Cricket needs to wake up from slumber

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The causal manner in which Sri Lanka Cricket dismisses serious concerns facing the sport is alarming indeed. The national cricket team’s woes in white ball cricket continued in South Africa where they were handed another 5-0 drubbing. Once a World Champion outfit, currently in shorter formats of the game we are at the receiving end as opposition teams are handing us cleansweeps at will.

The reaction Sri Lanka Cricket is offering to these debacles make you sense that they are of the view that everything is tickety-boo and it’s just a matter of time until the bad phase goes away. The answer is no.

SLC has turned down the request to cut down on First Class teams, something that earned the board the wrath of the public after it was doubled two seasons ago.

Instead the board has said that the current system will prevail. Justifying increasing the number of First Class teams, SLC has said that it allows players an opportunity to earn a contract to play league and grade cricket in places like England and Australia. Having played five First Class games in a season, it seems earns players an overseas contract.

There’s nothing wrong in players earning a living but surely SLC is putting cart before the horse in this instance. Shouldn’t SLC’s main priority be the quality of cricket? Here what the board has done is to ensure financial security for players while diluting the competitive nature of domestic cricket.

Increasing the number of First Class teams is not the answer to address salary anaomalies of domestic cricketers. SLC can easily find an answer for this by raising the pay of domestic cricketers themselves. Currently what Sri Lanka’s international cricketers and domestic players earn are like chalk and cheese.

Better pay for domestic cricketers also will stop the mass exodus of the best talented overseas. SLC seems to be wanting others to pay their players handsomely and in order to achieve their means they have gone and diluted the standard of First Class cricket. Surely, someone must tell them that the end doesn’t justify the means.

Authorities justify their actions claiming that the Inter-Provincial competition has been introduced to address woes of the club structure. But that’s not the point here. A bloated First Class structure has lowered the standards and competitiveness and that needs to be addressed as an urgent matter.

The national cricket team has already failed to qualify automatically for the T-20 World Cup in Australia next year. They are currently ranked eighth in ODI cricket with 76 points. West Indies are one position below but also with 76 points while Afghanistan are breathing down their neck.

SLC keep arguing that we won a World Cup with the same club structure. That’s only partially true. Although club cricket was there in 1996 let our authorities be reminded that only ten teams were competing at that point. Currently, Colombo’s every nook and corner seems to be having a First Class team.

Let those who use the World Cup win with the same structure excuse also be reminded that the dinosaurs went extinct because of their inability to adapt. Unless SLC act fast new cricketing nations like Bangladesh, Ireland, Afghanistan and Nepal will teach us some bitter lessons.

The 24 team domestic structure is not working and authorities need to take action to make it more competitive and appealing.

Already SLC has started to feel the pinch with corporates showing concerns. Last year’s Cricket Awards were called off after the sponsors backed out and there seem to be few takers to sign as team sponsor’s which will be up for grabs after the World Cup.

When they go out to the market to sell television rights, the reality will hit them hard. Television companies most certainly will point out that Sri Lankan cricket has lost its appeal in the global stage. They will point out how an Indian team without Virat Kohli, M.S. Dhoni and other stars went onto win the Nidahas Trophy last year in which Sri Lanka even failed to make it to the finals.

Television companies will argue that although SLC has Indian tours lined up, there’s no guarantee that the likes of Kohli and other stars will feature in the series as BCCI is confident that a second string Indian side could beat the Sri Lankans.

An ODI ranking of eighth and T-20 ranking of ninth doesn’t paint a good picture about the health of Sri Lankan cricket at present. There are serious issues and they need to be tackled faster.

The reality has not so far hit those at Maitland Place. Their hands are tied as well because if they cut down the number of First Class teams, they are set to suffer at the next cricket elections. So they would prefer to let the status quo remain. But let them be told that the consequences of such haphazard decisions are bound to hurt the sport big time. As Graeme Ford once said, ‘never mess with mother cricket.’

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