The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

The impending cricket disasters and the kiss of life


I always interpret the story about the young boy who cried out about the coming of the tiger differently. The crux of the story is not that there was no-one when the tiger finally arrived, but that the boy foresaw impending disaster and wanted to tell the world about it. At the same time, if the people came out at his initial call they could have taken proper steps to avert the damage without retreating to their abodes, seeing no tiger. The wise people who look into the distance generally try to forewarn the rest of the world when they see bad coming their way.

Even the central contract issue should have been ironed out without waiting for the arrival of the tiger. Lankan skipper Mahela Jayawardena with Sri Lanka Cricket President Upali Dharmadasa on Monday. (Pic Ranjith Perera)

Likewise a section of cricket lovers, which has a deep knowledge of the game, kept crying out that if the status quo remained in local cricket the day won’t be too far away when the Lankans start losing matches to Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Well, the tiger has arrived. The first such sign occurred during Sri Lanka’s Asia Cup excursion in Bangladesh, when the national team lost to the tournament hosts. The second  and third came last week when Sri Lanka ‘A’ lost to Zimbabwe ‘A’ in Harare – losing the match badly by five wickets and then followed it up with a bigger defeat in their next meeting.

At this end, we keep crying out loud, sobbing that Lankan cricket has lost its sheen and even now it may be too late to give it the kiss of life. For the past umpteen years the sore kept growing wider and deeper, with no solution forthcoming. Yet, during the past few years persons of the calibre of Sidath Wettimuny, who saw the impending disaster, tried hard to effect changes even at the top layer by introducing the Provincial Cricket tournament, but the laid back club cricket idea has taken too deep a root and the tree of complacency has grown too fat in its girth.

Now the latest development is that there is a move to make club cricket a bit leaner and throw more practical changes into it, but the fat girth still stands in its way. At the same time the custodian of cricket in this country, SLC, is burrowing deeper into the darkness of uncertainty. From one end it is cash-strapped and is buried in the problems that cascade along with that predicament. From another was in disagreement with the national squad over the central contracts, which was highlighted by the national skipper Mahela Jayawardena last Monday.

He had to choose this forum because some feel that the authorities have gagged him –we will come to that matter later. Just as we said before, the bridge should have been built much earlier and not at the eleventh hour and in the aftermath of a lot of heartburn.
In another view the SLPL is also like the farmer who carried a snake in his bag home. If he let the bag down the snake would bite him and if he took it home the snake would bite his wife. Likewise if they do not go ahead with the SLPL they face a huge legal wrangle and if they do go ahead with the SLPL the prospect of another financial disaster looms in the horizon.

Though a man who is on the bandwagon, the chief cricket selector Asantha de Mel is a man who sees the ominous signs – at least where the part of playing cricket is concerned. He says he saw the red lights and has told the SLC about his concerns and the fact that to get results even after a few years the changes have to be effected immediately.

During his chat, he professed most of the facts that the Musings had listed down last week on the subject of junior cricket and added, “I have even heard of a coach who keeps the new ball in the deep freeze overnight, because when it comes to the match the next day, the ball will not travel while the opposition takes its turn to bat.”

He is adamant that the school season should be limited to three matches in the third term and 8-10 matches in the half month of March. Besides that, school cricket should be played only during the weekend. It helps in two ways he says. Firstly the boys have a breather and they can continue their studies while getting the necessary body balance. Secondly, the wickets have the chance to rejuvenate and curators have a better chance of preparing good wickets.

He says the system should encourage the proper usage of fast bowlers and train the spinners to capture wickets, without throwing out darts on under-prepared wickets.Then once they have a good season the players would go to their respective zonal camps and play another series of games under the close scrutiny of the SLC’s selectors. Fifteen players each go into seven zones. They will have the best in every zone and it will be a manageable number of players for the authorities to have a tab on.

Upon graduation, club cricket carries the same woes. For instance he said, “Just see the under 23 tournament. The tournament has 80 clubs taking part. This means there are 1200 players taking part in this tournament. How on earth can you have a quality tournament with the involvement of such huge numbers. The talent is definitely going to get diluted. At the most there should be only about seven or eight teams taking part in this tournament with the cream of the talent at that age group, who just left school, taking part in a quality championship.”

He said that the same goes for senior club cricket and that he is very happy that the Tier ‘B’ has been removed from the first class tag. De Mel added, “Now the good players will keep pushing for a place in the top sides and all the clubs that are in the Tier ‘A’ will have good bench strength. The players who have to play at least five first class matches for a season to claim a stake to play overseas will really have to fight for their places. This will result in the club cricket tournament becoming more competitive.”  De Mel also feels that the icing on the cake should be the Provincial Tournament, where the cream of talent in the country is in the fray in an intense battle, with the selectors taking serious note of the performances of that tournament.

Still De Mel also feels that nothing will come right if the wickets that the matches are played on are substandard. Here the SLC will have to seriously get involved and look after the wickets earnestly, and make sure that all top cricket in this country is played on good wickets where bowlers can get wickets and batsmen can score runs, with these feats done through their inherent talent and not with the aid of pitches.

The authorities better wake up! The tiger has arrived. It is about to devour the remainder of our cricket if the kiss of life is not delivered.

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