A few weeks ago we announced that the present Sri Lanka Cricket administration had done away with the scheduled Provincial Cricket 4-day tournament for this year. Generally it is the most disposable item that is removed from the agenda and according to the present SLC principles, the provincial 4-day tournament would have been so.
Yet a few days later former Sri Lanka Cricket captain Kumar Sangakkara who is also a member of the ICC cricket committee commented that the Lankan first class cricket structure should be overhauled on the lines of Australian Cricket.
Sangakkara reiterated that it was high time that shortcomings in the cricket structure was paid attention to and warned that natural talent will not take the nation far enough.Undoubtedly, these two stances perplexed me. On the one hand, a bunch of administrators who may not be the most authoritative, do away with a system which was thus administered to hedge the widening gap between the International Cricketing demands and what the local platter can offer. On the other, a globally respected cricketer is sending SOS signals and asking the authorities to save the day for Lankan cricket.
A few moons ago, the then interim committee approved the revised provincial system to come in between the prevailing club cricket system and the international call. An expert who was a brainwave of this innovation was none other than respected administrator Sidath Wettimuny. So we dug into this impasse with him.
We posed the question saying the clubs argue that they have nurtured the game of cricket in this island for more than a hundred years -- evolving along and produced a World Cup winning combination and cricketers in the calibre of Sidath Wettimuny. So why do you need to change things and bring in new innovations saying the existing system is inadequate.
The Wettimuny answer came in this manner. “Simple response to that question is, does a company that has run for hundred years is running the same way they did a century ago? Should we be using the same telephones that we have used twenty years ago?
“Producing cricketers in that calibre is okay for that period. Yet, now we are having a situation that the game is changing drastically. The very formats of the game are changing. The amount of cricket that we played in my time – we played two to three Test matches a year. To play a few Test matches a year and play about five one-day internationals our club cricket system was adequate. But, do not forget – today many more clubs want to play cricket, but the existing system is inadequate.”
In response to his answer we asked him what the priority was. Is it more clubs taking to the game or deriving a system that will sandwich the gap between international and the existing club system?
Wettimuny said: “This is what we are trying to explain. The only way to go forward is with the provincial cricket tournament, which is what the cricket committee of this country has talked about. You talk to our senior cricketers like our national captain (Mahela Jayawardena) or Kumar Sangakkara, they will tell you it is the only way forward. There is no other way! You may call it provincial, you can call it a super tournament – whatever – but we need a much more intense and highly competitive tournament.”
The respected former cricket administrator referred to how the present skipper Jayawardena had once described the existing club tournament. “When I am involved in a club game maybe I have to look at one bowler or two at the most. Thereafter it is easy meat.”
Then Wettimuny added, “This is the situation with much of our cricket. But, we must learn to look ahead. What we are saying is if you are looking at the next ten years – if you are looking at from where our talent is coming, then we must look at it from a different perspective”.
Even while talking of the technical ineptitudes; the outstation talent could be sent through the mill at an early stage if Sri Lanka posseses a provincial-based tournament, Wettimuny feels. He is of the view that if the proposed provincial system takes root, Sri Lanka could have five different cricketing centres in the country instead of the existing one centre in Colombo.
Even the head coach of Sri Lanka cricket, Jerome Jayaratne, explained to the Sunday Times recently that Sri Lankan having only one centre of excellence in Colombo was a great deficiency.Wettimuny explained, “To combat this situation we must take the game to the outstations, but, what we are doing is, we are not taking the game out we are showing that everything that happens -- happens in Colombo and if you want to play for Sri Lanka you must get into one of the top few clubs and that is not a long term solution. If you want to establish this game in a way that prospers in the long-term we must develop our provincial bases. I am not asking to disregard club cricket. Club cricket is the backbone of our game. Whilst promoting club cricket we must also have the other level.
“Our last cricket committee gave a proposal requesting ten per cent of the TV rights deal to be given to the club system. We must promote the club system. But that does not mean that the club cricket system should be the be all and end all of cricket. We must have another level of cricket in this country at the same time. We proposed that the clubs get involved in that process,” Wettimuny said.
He said that in the pro-provincial system that they got approved, the clubs gets involved in the provincial management structure so that they become a part of the system. “These are things that were not started by us. The provincial concept has been there for more than a decade now. Even Aravinda de Silva – one of the greatest cricketers Sri Lanka has produced is a promoter of the Provincial Cricket system.”
Then Wettimuny asked this question: “Why do the likes of Aravinda and Mahela say that they need a change; why are they promoting the provincial concept? Why aren’t we listening to the cricketers of this country and instead listen to guys who just pump money to clubs to promote themselves very often.
“Give me their cricket credentials of these guys who talk of club cricket. Should they be the guys who should be talking or should it be the ex-national players, ex-national captains and the current national players?”
Wettimuny also said that on another occasion Mahela Jayawardena had come up with a good idea. He had mentioned that they should get the first fifteen guys from the national under 19 system and put them into the provinces, according to their places of birth and contract them for three years and ask them to play for clubs from that cluster. Wettimuny reckoned that this was a very futuristic idea.
“What we said was – Let’s cluster the top Colombo clubs with the clubs in the peripheries. For example, there is Galle, Kurunegala, Kandy and Matara.
Then there are clubs like the Ragama CC on the suburban coastline. We wanted to separate these clubs so that some of the top clubs can mix with some of the smaller clubs in a cluster. It is a system aimed at giving a hand to the smaller clubs.
“We can get a team from the five clubs in the cluster plus the provincial officials and the district officials and to manage that province. I have been in five interim committees and yet I do not know what is happening for instance in Hambantota. So the cluster system was purely an instrument to decentralize the management. We wanted to make sure that the clubs were also a part of that management. There is this feeling that the clubs will be alienated with the provincial system.
Why do clubs fear this? Their fear is mainly because they may lose the grip of running cricket in this country. “When we proposed a 4-day tournament where the five provinces play each other twice the clubs panicked thinking that they might lose their importance. That was the only thing that happened. But, our intention was only to conduct a better tournament where all the cricketers of any part of this country can participate.’