Roshan Mahanama was barely fourteen plus when he played his first division one game against Colts. He said what he vaguely recalled was that his club, Bloomfield, was losing wickets and he had to prop up the inning with another former Nalandian stalwart — Anura Ranasinghe who was the senior member — and they somewhat [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

No time to experiment with Cricket jigsaws


Is Cricket boss Thilanga Sumathipala making the right moves?

Roshan Mahanama was barely fourteen plus when he played his first division one game against Colts. He said what he vaguely recalled was that his club, Bloomfield, was losing wickets and he had to prop up the inning with another former Nalandian stalwart — Anura Ranasinghe who was the senior member — and they somewhat accomplished the assigned task.

Yes, at that time there were some schoolboys who were lucky enough to play club cricket. Roshan himself reminded me that he was given the chance to play division one cricket after playing in the division III Daily News Trophy and the Division II Donovan Andree tournaments.

At that time there were only around 9-10 premier clubs in the system, but, almost all the clubs that played the top division had likes of its own cricket academy.

In short, there was a rich system of talent scouting and promoting. In the lowest division or the division III Daily News tournament, there were new entrants from schools. The division III side was generally captained by a former national player or a veteran of yesteryear along with one or two players who had just passed the benchmark of fitness to remain in top division reckoning. The task assigned to the seniors was to keep a tab on incoming talent. Sometimes they even had to go to the schools and do some scouting on the potential school cricketers who could enrich their club’s fortunes. With greying hairline and years spent at the crease, they knew their onions. They were the guiding lights – all ears and eyes.

Just out of school the juniors learned the intricacies of growing up in the higher grades while playing in the division III tournament – learning from the grey-liners, and then they graduated to the division II team. There in division II, once again, were a lot of young hopefuls waiting to get into the worn-out boots of other seniors in the top grade. If a top grader is injured or is out of form, a player from the Donovan team would take his place. The top grader then would recuperate in the division two outfit while the youngster tries to seal his place in the playing Xl.

It was an ongoing learning curve, time tested and workable. At any given time the teams had a pool of players – 15 in the top division, 15 in the division II and around 18-20 in the division III.

So at any given time, a top club had a pool of around 50 players in constant training. In other words, a system with 10 clubs had around 500 cricketers who were kept in trim to man the club tournament.

At this time we will stop and take a peek at the cricketing culture and the history behind it. There is no point in discussing who brought the game of cricket to Sri Lanka, but, the game took its initial roots through the missionary schools and the British military and the first club was set up in 1869 – Dimbulla Cricket and Athletic Club.

It is not clear how the club cricket system came into being and established itself. But a structured Club Cricket Tournament was held in 1937 with Kalutara Town Club winning the Daily News tournament — the division one segment at that time. However, gradually the Kalutara club lost its edge and was relegated.

Later this tournament underwent name changes: From Daily News to P. Saravanamuttu Trophy to Lakspray Tournament to Sara Trophy and to the present Premier League.

By the 1950s, clubs like the SSC, Tamil Union, NCC, Nomads, Colts, BRC, Saracens, Bloomfield, Moors and later Moratuwa SC and CCC were the core clubs which played top grade cricket in the country.

The intake to these clubs came mainly from schools such as Royal, S. Thomas’, Ananda, Wesley, Nalanda, Zahira, St. Joseph’s and St. Peter’s from Colombo; Trinity, St. Anthony’s, Dharmaraja from Kandy and Richmond and Mahinda from Galle along with Prince of Wales and St. Sebastian’s in Moratuwa.

This formed the nucleus of Sri Lankan cricket and the both club and school entities grew entwined with each other.

All these clubs and schools had their own grounds and premises. So, naturally, they maintained high standards. (Later the Saracens Sports Club ground was taken over by the Air Force).

However, there was a catch. All top division cricket in the island was centred in the city of Colombo and everyone accepted the status quo. Yet, in a country where the cricket playing radius was confined to around three hours travelling by 1950 standards it was sustainable. At the same time, unless you were in the plantation sector, the main hub for jobs was the Colombo metropolis.

However, by the time Sri Lanka attained Test status, the club sector had other entrants – the Army, the Navy and the Air Force along with Police, Galle CC, Panadura SC, Negombo CC, Kalutara PCC, Sinha SC, Amlalangoda Rio SC, Liberty CC, Kurunegala SC, Kurunegala PCC. But, like Kalutara SC, some of these clubs were later relegated.

Sadly, there were reasons other than cricket that decided the promotion of a club — it depended on those who are in power and the club’s votes at the AGM.

Now there are even certain clubs that are run by individuals or by heads of institutions running top division clubs and even winning trophies at times.

Now it is so top heavy there were 24 division I clubs in the fray divided into two parts of 14 and 10.

As a result of these accumulated reasons there was a slump. The three-tier structure in the club system went into decay. Instead there came cricket playing clubs, but, not necessarily clubs that feed the system. A direct result of this was that many experienced cricketers sought cricket employment in countries such as England and Australia. They played low level cricket as professionals to eke out a living. This cascaded in to poor bench strength in top division cricket, especially when the cricketers are engaged in national duty.

It is against this backdrop that the Sumathipala cricket administration is trying to amalgamate the two top divisions and have one tournament of 24 teams and also push the Provincial tournament above that.

County Cricket England or State cricket Africa, Australia and India are workable because the cricket-playing geographical areas are huge, much larger than Sri Lanka. In some of those states to move from one state to the others, it may take you two hours by air. In Sri Lanka, we have the luxury of having much of our local cricket concentrated in Colombo and the suburbs.

The other argument is Provincial Cricket is alien matter — and for the last decade or so, we have failed in conducting a proper Provincial Tournament other than having a pack of tit-bits where persons born in Galle playing for the Central Province.

The earlier Sumathipala administration in the 2000s set up the provincial and district systems not in a bid to improve core cricket, but to enhance the support group and have a strong political affiliate.

Right now Sri Lanka is at the bottom of the ICC Test rankings and only one step away from relegation along with Bangladesh, West Indies and Zimbabwe. If we do not rectify the situation, we would be in the bottom rung at the expense of Bangladesh which is now stabilising its systems with proper methods.

May be a properly designed Provincial system could work, but it has to come from scratch, like how our Club cricket system took root in Sri Lanka a century or so ago. Do we have the time to experiment? If that happens the ultimate loser will not be Sumathipala, but, the game of cricket — one of the redeeming factors we have in our day-to-day lives.

Past winners of the top division


Daily News Trophy

1938        Kalutara TC

1938-39   Sinhalese Sports Club

1939-40   Sinhalese Sports Club

1940-41   Saracans Sports Club

1941-42   There was no competition

1942-43   There was no competition

1943-44   Sinhalese Sports Club

1944-45   Sinhalese Sports Club

1945-46   Tamil Union C&A Club

1946-47   Sinhalese Sports Club

1947-48   Sinhalese Sports Club

1948-49   Sinhalese Sports Club

1949-50   Sinhalese Sports Club

P. Saravanamuttu Trophy

1950-51   Tamil Union C & A Club

1951-52   Sinhalese Sports Club

1952-53   Nondescripts Cricket Club

1953-54   Nondescripts Cricket Club

1954-55   Nondescripts Cricket Club

1955-56   Burgher Recreation Club

1956-57   Nondescripts Cricket Club

1957-58   Nondescripts Cricket Club

1958-59   Sinhalese Sports Club

1959-60   Sinhalese Sports Club

1960-61   Nondescripts Cricket Club

1961-62   Sinhalese Sports Club

1962-63   University

1963-64   Bloomfield C&A Club

1964-65   Nomads Sports Club

1965-66   There was no competition

1966-67   Sinhalese Sports Club

1967-68   Nomads Sports Club

1968-69   Sinhalese Sports Club

1969-70   Nondescripts Cricket Club

1970-71   Nondescripts Cricket Club

1971-72   Sinhalese Sports Club

1972-73   Sinhalese Sports Club

1973-74   Sinhalese Sports Club

1974-75   Sinhalese Sports Club

1975-76   Nondescripts Cricket Club

1976-77   Nondescripts Cricket Club

1977-78   Sinhalese Sports Club

1978-79   Nondescripts Cricket Club

1979-80   Colombo Cricket Club

1980-81   Bloomfield C&A Club

1981-82   Bloomfield C&A Club

1982-83   Bloomfield C&A Club

1983-84   Sinhalese Sports Club

1984-85   Colombo Cricket Club

Lakspray Trophy

1985-86   Sinhalese Sports Club & Nondescripts Cricket Club

1986-87   Sinhalese Sports Club

1987-88   Colombo Cricket Club

1988-89   Sinhalese Sports Club & Nondescripts Cricket Club

1989-90   Sinhalese Sports Club

1990-91   Sinhalese Sports Club

P Saravanamuttu Trophy

1991-92   Colts Cricket Club

1992-93   Sinhalese Sports Club

1993-94   Nondescripts Cricket Club

1994-95   Sinhalese Sports Club & Bloomfield C&A Club

1995-96   Colombo Cricket Club

1996-97   Bloomfield C&A Club

1997-98   Sinhalese Sports Club & Bloomfield C&A Club

Premier Trophy

1998-99   Bloomfield C&A Club

1999-00   Colts Cricket Club

2000-01   Nondescripts Cricket Club

2001-02   Colts Cricket Club

2002-03   Moors Sports Club

2003-04   Bloomfield C&A Club

2004-05   Colts Cricket Club

2005-06   Sinhalese Sports Club

2006-07   Colombo Cricket Club

2007-08   Sinhalese Sports Club


Tier A: Colts Cricket Club

Tier B: Saracens Sports Club

Tier A:
      Chilaw Marians Cricket Club

Tier B:      Lankan Cricket Club


Tier A: Bloomfield C&A Club

Tier B: Moors Sports Club


Tier A: Colts Cricket Club

Tier B: Sri Lanka Army

2012-13   Sinhalese Sports Club

2013-14   Nondescripts Cricket Club

2014-15   Sri Lanka Ports Authority Cricket Club

2015-16   Tamil Union Cricket and Athletic Club


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