Dimuth Karunaratne has become the latest player to advocate for a stronger first-class competition in Sri Lanka, suggesting that India's comparatively sturdy domestic infrastructure has seen them thrive in Test cricket.
The number of players - both former and present - who have called for drastic change in first-class cricket now represents a consensus. Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene have been the most vocal critics of the present system, but virtually every former player, from Thilan Samaraweera to SLC cricket manager Asanka Gurusinha (who played as far back as the 1980s), have said domestic cricket is substantially weaker now than it had been when they were emerging as top players.
Test captain Dinesh Chandimal and batsman Lahiru Thirimanne have at times spoken of the chasm in quality between domestic cricket and internationals as well. Despite this, the incumbent SLC board has failed to reform the club structure during their two years in office. However, board president Thilanga Sumathipala has promised a stronger five-team, four-day competition for next year - though those schedules have not been finalised yet.
Where most players have asked for a higher standard of cricket, calling for a drastic reduction in the number of first-class teams, Karunaratne has said Sri Lanka's players must play more games in the domestic season. This year a player from one of the top eight clubs played six three-day matches, and four four-day matches. In terms of one-day cricket, SLC hosted a 23-team District Tournament, in which a cricketer could expect to play a maximum of seven games, and most played only four, before hosting a much stronger provincial tournament, in which some cricketers played seven games. There was no domestic T20 cricket.
"India have played a lot of good cricket," Karunaratne said of the manner in which India have rebuilt their team. "They've played a lot of IPL and first-class cricket. In Sri Lanka, we only have eight to ten domestic matches in first-class. Then we have five one-dayers. That's it for the season. I think that's the main reason. We have to play more first-class cricket and then we can find more players who can dominate the game. That's the thing SLC have to work on for the players."
Questions over the quality of Sri Lanka's domestic cricket have also arisen in this match on the basis of left-arm spinner Malinda Pushpakumara's first-innings performance. He had 558 first-class wickets at 19.85 apiece before he made his debut in this match, but conceded runs at four an over, and finished with figures of 2 for 156 for the innings. Karunaratne, who himself has been through an extended weaning period at the top level, spoke also of the challenge bowlers might face in adjusting to Test-match intensity.
"In Test cricket all best batsmen play, and we have to bowl intelligently," he said. "We have to bowl on one side of the pitch and set the field accordingly. It takes 10-15 overs to get a wicket here. In the domestic level, sometimes you can get five wickets from five overs. International cricket is very different, and we need to get used to that. Like it's tough to get a run, it's also difficult to get a wicket."