Thilanga promises Provincial Tournament but...


by Rex Clementine

Sri Lanka Cricket chief Thilanga Sumathipala is in conversation with Chairman of Selectors and former captain Sanath Jayasuriya during a media briefing in Colombo yesterday. Pic by Ishara S. Kodikara.

Under fire Sri Lanka Cricket chief Thilanga Sumathipala has promised to implement the Inter-Provincial Tournament, however, he was firm on being not ready to do anything that will harm the interest of the member clubs.

Before Sumathipala’s election, Sri Lanka’s top domestic cricket tournament comprised two tiers, but only the 14 teams in Tier ‘A’ had First Class status. However, since Sumathipala came into power, he granted First Class status to the bottom ten clubs competing in Tier ‘B’ as well further diluting the domestic cricket tournament.

Current and former Sri Lanka cricketers and cricket coaches have criticized country’s First Class tournament, but the SLC Chief put up a brave face during a media briefing yesterday as he faced a barrage of questions on devaluing domestic cricket.

This year Sri Lanka were whitewashed 3-0 in Tests and 5-0 in ODIs in South Africa, lost a first ever Test match to Bangladesh and suffered a first ever ODI series defeat to Zimbabwe. Sri Lanka were also whitewashed 3-0 by India in the recent Test series as the national team lost the first two Tests inside four days and the last Test inside three days.

SLC is accused of giving priority to club cricket ahead of provincial tournament as it is the clubs that have the voting power during SLC elections.

"From the Inter-Provincial Tournament, we intend to pick the national team. We have already played under-15, under-19 Provincial Tournaments," Sumathipala said.

"We have not increased the number of First Class teams. That is what you all say. We are only saying that three day cricket is First Class cricket and we have reason to say that," Sumathipala said in defense of his decision to grant First Class status to Tier ‘B’ teams.

When questioned as to why the First Class Provincial Tournament wasn’t played, Sumathipala said, "We had the Champions Trophy and we couldn’t play a Four Day tournament prior to that."

"We have dedicated November 30th to April 30th for domestic tournaments. We didn’t have a Domestic Season before. However, now we have declared a Domestic Season. We will play the club tournament first, then we will move onto the First Class Provincial Tournament and from there to white ball Provincial Tournament. I believe we have the right structure in place to take the cricket forward," Sumathipala said.

Having convinced the audience that he genuinely wanted to fix the problems facing Sri Lankan cricket, Sumathipala then gave an assurance to the member clubs that he will not let them down.

"I can assure that in order to give solutions we are not going to destroy the structure. Clubs like SSC, NCC, Tamil Union and Bloomfield and other clubs have played an important role in our cricket. We have a structure and that structure needs to be protected. We need time and it’s not easy to make the domestic tournament competitive overnight," he said.

"We have helped all 24 clubs that have First Class status. Those who come from Kurunegala and those who come from Matara like Sanath Jayasuirya need to find a way to develop their cricket. Any person born anywhere in Sri Lanka should be able to play domestic cricket without any hindrance," Sumathipala added.

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