T20 cricket has come a long way since its introduction in the mid 2000s. It is arguably the most popular form of cricket being played and undeniably the most profitable. T20 cricket has drastically shaped world cricket as we know it, making it more batsmen friendly, bringing in new technology, expanding the fan base across the globe, involving associate nations which has helped spread the game, producing free agents/cricketers who aren’t contract bound to a country or a domestic team but play in global leagues across the world to name a few.
All the best cricketing teams in the world have functioning a T20 domestic league or premier league although not every one of those leagues are on the same level. PSL, IPL, Big Bash, CPL are the big four and the rest of the leagues are in constant competition to make sure they garner the same level of following, revenue and foreign recruits as the big four.
Then there is Sri Lanka. There isn’t much left to talk about our domestic premier T20 tournament, what with all the politics and law suits involved with it. Our last attempt at establishing a franchise based T20 league is the new defunct SLPL 2012. Sadly the CPL, PSL, BPL which started after the SLPL have all far surpassed us.
Sri Lanka’s white ball cricket has suffered immensely as a result of the lack of a competitive T20 tournament. Where we once mass produce quintessential white ball cricket players, the likes of Sanath, Malinga, TM Dilshan, Ajantha Mendis, Nuwan Kulasekara who redefined limited overs cricket, over the past 5 years we have had to look on as white ball cricket evolved, hoping our players will somehow figure out how to be competitive in this renewed format.
We have fared terribly in pretty much all major the white ball tournaments organised in the last 5 years and Lasith Malinga at 37 is still our best bowler.
It has come to a point where unless we start our own competitive T20 league, we wouldn’t stand a chance against even some of the associate cricketing nations let alone the major test playing nations.
How will the proposed LPL benefit Sri Lanka?
Lasith Malinga said it best when he said limited overs cricket is all about executing skills in crunch situations. This is true ,especially for bowlers. Which the game’s scales titling heavily in the batsmen’s favour the onus is on bowlers to make limited overs cricket challenging. Skills like bowling in the death, slower balls, generating good pace, mystery spin, accuracy are all skills that are crucial for the modern white ball bowler. For batsmen clearing the boundary regularly , scoring behind square and pacing an innings are skills that need to be learnt.
A T20 league allows both capped and uncapped bowlers to experiment new tricks and hone their skills. Uncapped or domestic cricketers can bounce ideas off international players and learn from then how to execute or find mentors in them to help them. A great example of this is the mentor-mentee relationship between Jasprit Bumrah and Lasith Malinga.
A domestic league will also help bridge the gap between domestic cricket and international cricket and help future international hopefuls get accustomed to international cricket before making their debuts.
A domestic league will make players open to facilities and opportunities they wouldn’t encounter in a domestic tournament. A good example in the Sri Lankan context is playing under lights. Almost all Sri Lankan domestic tournaments are day games ,where our players rarely get the opportunity to play under lights. Fielding under lights is quite difficult as you have to negate the glare of floodlights and also the pitch black sky. We have seen time and time again, how Sri Lankan players early in their international careers shell catches when playing under lights because of the unfamiliarity of fielding under lights.
A franchise based league would mean there will be foreign recruits. What this does is improve the standard of cricket being played. These foreign professionals will add to the game as they share experiences from playing international cricket or even domestic cricket in other countries where things are done differently. Bowling and batting against foreign professionals will exponentially improve the approach to and execution of skills of domestic players.
A domestic league is a great way for players who are out of form international players or national discards to find form and get back on the selectors’ radar. Often playing in a diluted domestic structure doesn’t benefit these players as, when they make a comeback to the national side, they tend to fail again as the diluted domestic structure’s standard is miles behind the international cricket standard. Playing a domestic league will stand these players in good stead as the standard of cricket is much higher and more competitive so the form can be transferred from this league to international cricket.
Another advantage of having a functioning domestic league is that it helps fast track players into the national side. A good example is Akila Dananjaya. He made his international debut in the 2012 T20 World Cup after performing well in the SLPL for Wayamba United. He was 18 years old then. The standard of the U19 Cricket in Sri Lanka is appreciable. But a considerable portion of these young cricketers end up being mismanaged when they step into First Class or List A cricket. However a league will open up direct opportunities for these U19 players to play for a franchise and then potentially make their way into the national set up.
A domestic league will allow our players to showcase their skills on home soil and stand a chance to make it to the national side, without being at the mercy of other foreign leagues to pick them up so they can convince the national selectors. Take Isuru Udana. Only the second Sri Lankan to find employment at the IPL 2020, he had to become the highest wicket taker at the 2017 Afghan Premier League for our selectors to take notice of him. To think he made his T20 debut at 20 in the 2009 T20 world cup and had to wait 8 years for a comeback speaks volumes of our domestic cricket and selection policy.
A domestic league ensures that there is always a good influx of players into the Emerging team and Sri Lankan A team. These players are already tested in a competitive environment against international players and their skills are honed. So when they compete against other International A teams or emerging teams the playing field is level and the coaches of the emerging and A teams only need to make fine adjustments to their technique or approach. This makes it easier for players to make the transition from emerging and A sides to the national team
Another major advantage of a domestic league is that it allows players to come into contact with international or reputed coaches. This allows players to receive constructive criticism from some of the best in the world and it does wonders to their game. In the IPL young Indian Players get to pick the brains of world cup winning coaches and the best man managers in the world. Can you even imagine what it would do to our players if they had to learn from someone like Tom Moody? Trevor Bayliss? Gary Kirsten? Paul Farbace? We wouldn’t be able to recruit these coaches just yet but an international coach repute is a worthwhile investment.
Having a domestic league will give opportunity for retired Sri Lankan cricketers to get involved either as mentors and coaches. Sri Lanka has a toxic culture of cutting off ties with players after their retirement. This is detrimental as it doesn’t support the growth of cricket in the country. Take Australia for example , one of the best cricketing nations in the world. The level of respect their past cricketers receive is unparalleled. Almost all their head coaches are past Australian cricketers. Their support staff is usually made up of Australian domestic cricketers turned coaches. They have this cricket culture in place which trickles down from coach to player which is the reason for their success over multiple decades.
Imagine a young Sri Lankan cricketer having Aravinda De Silva as a mentor. Or learning swing bowling from Nuwan Kulasekara. Or learning how to bowl accurately from Rangana Herath. Or a young tearaway fast bowler picking the brains of Dilhara Fernando. The player and coach bond that forms will be a long term investment, so that even after the player makes the national side, the player can reach out to his mentor/coach to discuss how to improve his game.
Another issue that Sri Lanka faces now is that our players fail to become all format players. A good example is Kusal Mendis. He is a terrific test player. There is no argument there. But he was thrust into the crucial no.4 slot in ODIs to fill Mahela’s shoes. Yet after 70+ ODIs he averages in the high 20s with just 1 ODI hundred. This does no justice to his talent and his past exploits in the test arena. Had he had the opportunity he could have eased into white ball cricket and established himself across the formats. Having a competitive domestic league would allows good test players to make the transition into white ball cricket and quintessential white ball cricketers to fill up any gaps in their white ball game and slowly shift focus into red ball cricket.
Finally, playing a competitive T20 tournament allows domestic Sri Lankan cricketers to receive a substantial income. The pay grades of Sri Lankan domestic cricketers makes for sorry reading. A sponsor funded, franchise based domestic league with a contract will be a significant boost on the pay and allows the players to earn more depending on their performances. Besides, it puts our domestic players on the radar of other T20 leagues across the world, improving their chances of securing a spot in those sides. Take Tom Banton from England. He had one good season in the English domestic T20 tournament, the vitality blast and was picked in both the IPL and BBL. All at the age of 21 with less than 5 international appearances in English colours. Or Chris Green. At 26 he is yet to make his Australian debut in any format, yet he is one of the most sort after players in T20 leagues across the globe.
All in all a Lankan Premier League promises more positives than negatives. The challenge is to make sure it is held continuously every year without suffering the same fate as the defunct SLPL. It wont be easy as Sri Lanka is a small market for any potential sponsor to make a significant profit and then there is the inner politics to contend with. A unique selling point for LPL to compete with the already packed global cricket schedule would be to keep the team numbers low and reduce the duration so it will attract reputed international stars and coaches. Keeping the team numbers low to around 5 or 6 will also keep expenses manageable. Hopefully LPL can get off the ground and become a reality as right now a domestic T20 league for Sri Lanka is no longer an option , but an absolute necessity.