Sri Lanka news December 26, 2011

Wettimuny proposes revamp of Sri Lankan cricket

Vithushan Ehantharajah

Sidath Wettimuny, the former Sri Lanka batsman, has suggested a radical restructuring of the country's domestic cricket structure, which involves promoting provinces over clubs. The financial uncertainty surrounding Sri Lankan cricket and the upcoming board elections could, however, overshadow Wettimuny's proposal.

As a member of Sri Lanka Cricket's now-dissolved interim committee - appointed in July to tide over the board's financial crisis - Wettimuny presided over a paper outlining the value of pushing provincial cricket over club cricket, an idea he has always supported since being appointed president of the Sri Lankan Cricketers' Association in 2006.

The proposals outlined in the paper suggest clustering the clubs of a region together to form one of seven provincial sides. The teams would be made up of the best players from each club within the region, and compete with other provinces on a more regular basis. Wettimuny believes this is vital if Sri Lanka are to compete successfully at the highest level.

When the paper was being put together, the interim committee had been assured that they would be allowed to continue till just beyond the ICC World Twenty20 in September 2012, giving them at least 15 months to implement a new first-class structure in Sri Lanka. On November 15 this year, however, sports minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage dissolved the committee and ultimately scheduled the board elections for January 3.

Wettimuny is not sure why the committee was dissolved as he believed 15 months would have been a "sensible" time frame to set up a remodelled domestic structure. "I can only assume that [they went ahead] as per the ICC requirement," Wettimuny said. "They [the ICC] said that by 2012 they would like to see all boards independently contested."

The biggest worry is that a newly-elected board could put the proposal for a new provincial structure on the backburner which, Wettimuny said, needed to be pushed through and "set in stone." It is meant to be the feeder line which could lead to more consistent success of the international team.

"We need to make the provincial structure a lot more permanent, tangible and something that is set in stone. We've always moved our provincial tournaments up and down, not giving them pride of place. This time we managed to get a fixture where we stated that it should always be playing during the best part of the year - which is February to March."

Wettimuny says that the argument that Sri Lanka's club cricket structure has produced quality international cricketers may have been valid in the past. In a modern world, he said, "Nothing stays still - you need to keep moving with the times. There was a time, yes, when club cricket managed to produce very good cricketers who were adept at playing at the highest level. But that doesn't mean that currently, and going forward, we can cope - the bar has been raised everywhere across the world.

"It is only when we play our provincial cricket that we have strong teams competing with each other in four-day cricket. We need to push that if our aim is to push the team forward."

The new scheme also outlines a system of inclusion, where club administrators would be involved in the management of the province. Part of their remit would be to look into developing more provincial and district coaches. As an added incentive, they will also receive more money from television rights. Under the new programme, the board will seek to improve facilities in each region, and open training centres in the respective areas.

A by-product of such a move would also give remote regions more power and more say in the country's cricket. More than 80% of Sri Lanka's cricketers are from rural areas, even though, as Wettimuny says, "At the moment, everything is run from the centre in Colombo … and I don't think we can have a good grasp of what's going on in the far reaches of the country from there."

Despite promises of redistribution of wealth and power, it is possible that clubs could be less than enthusiastic about the prospect of playing second fiddle to a provincial tournament, particularly one as regular as the new proposals recommend.

Wettimuny admits there will be "a political battle between clubs and the administration," with clubs fearing that they would lose their prominence if a provincial tournament became a regular fixture. "I don't agree with that. Club cricket is our backbone - we need it because it is a feeder to our provincial cricket - but that [provincial] level of cricket must be there if we are to effectively support our Test team.

"They [the clubs] are not wholeheartedly supporting that system - if they look at the overall benefit of the country's cricket, then they will see that it is something we need to promote."

One of the doubts raised about the success of the restructuring rests in the lack of any fan loyalty for the provinces. Currently, there is no or identity or affiliation to a particular provincial side; the number of supporters for provincial matches depends largely on where the game is played and the number of representatives from that particular area.

The plan to restructure domestic cricket may now rest in the hands of board presidential front-runner Upali Dharmadasa. While Dharmadasa has alluded to domestic restructuring as a key part of his 12-point plan to revive Sri Lankan cricket, his main focus is on the maximisation of revenue from television rights, and to use the 2012 World Twenty20 as a starting point to develop sports tourism in the country.

Despite his standing in Sri Lankan cricket, Wettimuny decided against standing in the upcoming elections, but did agree to lend his support to those willing to address the issues in the domestic game. He also warned that these elections should mark the beginning of more stable times for the country's cricket administration.

"I hope whichever board comes in will follow it through. Since 1996, we have had so many boards coming and going - every year we've had changes - and what that does is it breaks the continuity of thought and the implementation of plans."

Wettimuny believes that the future of Sri Lanka's domestic setup and, consequently, international well-being, will rest in the hands of whoever comes out on top in SLC's first elections since 2004.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Miles on December 29, 2011, 16:50 GMT

    Wettimunny is a top guy. However I think he is trying to apply the Australian system. Australian club system will never work in SL. Even Aravinda de Silva back then used to recommend the Aussie System as they used to see Aussies winning. For SL to be the best cricket nation in the world, Sri Lanka must bring 90% of the new players to the national side from the age of 18 to 19 for batsmen and from 19 to 23 for bowlers (No later than that). If they want to bring some older players for the first time from clubs, yes they can do it but they the older players must be real match winners at international levels but not just at club levels.

  • Dummy4 on December 28, 2011, 12:43 GMT

    Unfortunately, I don't agree with it, simply because we are a country the size of Ireland and Tasmania, and they don't have provincial cricket there. All the other cricket-playing nations are much larger by comparison.

    The clubs have been the cradle of Sri Lanka cricket formore than 100 years or so, and there's no reason to change that structure. By all means, let the schools in the provinces play amongst themselves, and the best cricketers emanating from that system could be drafted into the club teams in Colombo. Accommodation, employment etc should be Sri Lanka Cricket's problem.

    What one shouldn't forget is that the clubs have spent a lot of energy, time and money on their grounds and facilities, most of which are privately funded, so they MUST be nurtured and allowed to continue to supply the national teams. If the money used for the Provincial Tournaments could be given to the clubs, this system will develop.

    Let's hope the new SLC committees adopts this line.

  • Dru on December 28, 2011, 11:24 GMT

    I like this idea so long as they can make it work. To have the same old club to test cricket system for every I dont believe is healthy and already the gap the SL first class cricketeres and test cricket is plainly obvious. Also in the past there were only a few clubs but the standards have now been diluted with the increase in clubs. Another plus would be the game comming in reach of the folks outside Colombo and hopefully the development of proper grass roots cricket in the regions. This is a giant step that can only be done if the board is focused with a clear vision but in the current set up, it will fall apart. First thing is to get rid of the mob that doesnt understand what is being proposed and next would be to get in people who understand the game and the vision and the big picture.

  • Dummy4 on December 28, 2011, 11:15 GMT

    Top most professionals in every sphere in Sri Lanka come to Colombo or the suburbs to settle. They send their children to a Colombo School. Go to a Colombo Hospital when sick. They prefer to work in Colombo. Best doctors work in Colombo. Top Engineers are based in Colombo. This is the Sri Lankan way of individual development. So how can you improve top level cricket, provincial wise, without developing the outstations as a whole.

    We have good Cricketers from outstation schools, once they leave schools they join a Colombo Clubs/firm. Rarely stay in their hometown. SLC can develop provincial wise at school level, as schoolboys hardly change schools. Outstation school teams are good as Colombo schools and sometimes beat them.

    SLC unnecessarily spend money to play Provincial cricket, maintain these Provincial/District teams, coaches, venues, scorers & so on. Better to go to the old system, clubs will recruit good cricketers. This is the automatic way of harnessing talent. Why change?

  • chandra on December 27, 2011, 14:57 GMT

    I find Mr. Wettamuni's ideas seem to lack "cricket sense." Look at South Africa-- 90 percent of the players come from a community of 9 percent! Mr. Wettamuni, did you ever thought about that? It may be "politically prudent" to suggest that we should include those hackers and whackers of the countryside clubs and some even suggested more players from the North and East. Does any of it make any cricket sense. All of this seems typical Sri Lankan solutions-- mostly sentimental and pluralist but quite delusionary. Sri Lanka cricket already has a very broad base. I think Sri Lankan cricket selection pool is wider than any other cricketing nation. Broadening base isn't going to do anything for Sri Lanka cricket right now. We'll have more political selections of hackers and whackers. Sri Lanka cricket can be improved withonly better training for players-- in technique of play better cricket and strategy of winning…

  • Anver on December 27, 2011, 5:36 GMT

    For the moment SL cricket badly need a revamp whichever way u can...otherwise i'm afraid its standard will be dropped further & surely the interest of fans will also die... come on SL officials re group & do something to uplift SL cricket !!!!!!

  • Nish on December 27, 2011, 0:33 GMT

    for those who are blaming the IPL. just remember the SLC didn't pay their players for a long long time. the players were living off of IPL money.

  • malik on December 27, 2011, 0:02 GMT

    Mr. Wettimuny is someone who really cares about Sri Lanka cricket. As he pointed out this is the time to identify weaknesses in the SL cricket structure(there are many) and rectify those things. Its easy to criticize politics for everything but that doesn't do any good for cricket.Politics are here to stay and people who care about cricket needs figure out a way around it and at-least to do something in their capacity.

  • Randika on December 26, 2011, 19:24 GMT

    Clubs have: infrastructure, finances, support, history, culture, fans..... If you want to change the P-sara trophy to provinces rather than clubs then good luck with it. I can just imagine players lining up to play for the 6 out of the 9 provinces that traditionally don't play much cricket anyway, willing to relocate to the provincial capital so they can make the cut at national level!! Sincerely good luck and Good Riddance!

  • senaka on December 26, 2011, 19:13 GMT

    i don't agree with that clubs have produce good cricketers .. i it should be schools have done it rather than clubs... but sidath's idea is great .. mean while we need to do some thing to improve our school cricket and most importantly a plan to protect our plays from IPL....

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