Sri Lanka to restructure first-class cricket tournament amid criticism

By Hilal Suhaib | July 16, 2012

The executive committee's decision to restructure first-class tournament draws criticism.Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) intends on restructuring its first-class tournament, which will see the two-tiered tournament cut down to one and the number of teams reduced from 20 to 14.

A preference, according to SLC secretary Nishantha Ranatunga, will be given to clubs with “infrastructure to develop players.” Clubs that do not own grounds and are unable to match the facilities of their more established counterparts will be shut out.

But critics argue that the changes come after Nondescripts Cricket Club (NCC) were relegated to Tier-B for the first time in the club’s 125-year history, after finishing in last place in the 2011-12 first-class Tier-A tournament.

“Everybody feels that we are trying to protect NCC. That is not the reason,” Ranatunga told the Daily Mirror newspaper in Sri Lanka last week.

“We are obliged to NCC. [The club] has given us seven national players plus four A-team players. They go and play and we make money.”

“Twenty clubs have first class status. No other country has so many teams. It is too big for a country like us. We can’t afford it,” Ranatunga added.

“Because of this, players have so many options. If you take a club like [Colombo Cricket Club], they have only 12 players who can play. So, the other players can go to play in other clubs. They can then get first-class recognition and they can go to England to play cricket professionally. They make money. Whether their cricket is improved or not nobody cares.

“There is no point [in] 20 teams playing first-class cricket. We should have a limit and we should make it quality. If we don’t do it, we are in trouble.”

Ranjan Paranavithana, coach of Baduraliya Cricket Club, feels that Colombo’s “elite clubs” and SLC’s support for them over the years has hindered the development of smaller clubs. Therefore, the move to limit the tournament to clubs with grounds and better facilities, he says, is unfair.

“Players from outside of Colombo go to elite clubs from smaller clubs because they have better facilities, to catch the eye of the selectors and to get jobs in Colombo,” Paranavithana told Island Cricket.

Previous cricket administrators at SLC never supported the smaller clubs by way of funds to develop facilities. But they gave millions to clubs like Sinhalese Sports Club, Colts Cricket Club, Burgher Recreation Club and NCC. Those clubs now have indoor facilities, swimming pools and other infrastructure.

“Now, they talk about developing outstation clubs by inviting three teams to play from Galle, Kurunegala and Kandy,” Paranavithana added.

“Without giving anything to outstation clubs like Ragama Cricket Club, Chilaw Marians Cricket Club, Baduraliya Cricket Club and Lankans Cricket Club – teams that have been amongst the top ten clubs and have survived there for many years – how can SLC invite three outstation clubs from nowhere to participate?

“Chilaw Marians were one time champions of the tournament as well.

“These clubs have produced several top class cricketers to play for Sri Lanka. When I was coach at Sebastianites Cricket and Athletic Club, we were able to produce players like Tillakaratne Dilshan, Prasanna Jayawardene, Dinusha Fernando and Sujeewa de Silva.”

“To scrap the first-class status for Tier-B is unfair to a large number of players who make a bit of money by playing English league cricket every year.”

A majority of clubs are opposed to the changes, according to Paranavithana.

“Clubs are the stakeholders of SLC. Now, there is an elected body which is answerable to their members, Paranavithana said.

“The sports minister and the SLC executive committee must realise that the functioning body is not an interim one. If they do this, the clubs will go to courts against it.”

Related: 'Cricket in Sri Lanka heading towards disaster'

© Island Cricket

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