With the Indian Premier League just days away from its launch, followed immediately by the conclusion of the Indian Cricket League's second season, Twenty20 cricket has caught on like a virus. Sri Lanka will have its own version with its inaugural six-team inter-provincial tournament scheduled to take off on Thursday.
With the national team away in the Caribbean, and a few seniors set to take part in the IPL, the tournament has opened the doors for many budding cricketers trying to make their mark at this level. The inter-provincial limited overs series which was held in December and January was, however, fortunate to have the full contingent of national players.
Jehan Mubarak and Kaushalya Weeraratne will have big shoes to fill when they lead Kandurata and Wayamba respectively, which shared the inter-provincial limited-overs title. Weeraratne will be taking over from Kumar Sangakkara and Mubarak from Mahela Jayawardene. With the unavailability of Chaminda Vaas, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Sanath Jayasuriya (all to IPL) Basnahira North will be led by Thilina Kandamby, Basnahira South by Prasanna Jayawardene and Ruhuna by Indika de Saram respectively.
However for the first two matches on April 17 and 18, both Mubarak and Weeraratne will not be available due to their commitments in the West Indies. In their absence, Wayamba will be led by Jeevantha Kulatunga and Kandurata by Thilan Samaraweera as the province's vice-captain Chamara Kapugedera is also in the Caribbean. In addition, Ajantha Mendis, Mahela Udawatte and Ishara Amerasinghe (all Wayamba), Thilan Thushara (Kandurata), Nuwan Kulasekera (Basnahira North), Upul Tharanga (Ruhuna) who are all also in the Caribbean, will miss the first two games as they are due to return only on April 18.
One unique feature is the introduction of a Schools Invitation XI, led by Dinesh Chandimal, which comprises as many as eight of the 14 cricketers who represented Sri Lanka in the Under-19 World Cup in Malaysia. Ashan Priyanjan, Thisara Perera, Dimuth Karunaratne and Sachith Pathirana - four from the World Cup squad - have been included in the Ruhuna, Wayamba and Kandurata teams.
Sidath Wettimuny, the Inter-provincial committee chairman, said there would be mixed reactions to exposing a Schools XI to Twenty20 cricket, but reasoned that it would expose them to the domestic level and give an opportunity to play under pressure against the best cricketers in the country.
Each team will play five matches in the first round before which the top four teams qualify to play in the Super Four round on a league basis. The top two teams in the Super Four will qualify for the final, whcih carries prize money worth Rs 2,250,000. The losing finalist will receive Rs 1,125,000.The Man of the Tournament carries prize money worth Rs 50,000 while the Man of the Final gets Rs 25,000.