Sri Lanka's much anticipated 50-over provincial cricket tournament commences on February 6 with 76 cricketers, including all the national players, for the championship being contested by six teams - five provincial sides and a Sri Lanka Cricket Invitation XI. This tournament will be followed by the Provincial Twenty20 and the Provincial League. The matches will be played at Colombo, Kurunegala, Galle and the newly constructed cricket stadium at Pallakele.
The 50-over championship is scheduled for February 6 to 21, the Twenty20 from February 24 to March 7 and the League from March 18 to May 9. The Twenty20 has been timed properly to prepare the national cricketers ahead of the ICC World Twenty20 in the Caribbean at the end of April.
"Historically, most of the outstanding players Sri Lanka has produced are from the outstations and have been identified through provincial cricket," Sri Lanka Cricket secretary Nishantha Ranatunga said. "Sri Lanka Cricket has a vision to develop the game not only in Colombo but also to sustain and develop the game at the grassroots level around the country pursuing the concept of 'Samata Cricket' (cricket for all).
"We are not just looking at unearthing potential players. Our main hold is having a provincial structure in place to promote the provincial centers, which would be well equipped to cater to the cricket starving young players in each province."
He said the SLC Combined XI, comprising players under the age of 23, are of high potential and have been given the opportunity of playing against the best players in the country.
"The teams for the tournament were picked by the national selectors who spent one and a half hours. The selectors had discussions with the coaches, then with the national captain (Kumar Sangakkara) after he returned from Bangladesh and finally with the captains and coaches of the respective teams," said Ranatunga.
"In my view, the selectors have done a good job looking at all aspects before picking the players. In all aspects, all the captains and specialised coaches and coaching department heads were also involved in the selection.
"Sri Lanka Cricket's vision is to improve the structures in the provinces so that in future, these respective provincial sides will be picked by the provincial selectors and not the national selectors."
However, midway, the provincial tournament will lose a dozen top players who will be taking part in the IPL, among them being two provincial side captains Kumar Sangakkara (Kandurata) and Tillakaratne Dilshan (Basnahira South). Other key players include Mahela Jayawardene (Wayamba), Sanath Jayasuriya (Ruhuna), Muttiah Muralitharan (Kandurata), Ajantha Mendis (Wayamba) and Angelo Mathews (Basnahira North) will also be missing from the provincial line up.
Wayamba, who emerged Twenty20 champions and qualified to play in the inaugural Champions League last year, will be led again by Jehan Mubarak. National cricketers Thilina Kandamby and Upul Tharanga will captain Basnahira North and Ruhuna respectively while Hans Fernando will lead the SLC XI.
Last season the League leg was not played due to the unavailability of several players to national duty. Sri Lanka's largest banking sector, Bank of Ceylon, has stepped in to sponsor the three tournaments.