SLC announces domestic cricket overhaul
Sri Lanka Cricket has announced an overhaul of domestic cricket, which features three city-based tournaments that will be launched in the upcoming season.
The 2015-16 season will also feature a four-day, 50-over and Twenty20 tournament based out of five regional hubs, in addition to the club-based premier tournaments which will continue as usual. The new city-based structure, titled the 'Elite Championship' aims to decentralise Sri Lanka's cricket from Colombo, and distill talent to ensure a sterner level of domestic competition.
According to SLC officials, the plan for the Elite Championship was "spearheaded" by Mahela Jayawardene. The interim committee, which took over in early April, has made the overhaul of the domestic system a priority of their administration, which is set to end in January - before any of the new tournaments are played. It is hoped the new structure will help better identify and foster provincial talent.
"Today, the bulk of our cricketers are coming from the outstations," SLC chairman Sidath Wettimuny said. "We've got to encourage these cricketers to remain in their home territory and play. Everybody doesn't need to come to Colombo. We're taking cricket out to them and providing them with what they need."
The five Elite Championship teams will be based out of stadiums in Pallekele, Dambulla, Hambantota, Galle and Khettarama, and will take the names of the nearest major urban centre (Kandy, Kurunegala, Hambantota, Galle and Colombo respectively).
"Historically and geographically, these are the cities that have brought cricket to the level it is now," SLC cricket operations manager Carlton Bernardus said. "The advantage also is that the facilities in these regions cater to the game."
By fielding only five teams, SLC aims to concentrate the talent in its domestic pool, in order to better prepare domestic cricketers for the international level. The Premier League first-class tournament, which features 14 club sides, has been criticised by players and administrators for being bloated, and as such, producing relatively-low quality cricket.
Each Elite Championship team will be assigned SLC coaches and support staff. Romesh Kaluwitharana, Nuwan Zoysa, Piyal Wijetunge, Roy Dias and Avishka Gunawardene have been identified as head coaches for the five teams. SLC said it was also in the process of advertising for managers, and assigning trainers and physios for each side. The Elite Championship support staff will be advised and overseen by the national coaches in Colombo.
Existing clubs have also been given an administrative role to play in the Elite Championship. The top clubs have been split into five clusters, each of which has then been assigned an Elite Championship side. For example, Sinhalese Sports Club, Badureliya Cricket Club, Ragama Cricket Club along with several other clubs have been clustered with the Colombo team.
"We will get the support of the clubs and the district associations to run the tournament," Bernardus said. "The tournament will tap into the facilities and infrastructure which the clubs have."
A new player-payments structure has also been announced for the Elite Championship tournaments. Seventy-five players (15 per team) will be signed up for these tournaments, and those who play will receive 20,000 rupees per day for the Elite Championship four-day tournament, 25,000 rupees per 50-over match, and 15,000 rupees per T20 game.
The Elite Championship T20 tournament is set to be the first of the city-based tournaments to be played: it is scheduled from January 26 to February 5 - ahead of the World T20. The Elite Championship four-day tournament is scheduled for March and April 2016. The teams are scheduled to play a round-robin, before two sides progress to the final.
The club-based Premier League Tournament is still set to take the largest part of the domestic calendar. That tournament features seven three-day group fixtures for each of the 14 sides, before the top eight teams split off to play four rounds of four-day cricket, known as the Super Eights phase. Club-based 50-over and T20 tournaments are also scheduled.
SLC has sought to persist with the club structure instead of doing away with it in favour of the new tournaments for two major reasons. First, the clubs control much of the existing domestic infrastructure and facilities, including coaches, equipment and grounds. Secondly, the clubs also wield substantial constitutional power, via SLC votes.
Any moves to marginalise the clubs would have effectively killed the city-based tournament at its inception. At any rate, with SLC elections scheduled for January, the clubs would likely have elected candidates promising to return the club tournaments to their historical place - as the centrepiece of Sri Lanka's domestic season. Playing the Elite Championship after the Premier League tournament is seen as a sort of compromise.
SLC has previously held provincial tournaments that sought to concentrate domestic talent. However, those tournaments had been administered directly by SLC, from Colombo. The Elite Championship aims to herald a greater devolution of power. It is hoped that district associations and the club clusters will administer the week-to-week affairs of each team, and that these teams will only be broadly overseen by SLC. It is also hoped that this devolution of powers brings with it grassroots support from fans in the various cities, as well as organic development of cricketers at each hub.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando