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What the first edition of the SLPL has taught us

R Premadasa Stadium

By Buwaneka Kodithuwakku | September 2, 2012

The SLPL was mostly a washout.
Several matches, including the all important semi-final and final, were affected by wet weather. © Ron Gaunt/SPORTZPICS/SLPL

In a bid to attract marquee overseas players, Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) scheduled its crown jewel, the Sri Lanka Premier League (SLPL), during the monsoon season. The reasoning: the availability of players from all Test playing nations, barring England, in August. Did Sri Lanka manage to secure the services of star players due to this? Was it worth sacrificing the dry season in Sri Lanka for the sake of attracting a few star players from overseas? Not surprisingly, rain ruined the business end of the SLPL. No matter what star power was present, all that was witnessed was pouring rain on our TV screens.

If acquiring top-draw players is of utmost importance, then the USA T20 League starting in 2013 is set to clash with the next edition of the SLPL, and one assumes that payments to players for the American league would be much higher than what the SLPL has to offer. Regardless of when the SLPL is held, India will not be sending its players and that’s a fact. Most of the overseas players at this year’s SLPL were T20 specialists, retired players and domestic overseas players with no international experience. It would not have mattered to most of them when the SLPL was played, just as long as the SLPL did not clash with the two richest T20 leagues – the Indian Premier League and Australia’s Big Bash League. Until the league in the US gets underway, it would be prudent to only avoid clashing with Sri Lanka’s international commitments and the leagues in India and Australia when picking a window for the SLPL tournament, but little else should come in the way of the decision-making process.

One wonders how under-21 players from provinces such as Uthura, Uva and Nagenahira felt when the four mandatory under-21 player slots were occupied by players from mostly Basnahira. It is hard to fathom why St John’s, St Patrick’s, Jaffna Central or Hartley College could not supply just four under-21 players for the Uthura squad. SLC must right the wrong by amending the regulations, and making it compulsory to have under-21 players picked from the team’s home province and not from outside.

According to the organisers, the tournament will be expanding to nine provinces next year and divided into two groups of five and four. Anyone with an elementary knowledge of mathematics would realise that this would lead to an unfair advantages to some teams. It may even lead to protests from the participating teams should they miss out on the knock-outs. Therefore, considering the possibility of unfair advantages for some teams in a nine-team tournament, as well as the fact that Basnahira province has excess talent dominating even non-Basnahira teams, an elegant solution would be to have a 10-team SLPL with two teams from Basnahira province.

There also needs to be a careful study of the quality of overseas players, rather than getting them down for the sake of fulfilling a quota. Unless Sri Lankan players have played international cricket, they are not pick for the IPL. However, the SLPL was a totally different experience, where overseas players who have not played international cricket were seen plying their trade. If foreign players are meant to enhance the prestige of the SLPL, how did the tournament gain by having some 30 players who have never played at the highest level? If there are no overseas players with international experience available, the SLPL should ideally provide that opportunity to a local player, while limiting the tournament to only overseas players who have played top-level cricket. Given the choice, Sri Lankan fans would surely prefer to watch a local player instead of a foreigner they have not heard of.

In addition, it would benefit the stakeholders to impress upon SLC to negotiate with their Indian counterparts to have two teams from the SLPL at the Champions Trophy. This would certainly add more prestige and importance to the SLPL and enhance the brand. A domestic T20 league’s prestige lies in the number of teams it fields at the annual Champions Trophy. Australia and South Africa, along with England, have the luxury of fielding two teams each, while India – with its sledgehammer attitude – can field twice as many teams.

Finally, the seven-province SLPL tournament was played out in two provinces which, according to the organisers, was as a result of a lack of proper venues in all provinces, logistical challenges and the short duration of the tournament. The lack of quality grounds in provinces is a half truth, as we saw international grounds in Dambulla, Galle and Hambantota etc unused during the first edition of the SLPL. These venues would have taken the matches closer to the teams’ home provinces. As far as logistics go, are TV crews and their equipment moved from Chennai to Mumbai and vice-versa at the IPL? No, and that’s because they are stationed permanently at these venues for the entirety of the IPL. The lack of crowds could very well be as a result of playing in just two venues. The turnout was so low that the organisers had to import fans from India to fill the stadia, which must certainly be a first outside of a political rally. It is both the duty of the cricket board and the organisers of the SLPL to amend the franchise agreements to include a clause that requires franchises to commit to developing at least one ground in each province to first-class status, enabling each province to host SLPL matches during the course of the next five years.

Currently, the SLPL does not create the necessary bond between the teams and their provincial following, and it can fast turn into an alien event imposed upon Sri Lanka. Playing the SLPL in stadiums and grounds either close to or in provinces that the teams represent, with local talent from those provinces thrown into the mix, is perhaps the recipe to have the masses embrace the tournament as their own.

© Island Cricket

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