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SLC renews focus on club cricket, in bid to strengthen domestic cricket

Thilanga Sumathipala: 'We need to focus on strengthening and developing our domestic cricket' Getty Images

Sri Lanka Cricket has announced it will invest heavily in the existing club-based domestic structure, although a provincial first-class tournament is also in the works. The board has promised a grant of 11 million Sri Lankan rupees (USD $74,000 approx) for each of the 14 clubs in the first-class tournament, and has also said it will beef up facilities by providing bowling machines, mechanised rollers and other groundskeeping equipment. Ten "Tier B" clubs will get a grant of nine million rupees as well.

"We have identified our clubs as the places that we promote, sustain and develop cricket in our country, and we will invest as much as possible in this area," SLC president Thilanga Sumathipala said. "For Sri Lanka to make an indelible mark on the world arena we need to focus on strengthening and developing our domestic cricket - this will provide us with a world-class pool of players to select from. Our focus is on the quality of cricket and not just the quantity."

The announcement of these grants comes weeks after SLC had reinstated domestic contracts, handing out 85 of them to cricketers from a variety of clubs. This was a repudiation of the pay-model devised by 2015's SLC interim committee, who sought to better incentivise players by paying out substantial match fees for games played, instead of handing out contracts that guarantee income through the season.

The present board also rejected the 2015 interim committee's vision for Sri Lanka's domestic cricket, having canned the provincial tournament devised by Mahela Jayawardene.

Moreover, these latest grants suggest the board does not want to move away from a club-based domestic structure, despite growing criticism of the competition. Several former players have suggested the current first-class format does not encourage high-quality cricket, and have also voiced concerns that senior cricket has not meaningfully spread beyond Basnahira (western province) and Ruhuna (southern province).

SLC is expected to announce the details of a new provincial tournament over the next few weeks. However, this tournament is expected to be much shorter than the club tournament, and is likely to feature just four teams.

The Premier League Tournament - for now the main first-class competition in Sri Lanka - will be unchanged from the previous season's format. Fourteen teams will be split into two groups, before the top sides progress to a Super Eight round-robin.