Analysis on the New School Cricket Format
A tricky issue!
The Sri Lanka Schools Cricket Association (SLSCA) introduced a new format to the Inter-School Under-19 Two-day Tournament few weeks ago. While the format was criticised by the elite schools, it was praised by the up-and coming cricket playing schools.
The elite schools consider the new format as a bane and they say it disturbs the smooth functioning of their traditional matches. The other schools consider it an advantage that will one day boost their cricket standards.
What follows is an overview of the pros and cons of the newly introduced school cricket format through the perspective of both elite and less important schools in the island:
Elite Schools - Historical obstacle:
Historically, there have been elite schools like Royal College, Colombo, S. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia, St. Joseph’s College, Darley Road, Wesley College, Colombo, Trinity College, Kandy, St. Benedict’s College, Kotahena, Kingswood College, Kandy, and Prince of Wales College, Moratuwa, to mention a few, who have been playing traditional fixtures for over many years.
While some of those schools have been playing their traditional fixtures since a way back in the late 18th century, some have played their traditional matches from as early as since the 19th century.
There are other schools like Ananda College, Colombo, and Nalanda, Colombo, who’ve had their traditional encounters from the early 19th century. With a long history behind them, these schools carry forward the traditions precious to them. When a first-XI team commences a new season, the players symbolically open a new leaf of history that has enormous ‘editions’ written already.
Those who have contributed in the past to enrich their history are watching closely as a new script unveils. There are more stakeholders to their cricket than to the cricket played by the up-and-coming schools.
Incidentally, these top schools and the others have been playing 2-day friendly matches right throughout. During the early ’80s, the ‘Pure Beverages Invitational Tournament’ which was in existence then was restricted to a very few schools. The situation compelled the Schools Association to introduce a tournament for the U-19 age group so as to provide equal opportunities to all schools.
The tournament did not disturb the traditional encounters of the top schools and the eventual champions of the event were decided on a points system. This tournament began in the early ’90s and functioned till 2003 when the Sri Lanka Cricket experts that time requested the SLSCA to do away with the prevailing points system which they argued was discouraging the teams to strive for an outright victory in a match.
It was also argued that the points system created opportunities for teams to manipulate the points table by going for massive totals in matches while deliberately dragging the game to a dead end rather than going for clear wins. The SLSCA then abolished the points system in 2003 and until this year the 2-day champions were decided on the number of outright wins recorded by those teams.
The tournament always allowed the traditional fixtures to go on. Some of them have been played for over 100 years. And some were played for annual challenge trophies. This rich historic background encourages aging vanguards of school cricket to fight to safeguard the long tradition.
There are specific dates set for each traditional match with the most important one scheduled during the peak of the school cricket season. The new format has seven (7) compulsory matches; four and three allocated for the two school terms.
The elite schools are refusing to follow the new SLSCA programme. However, the SLSCA later announced it had allowed the schools themselves to schedule their matches according to their wish.
The new format is a more competitive one where the future of a team entirely depends on the points earned. With the practical experience of 3rd term ‘washouts,’ any rain hampered match will result in recurring expenses on visiting teams, who will, as a result, have to return for a replay on another day.
Expenses on accommodation, traveling and fees for the officials, all borne by the school itself, will double as a result. During the past few years, a match washed off hardly mattered and was not often replayed as the tourney was considered more a friendly competition. With a more competitive contest on the cards with the introduction of the new format, a replay is inevitable if matches are washed off.
The new format has divided 32 top teams into four groups of eight in Division-I.
The teams finishing last in each group will be demoted to the lower division next time. In this case, there is a possibility of four traditional cricket playing top schools getting a demotion to the lower division.
If you take Group ‘A’ of Div.-I, it has 7 schools which have traditional matches running for over 100, 80 and 60 years respectively. Six of them have turf wickets and have maintained high standard of cricket right throughout. There is a strong possibility that one of these teams could slip to the lower division next year.
Such a thing will be a huge setback on these top schools but they look at their probable demotion from another angle. A demotion will push a traditional cricket playing school to play 7 matches more the following year. That is apart from the already existing heavy schedule of traditional matches and the eventual number of matches will be 16 per season next time!
Some of the teams in Div.-II also have traditional matches and they also will have the same problem like Div.-I.
Up-and-Coming Schools -
These teams, who have worked hard under some dedicated coaches and officials for the last several years so as to raise their standard of cricket, are the real winners of this new tournament even before the first ball of it is bowled.
They will have nothing to lose. If they end up on top of the points table, they will get their due share of playing against the top teams.
The tight schedule of the top teams allowed a little space for these ‘less significant’ schools over the years. From over 150 affiliated schools, who play First-XI cricket, the majority is formed by the outstations (of Colombo) and the developing schools.
While some schools haven’t played consistently, a majority of these teams have played regularly in the First-XI tourneys. However, they’ve been playing in lower divisions. It was not only because of a low standard of their cricket but because they were denied of matches by the top schools who had heavy schedules of annual traditional encounters.
The lack of proper promotional system resulted in elite cricket playing schools to remain in the top division for long and others remained in the lower division. Considering this deadlock, the newly introduced tourney is a ladder to the top for the talented emerging schools.
Another Aspect of the New Tournament:
It could be argued whether the new format could portrait the true capabilities of the teams at the end of the tourney. While there are 7 compulsory matches, the SLSCA has allowed each team to play a maximum of 16 matches and the results won’t be considered in the final analysis.
The scores of these matches will be considered only in deciding the best players of the series. Because of this situation —a team playing 7 compulsory matches and another 9 matches with the teams in the same division—, there will be a dilemma at the end of the season which the authorities would find it hard to explain.
In an uncertain sport like cricket, there is likelihood that something similar to the following might happen:
Take the first team of Group ‘A’ of Div.-I for example. We’ll call it X. Say X loses all its 7 compulsory matches in Group ‘A’ and win all 9 matches against its traditional opponents in the same division. The results of such feat will only be considered for individual performances. That will be the destiny of X.
According to the new tournament rules, the team will be out of contention. And the teams in other Groups who were beaten by X could still remain in Div.-I while X will be demoted to the lower division. It will be a strange if not funny situation.