SLPL; the first time the concept was plunged into the minds of the Sri Lankans in 2011, everyone in Sri Lanka was excited by the possibility of having a Premiere league tournament of our own. The board began the marketing processes by dishing out 7 ruffian names of the teams. Somerset Entertainments was signed up to handle the event and the officials of SLC prepared their alm-bowls to grovel for the participation of some prominent players from India. BCCI refused, citing a probable connection between Lalit Modi and Somerset Ventures. The 2011 SLPL was thus, postponed by a year.
In 2012. after having already given up the idea of involving Indian players, SLC managed to wangle a tournament in August with players from Pakistan, Bangladesh, South Africa and Australia. The tournament was over even before the tuk tuk drivers in Sri Lanka could correctly match the players’ names with that of their teams. The matches were mostly played in empty stands in Colombo and Pallekele and the final was greeted by rain after the breathtaking innings played by Angelo Mathews and Dilshan Munaweera. The tournament could be called a "reasonable success" since it uncovered some serious talents like Dilshan Munaweera, Akila Dananjaya, Seekuge Prasanna, Shaminda Eranga, Chathuranga Kumara and Isuru Udana.
However, there were speculations about alleged Match Fixing efforts in the tournament and later the appalling truth that there was no organisation or company called Somerset Entertainment and such a company was hastily concocted only to host SLPL was revealed. 6 of the 7 team were owned by spurious companies. In 2013, the problem of payment surfaced and when no team met the deadline, the tournament was halted. The resume button is yet to be hit. In the meantime, SLC has fallen upon an abominable tournament involving 4 teams.
SLC continues to postpone discussions on SLPL, and we fans are not yet presented with a credible reason as to why the Premiere League tournament cannot continue. The Carlton 7s tournament that included several prominent Rugby players from around the world has left a footpath for cricket to follow.
Hitherto there have been 5 Premiere League tournaments. IPL is without a doubt a box office event. BPL failed after two seasons. SLPL snoozed after just one season. BBL and CPL, however, have managed to sustain themselves for more than a season. SLPL is too juvenile to take a leaf out of IPL’s book, but it can learn its lessons from CPL and BBL.
The reasons for CPL’s and BBL’s success were that they strived to be independent, attempted to be original and most importantly had goals that transcended just financial gains.
I firmly believe a more "Sri Lankan" SLPL can sustain its place in Sri Lanka. Instead of looking for Indian players’ participation or trying to settle the debts of SLC through SLPL, if SLC can organize a Sri Lankan Premiere League, with the primary intentions of creating a podium for youngsters and entertaining the public, then SLPL can not only survive but it will also be able to thrive.
SLPL should for the time being give up the idea of a province based tournament and should embrace a city based tournament.
Colombo : R Premadasa Stadium
Moratuwa: Tyronne Fernando Stadium
Matara: Uyanwatte Stadium
Kandy: Pallekele Stadium
Kurunagela: Welegedara Stadium
Dambulla: Dambulla International Stadium
Hambantota: Mahinda Rajapakshe Stadium
Galle: Galle International Stadium
The above mentioned cities with cricket stadium of International Standards can be given a team each. Sri Lanka Cricket should avoid the mortal mistake of choosing Colombo as the centre of the tournament. A city inhabited by people who sweat day and night to break even will never be able to fill stadiums on a daily basis, that too paying more than 100 LKR for every match. Instead, the tournament should be spread to cover all the prominent Cricketing cities in Sri Lanka. The grounds in Galle, Moratuwa, Dambulla, Matara and Kurunagela can definitely have a full house. Moratuwa and Matara are two cricket starved cities in Sri Lanka. Dambulla can have men clambering over trees to catch a glimpse of cricket. Matches in these grounds with international players can excite the interest of many sponsors.
The major problem here is that only three of the above eight stadiums can have night games. Dambulla may host night games since the floodlights should be adequate to host non-international games. This means the other stadiums can only host day games, which will make scheduling a tough job. Matches in grounds bereft of floodlights will have to begin as early as 2:30 PM, which would mean it will lose the working crowd. Hence weekends should be targeted to host matches in these grounds. One ground should not host two games within 3 days, since it will become an ad nauseam for the spectators
The tournament should not take long and should be short and spicy. If each team is to play one another in the league stage, it will take 36 games. Assuming that two games can be played on a single day, it will take 18 days. This is quite long to sustain the attention and interests of the public. So the teams can be split into two groups. A team in a group plays against all the other teams in the respective group once. This means a total of 20 games would be played across 10 days. Two weeks is just the perfect duration for a cricket tournament in Sri Lanka. Thus, the tournament can be both intense and thrilling.
Rather than using raucous names for the teams, names that reflect the culture of the respective city should be used. Names like Nagenahira Nagas, should, however, be desisted, since they can become tongue twisters to the non Sri Lankan fans. The team logos and concepts should also mirror Sri Lanka.
The concept of cheerleaders must be ditched and the local masked dancers, stunt men, and pyrotechnicians should be used. These men can improve the atmosphere very much in comparison to the scantily clothed women.
When it comes to team sponsors, SLC should target Sri Lankan companies and business ventures instead of being over ambitious and money greedy. Sri Lankan companies would be reliable and would make sure that SLC doesn’t commit the same mistake of choosing fake companies.
Players who are auctioned should be limited. The international players in Sri Lanka should be distributed evenly among the eight teams. Thus, all eight teams would be equally strong, paving the way for close games. Players from Pakistan and Bangladesh should be targeted, since almost every one would accept the offer. Saeed Ajmal, Shahid Afridi, Mohamed Hafeez, Umar Gul, Ahmed Shezad, Mushfiqur Rahim, Shakib Ul Hasan, Tamim Iabal, Shamsur Rahman, Anamul Haque and Abdur Razzaq can be quality purchases. SLPL should also target exceptional talents from the Associate Nations. Kevin O Brien, William Portfield, Ten Doeschate and Boyd Rankin can turn out be players of supreme standards.
Next SLPL should embrace technology and should attempt to have, Hawk Eye, Spider Cam, hot spot, and Zing bails. DRS should be strictly employed.
SLC should be careful in choosing the right time to host the tournament. IPL would consume April and May. December is for BBL. August is occupied by CPL. The month of September and October will see plenty of rains in Sri Lanka. That leaves Sri Lanka with the only option of hosting the tournament in the month of February. Since BPL is now defunct SLPL can be hosted in February.
For an avid cricket fan like me, a tournament like SLPL is compulsory. Our domestic games are not broadcast. Not every youngster gets a chance to play at the International level. I am yet to see Bhanuka Rajapakshe, Yasoda Lanka, Tharindu Kasuhal, Shehan Jayasuriya and Danushka Gunathilaka in the flesh. SLPL will give us all a chance to see the future torch bearers of Sri Lanka lock horns with the stellars from the International Arena. The key for success of SLPL is not trying to become an overnight blockbuster hit ,but to assemble a tournament that can slowly and gradually instill itself as an annual Lankan festival.