For the past two decades or more, all cricket pundits have stated in unison that if Sri Lanka is to move to the next plane of the game, we must adopt a Provincial system, like the other major Test playing nations. From time to time they did try it using various methods, but the nearest [...]


Discovery of the workable Provincial Cricket system


Provincial cricket has become a reality from the junior level - File pic

For the past two decades or more, all cricket pundits have stated in unison that if Sri Lanka is to move to the next plane of the game, we must adopt a Provincial system, like the other major Test playing nations.

From time to time they did try it using various methods, but the nearest they came was a system where cricketing nomads from various clubs were clustered together, just for a series of matches. Nevertheless, honestly no one cared as to who won or lost at the end. Players were selected by the local cricket authorities according to their whims and fancies, and that was the long and short of the story.

The reason for this anomaly is that right through, the Lankan cricket system tried to experiment with a new formula, without really trying to understand what they were trying to achieve. Unlike the sytems in other major Test playing nations, the Lankan system, more or less, was a self-styled system, rather than a structured one. Mainly because, unlike the major Test playing nations, our country is small in size and the distances from one centre to another are not too great. As a result, cricket centres were emerged in places like Colombo, Kandy and Galle at school level — and later on in life, the cricket jobs centred mostly in Colombo. For instance, though there are several major cricket playing schools in Kandy and Galle, almost 95 percent of the cricket clubs are located in the Western Province.

Through the years, some of Sri Lanka’s best cricketing brains such as Sidath Wettimuny, Aravinda de Silva and later Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardena and Muttiah Muralitharan, have professed that the Provincial method is the way forward, but up to now, none has found an indigenous way of discovering how to make it grow within.

To be honest, even Sri Lanka Cricket’s (SLC) present District and Provincial cricket system appears to be more a ruse to garner and harness the Sumathipala vote base, than an honest attempt to nurture the root cricket of our system.

Nevertheless, when you shift the centre of focus a few degrees, you could automatically bring to mind the recent Lankan cricket debacle and how everyone of authority was concerned. At one end, Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera called up a huge cricket rescue discussion and even formed a committee comprising former cricketers Anura Tennakoon, Aravinda de Silva, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena to draw up a blueprint, and I still wonder what the final outcome was. Yet, watching how the SLC machine is now working, one could safely conclude that nothing much would happen from that sector of activity.

During the same period, Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam hauled up a group of cricket doyens including Sidath Wettimuny, Roshan Mahanama, Mahela Jayawardena, Kushil Gunasekera and Muttiah Muralitharan — with Jayantha Seneviratne as the driver of the programme and Carlton Bernardus as Project Manager. They were to work along with the officials of the Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association (SLSCA) and reputed coach Roger Wijesuriya.

The objective is to formulate a School cricket system which would work towards a meaningful change, that would help develop the game, so that it would nurture senior cricket.

Unlike others, this group of people have launched a programme and are on their way to implement the changes, beginning from the cradle — the Under 13 level.

However, what is most interesting is that the programme is based on a District and Provincial system that is legally established in the country. Project Manager Carlton Bernadus explained, “This established system was there for decades, since the Provincial Councils were formed in Sri Lanka. Most of the other sports which work under the Ministry of Education, have been working within its periphery. The entire National School Games concept is based upon it. It works within the District and Provincial system. So what we had to do was to take cricket and fit it in like a jig-saw.”

At this end, the Musings is excited because, wittingly or unwittingly, the Schools system has stumbled upon the formula that cricket could grow with. From the U-13 level they would play within their Districts, and then graduate to a Provincial system, with the number of teams varying according to the quality of cricket churned out.

At present, they have grouped the U-13 system in this manner. The composition for the final round teams: Western Province 5 teams, Southern Province, Central Province and North Western Province 2 teams each, North Central Province, Northern Province, Eastern Province, Sabaragamuwa Province and Uva Province 1 team each.

Last week, the Education Department School Cricket Development Committee met and formulated the junior segment which runs from U-13 to U-17. Importantly, U-13 cricket is played with the perennial 4¾ oz ball and on a 20 yard pitch. So much so when I was speaking to national cricket coach Graeme Labrooy the other day, he was disturbed about junior cricket being played with the senior cricket equipment, using the 22-yard pitch.

The onus of conducting the tournament still lies with the SLSCA and, at the same time, the SLSCA is one of the stakeholders of this futuristic project.

Most members in that Committee have played the game at the highest level and, at the same time, have served within various cricketing structures. They know when and what differences should be effected. Likewise, the Committee has used its expertise and made an honest endeavour to structure the game of cricket, so that it would be useful to the game.

Recently, we saw the Ministry of Sports handing over cricket equipment at a certain function, to some schools, while SLC has its own junior cricket development set in place. At the same time, School cricket functions under the aegis of the Education Department and is the biggest stakeholder in this project.

According to Bernadus, the entire programme is structured in a manner that it would benefit tomorrow’s national cricketer. At the same time, we find that the SLC could take a cue from the structure of the District and Provincial system and set its own programme. So that cricket would grow from the root to the fruit and, automatically, SLC would end up with its own workable Provincial cricket system.

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