Several clubs in Sri Lanka to lose first-class status


By Hilal Suhaib | November 11, 2012

Ranjan Paranavithana is currently the coach of the first-class team Badureliya Sports Club and the mercantile team MAS Active. He was the coach of Sebastianites Cricket and Athletic Club, and has coached the likes of Tillakaratne Dilshan and Prasanna Jayawardene, in a coaching career surpassing two decades. Paranavithana also served as the sports editor of Lakbima newspaper and was hired by the ICC as the venue media manager at the Mahinda Rajapaksa Stadium in Hambantota for the ICC World Twenty20 2012.

Ranjan Paranavithana is wary of the changes SLC plan to implement. © Island Cricket

What is your view of the proposed changes to our domestic cricket structure?

In order to put together a competitive first-class club tournament, reducing the number of clubs is a good idea, which is why at a recent meeting between the clubs and SLC we agreed to it on principle. We also wanted it to not be implemented immediately.

Which clubs will lose their first-class status when all the changes are implemented? Will the first-class tournament have Tier A and B like it does now, or will it be a single-tiered tournament with 14 teams? When will all the changes be implemented?

Because of SLC’s original proposed changes, several Tier B clubs would have lost their first-class status. BRC, CCC, Air Force, Navy, Ports Authority, Panadura and Badureliya were all at risk of losing their first-class status. It is extremely unfair, especially for clubs like CCC and BRC, who have the infrastructure and a history of more than 100 years. So, as stakeholders of SLC, the clubs united to oppose the SLC proposal. We wrote to the sports minister. He ordered SLC to summon us for a meeting and talk to us to get our views and ideas on the matter. We finally agreed to reduce the number of teams in a period of three years and agreed to play this season’s tournament with all Tier A and B teams playing in one tournament, mixed into two groups. The three teams who finish at the bottom of each group will loose their first-class status after 2012/13 tournament. It will be a 14-team tournament from that point. The two teams that finish at the bottom in 2013/14 will then be next to go and it becomes a 12 team tournament. By 2014/15 season, it will be a 10-team tournament.

What does it mean for a club like your club Badureliya Sports Club and your players to lose first-class status?

We are an outstation club from a very remote area. The club was started by Sumith Perera, an ardent cricket lover from the area, three decades ago. Badureliya first played division three cricket. All the players are from that area. They carried the team to first-class status in 2005. In order to survive and compete at the first-class level, we had to utilise players who are not players from the local area. We have had players from Colombo, India, Afghanistan and England come play for us at different times. We were able to beat several top clubs in the tournament each year. We beat NCC twice last year and we have beaten the national team of Scotland. We did it without a single Sri Lanka or Sri Lanka A player in our side. We don’t have a club house, a ground or practise wickets. We had to rent everything and get everything for our players. We don’t have any sponsors as well. We get nothing extra from SLC. With all these difficulties, we survived at first-class level since 2005. With the new format, when it’s reduced to ten teams in three years, we know it’s going to be very hard to retain our first-class status. After that, only clubs around Maitland Place and Havelock Park will remain. Like us, the other two outstation clubs who played Tier A in the last few years are also in danger of losing their first-class status.

Will the first-class tournament and the premier 50-over tournament come under the Sri Lanka Premier League (SLPL) umbrella and will it be known as the SLPL?

SLC are still unsure about how to combine the first-class clubs into the SLPL. We made a proposal to include all the premier clubs into provinces and select provincial teams from the clubs. SLC have not yet decided on it. Mahela Jayawardene also has a similar idea and is going to do a presentation on it to SLC.

The SLPL relies on a provincial franchise model and there was some talk that eventually the first-class tournament will become a completely provincial tournament like the SLPL T20? Have you heard anything to this effect?

Having a provincial system is good. But before you implement such a system, you need to improve the infrastructure in all provinces. The chairman of selectors Ashantha de Mel was comparing state cricket in countries like India and Australia and the English county system to our own provincial system. But most of our provinces don’t have grounds, training facilities or even management. Our cricket came to this level because of our first-class club system. SLC’s main goal is to have one first-class tournament like other countries. Right now, we have two tournaments — club and provincial. It is a lot of cricket in a single season.

When do you think SLC will move from a club-based first-class tournament to a provincial one?

Soon. And they want to do it without investing in and developing the needed infrastructure in the provinces. We all know that SLC will be once again in more trouble with funds. They have to pay millions in bank interest loans. They owe billions for the construction of Mahinda Rajapaksa Stadium in Hambantota, the stadium in Pallekele and for Keththarama [R. Premadasa Stadium]. They need around 23 million rupees every month just to pay their own salaries. If they try to scrap the club tournament, the clubs will once again oppose the move.

How can the clubs prevent such a move?

The clubs can take legal action because the clubs have voting rights at the SLC elections. They are the stakeholders of SLC. They will go to courts, or oust the people who tried to do such a thing from their posts at the next AGM. When the sports minister was appointing interim-committees year after year, one small club went to the Supreme Court and the minister was forced to summon an AGM last year.

The chairman of Somerset Entertainment Ventures (SEV), the company that hold the rights to organise the SLPL, has said that all three formats (T20, 50-over and first-class) would come under the SLPL. What are your thoughts on changes to the premier 50-over tournament and has SLC informed the clubs of this?

No, not yet. SLC have only told us that the T20 tournament belongs to SEV. But we don’t know what their hidden agendas are. There are so many things happening without the knowledge of SLC as well. I have had many arguments with Bhammer in this regard. You can ask him. I have written many articles about the agreement between SLC and SEV long before the commencement of the SLPL. The agreement was also questioned by COPE. A lot of debatable things are still taking place. They brought in some mystery franchise owners from India. Now, just look at what happened to Uva. The SLPL champs UVA only just managed to catch the flight for the Champions League and with a lot of difficulties. They went to South Africa without a sponsor. They only received half of their playing kits on the way to the airport and the rest were sent days later. The players were struggling there in the cold without sweaters. The franchise owners were fighting each other. Some owners pulled out during the tournament. Then we find out that SEV owns a team — that is unethical. How can you trust these people to run all three provincial tournaments?

© Island Cricket

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