’. Sri Lanka had a club-based system that had run for nearly a hundred years and in 1982 the big brothers of cricket took the Lankans under their wing and made them a full member of the International Cricket Council. The much-obliged Sri Lanka paid their gratitude by becoming one of the youngest international playing members to win the World Cup in 1996.

That was the point that the whole gamut began to travel backwards – not cricket wise but, administration wise. With national cricket status on the rise, the hot seat at the administrative helm also went up in the social status. At the same time the Lankan cricket board that was once run by Tissa Gunaratne and his dedicated handful, became a fully-fledged administrative hub where only the fit could survive.

The democratic club cricket system also begun to deteriorate with the man with the money bag ruling the roost, leading to people with greater skills of meaningful administration slowly shying away.
But, Sri Lanka is Sri Lanka. Here we have “Athdutu Behetha” for every ailment. In sports we call it the ‘Sports Law”.

The interim concept that came in to cure the so-called corrupt club system made its way in by craft more than a dire need. When some individuals who were against the prevailing club system, but could not free themselves from the stranglehold that the then system had created, first went into politics and then gradually began to woo the political system to interfere.

Initially, it was fine. The political system that dismantled the democratically-elected so called corrupt administration sought the assistance of some of the more meaningful administrators who had shied away due to the falling standards and the administrative system was once again on the move. But, it was only an interim administration and automatically cricket administrators went back to elections and the club system was back on its old horse.

Once the club system was back at the helm, the old forces were back at work and derailed the train once again while in full throttle. But, this time the Sports Minister who took over the reins saw it would be better to hand over the administration to some politically friendly persons rather than opting for an out and out clean administrative system.

Gradually the interim committees comprised more non-cricketers than persons who really could contribute towards the betterment of the game. Once a cricketer, who took over the administration vowing to bring cricketers back on stage, was nurturing a non-cricketer in his own administration.

The present administration is an interim committee and this interim committee was based more on political bias rather than inherent cricketing and administrative skills of named office bearers, barring a few. Funnily in the last interim switch cricketers in the calibre of Pramodya Wickremasinghe and Ranil Abeynaike were dispensed with to make way for politically friendly non-cricketers.

Some club concept advocates are of the view that the clipping the wings of the clubs and promoting the provincial system is the fear that the administration has of the old system raising its head and going for a democratically elected system that go back to the old system of ‘Godfather’.

Yes, the ‘Godfather’ system was bad. Yet it was a democratic system that needed some proper guidance. Tomorrow if the provincial administrative system is introduced who would be at the helm of it? Without doubt they would be political “yes men” rather than persons of cricketing and administrative skills.
We see no solace for cricket even in a system of that nature.

First, a change in the very concept of cricket played in this country should be taken with the consent of the cricket fraternity of this country. Cricket is not a legacy that someone owned down the line. Maybe there is a way out of this deadlock. Yes, cricket can go back to the old democratic system, but with a coat of control that would be kept by the political administration.

The minister of sports under the powers vested in him through the ‘Sports Law’ could appoint a skilled unbiased person who would keep the administration on proper rails, but, he would have no hand in the day-to-day administration of cricket. It would be done by the elected persons.

The appointee would co-ordinate matters between the political administration (the Sports Ministry) and the elected board. However this appointee also should be a cricketer of repute and having administrative skills.

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