Has anyone in authority who loves the game of cricket seen the plight of teen cricket in Sri Lanka? Once again the Lankans ended with an empty bowl in the ICC under 19 World Cup tournament – ending up at fourth place while losing to Bangladesh in the play-off for the third place. Please could [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Fighting the school cricket monster


Has anyone in authority who loves the game of cricket seen the plight of teen cricket in Sri Lanka? Once again the Lankans ended with an empty bowl in the ICC under 19 World Cup tournament – ending up at fourth place while losing to Bangladesh in the play-off for the third place.

Please could someone enlighten us as to when Bangladesh took their teen cricket seriously and began to play the under 19 cricket at competitive level? For sure I know Sri Lanka has a more than a hundred year cricket history that runs deep into the very roots of sports culture. Yet, when it comes to a crux we cannot beat a team like Bangladesh.

It was Carlton Bernadus — now an integral of the Sri Lanka Cricket management — who brought us into the perspective on Bangladesh. When Sri Lanka ended up as the runners-up of the Under 19 tournament to India in 2000, he was the under 19 coach of Sri Lanka cricket. Bernadus had a story to share with regard to Bangladesh cricket. He said:

“With Bangladesh gaining Test status in the year 2000, I moved to that country to take over the challenge of nursing their junior cricket and putting it into shape. Up to that time, Bangladeshi junior cricket was played haphazardly in spite of the cricketers being talented. Our coaching team comprised me, Malcolm Perera and Senarath Alwis. Together we restructured the entire junior structure there and that covered the age groups from under 13 to under 19. While nursing junior cricket in Bangladesh, we also structured a system so that the junior cricketers in Bangladesh would have a natural path into their senior cricket highway.”

It is a tale of success accomplished by Sri Lankans for junior cricket in a foreign country with conditions alien to us. Bernadus always talks proudly about this accomplishment. However, what has been our plight in junior cricket? In spite of having a hundred year tail hanging behind us what have we achieved? Here are the countries that have won the Under 19 ICC Cricket World Cup championship: 1988 Australia, 1998 England, 2000 India, 2002 Australia, 2004 Pakistan, 2006 Pakistan, 2008 India, 2010 Australia, 2012 India, 2014 South Africa and 2016 West Indies.

Proceedings of the Richmond Vs St.Joseph’s match which came to a lot of debate in progress.

Of the traditional sides, only New Zealand and Sri Lanka have failed to win the title along with the Big League weaklings — Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Yet, adding to the woes, the Lankans lost the third place of the fight to Bangladesh this time around.
However, we ask whether anyone is interested in the wellbeing of the game of cricket at junior level in Sri Lank – it does not seem to be.

The game has grown in numbers since Sri Lanka attained Test status in 1982 and exploded in 1996 by winning the ICC Cricket World Cup proper. But, the growth has been worse than haphazard. From about forty traditional schools that had been nursing the game since its formative years, it has stretched shapelessly more akin to a scary monster which is about to swallow the very game that they nurtured, though more than 400 schools (at under 13 and under 15 cricket level) play the game.

The whole gamut of Sri Lanka junior game is floating on the high seas like a rudderless ship. The game has slipped to a status, where win at all cost is the motto and this dangerous path is followed without any shame. For instance, recently there were some bowlers who were called for suspect actions just prior to the selection to the ICC under 19 tournament. They were left out, rightfully. But, these bowlers continue to play school cricket with the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association doing zilch to stop that from happening.

There was a time when some member schools were rebelling against the SLSCA when it tried to interfere with their traditional matches. But, the schools that rebelled had to retreat fearing repercussions like their players being overlooked for overseas tours.
This was also evident in a hilarious turn of event his week. With the SLSCA’s insisting that St. Joseph’s played the pre-quarter-final match against Richmond in the Under 19 Schools Tournament, they had no choice but to play the match with a second XI team. Mind you this was the most important tournament for the authorities. Yet, on the same day St. Joseph’s played their traditional first XI against St. Benedict’s manning their senior squad!

Some even describe the grading system as a joke. It is known that once a suburban school which is not very famous for its exploits was promoted to the top division just because the master-in-charge of that school was also the most influential person in school cricket in the island.

We beg to ask, “Are these member schools really interested in the SLSCA-conducted tournaments?”
Then in another down side of the SLSCA-conducted tournament, the game between Richmond and S. Thomas’ Collage, Mt. Lavinia came to an abrupt end after a dispute over a boundary. The match-referee brought the game to a halt because the situation was getting out of hand.

The tale of woes about the handling of the junior segment could be narrated in volumes. But, the wagon keeps running unheeded because the SLSCA holds two vital votes at the Sri Lanka Cricket elections.
However, Sri Lanka’s cricket standards keep going down by the hour as a result of these shortsighted policies. Yet, Sri Lanka Cricket cannot take direct action to stem the rot because the Schools Cricket Association comes under the purview of the Education Department.

But the situation needs to be arrested. SLC should seek avenues to have control of junior cricket. It should explore possibilities of gaining access to pick junior cricketers directly from the junior level. Bring all junior level pools under the control of the national selectors for international engagements.

SLC should begin a dialogue with the Minister of Education and see how this could be accomplished.
The SLSCA could have the control of the body, but, should not play any part in matters pertaining to the governance of junior level cricket at SLC level. Then SLC could seek ways of having its own restructuring programme.
In 2000, Bangladesh mooted their restructuring programme and sixteen years later, they are good enough to end up at the third position.

In Sri Lanka we lack a proper first class tournament. As a result, the gap between Sri Lanka’s domestic game and the international call is growing wider by the hour. At the same time domestic cricket is also on the decline and we do not think that it could be addressed by printing a code of ethics for the juniors.

The restructuring of the junior game should be done as a priority. If not, it won’t be long when the Lankan game will also be lingering like the one in Zimbabwe. Making under 19 to under 20 is not the answer to all ills of junior cricket in Sri Lanka.

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