Suresh Murugaser, courtesy of The Daily News, 10 May 2015, where the title was different: “Suggestions for Premier League cricket
Having been involved in the Administration of the game at a First-Class Club level for the past few years, I thought it would be a good thing to enumerate some issues and suggest solutions to them, with a view to taking Sri Lanka’s Cricket – and more importantly – the cricketers themselves, to perform at the highest level.
Neil Chanmugam batting at the Colombo Oval in a match vs the West Indies — part of the long slow progress of Sri Lanka towards the highest levels of cricket – Pic by Chandi Chanmugam in Roberts: Essaying Cricket 2004
PREMIER LEAGUE VS PROVINCIAL
- The first concern I have is that, with the new Interim Committee, the focus has started shifting once again to giving prominence to the Provincial Tournament as opposed to the Nursery of Sri Lanka Cricket, the Premier league Inter-Club Tournament.
- To my mind, Sri Lanka is WAY too small to have this set-up. One has to compare countries like Ireland and States like Tasmania, which are physically of around the same size. They play Club matches amongst themselves, and the best Club players represent the Country/State. These proponents of Inter-Provincial Cricket are trying to compare tiny Sri Lanka with England, Australia, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka – vast land masses.
- The Inter-Provincial Tournament has proved to be an abject farce over the past few years, and now has been relegated to a T-20 Tournament. Most of the players selected didn’t represent their Provinces of Origin, so what’s the point? The argument is that only the best 60 players play against each other in this tournament. The fourteen Clubs have taken on the burden of identifying, accommodating, nurturing and developing Outstation talent, so what’s the problem?
- As far as I’m concerned, we are only creating additional player fatigue, without any visible benefit. This is the opinion of many of the senior players on the circuit, and not my own.
- My suggestion is that we certainly develop Provincial Cricket at the grass-root level, with the intention of being a feeder system into the Premier League Club system.
- I would like to suggest that the Premier League is re-named the P Sara Trophy to honour the man who had the vision to build the Colombo Oval in the hope that we will be a Test-playing nation someday. I would also like to suggest that we bring back the Donovan Andree Trophy to similarly honour a splendid promoter of the game.
- These tournaments can be played concurrently (like in the past). Basically, the venues are swapped between the clubs that have Home matches and the ones that don’t. Of course, we now have a situation where some clubs don’t have grounds, but I’m sure SLC will be able to sort that out. By doing this, each club gets the opportunity to play the youngsters and gauge their skill levels. The best ones make it into the First team, so there is a Feeder system unlike now.
- There are a number of very talented youngsters who are left out to dry on the Reserves bench (if they make if that far!) during the Premier League. What is going to happen is, if they don’t get a game at a club with better facilities, that they are going to join a club at which they ARE going to get a game – irrespective of the fact that club may not have its own grounds or the other facilities and Management that the bigger clubs have.
- What happens to these guys? They either languish in some club where their talent gets wasted (the club gets relegated, for instance) or they are not pushed to perform at their best (no internal competition and complacency sets in) and then drop out of cricket forever. Having said that, it is heartening to note that the Sri Lanka Ports Authority, Chilaw Marians and Ragama CC have won Premier League tournaments in the recent past, which speaks volumes for the dedication of these Clubs and their promoters.
- The gap between the end of the Premier League season in March (plus the T20 in April) and the Under-23 season in September is very long and the young players in the First Eleven Premier League teams could go stale. I am well aware that the Advanced Level exams are held in August, which clashed with last year’s Under-23 tournament, which affected several clubs. Perhaps we could look at a window of May/June for this tournament so the players are still fresh.
- With the need for top players in National squads to attend practices at Khettarama due to National commitments (which do not necessarily result in them playing at the National level!), the fact that there are a lot of players not practicing with their team-mates at the Clubs has had an adverse effect on Club team performances. For example, if a spinner is being asked to concentrate on darting the white ball at the batsman for Limited Overs at Khettarama, that’s what he’s going to do in the 4-dayers with the red ball as well. Similarly, if a batsman is taught to attack the ball all the time in preparation for Limited Overs games, he’s going to find it very difficult to adjust to the longer version of the game.
- We have also noticed a laxity in the field as well, with catches being dropped etc. Could it be that there is too much emphasis being placed on running/fitness, batting, bowling and resultant exhaustion? For me, match practice is the best gauge of a player’s performance capabilities.
- I understand that there are around 100 players annually contracted and paid monthly (I believe the minimum is Rs 25,000 monthly paid quarterly) by SLC. Some of these players have performed ordinarily in the previous season, and it begs the question as to how they have been given contracts in the first place!
- May I suggest that this number be brought down to a more manageable 60 players, who could be divided into the National team, A team and the Emerging team? Otherwise, coaching staff is never going to be able to concentrate on those who have the talent, since the numbers to be coached are just too many! As we all know, not every cricketer has it in him to make the National side, so its better to take the “rifle” approach and target the good ones for development rather than the “shotgun” approach.
- At least 80 of our better first-class cricketers have left the country to play in the Australian Domestic Season, and then probably the English Minor Leagues thereafter.. What this means is that we have either lost them for good due to economic and other circumstances, or otherwise they will have dropped in standards by playing at a lower level of cricket, in which case, they might find it difficult to get into a Premier League team here.
- Another very salient point is that the players’ fees have been reduced from Rs 4,500 per playing day in 2013/14 to Rs 2,500 per day in 2014/15. This defies general logic, when we all know that the Cost of Living has gone up astronomically year-on-year. Most of the cricketers come from very humble backgrounds, and find it extremely difficult to sustain themselves (let alone their families!) when they are not playing matches – unless they have secured a regular job, which are difficult to come by these days. This is another factor that needs to be addressed for next season.
- Whatever anyone might say, the language of International Cricket is English, and it is highly recommended that SLC organises IELTS (International English Language Testing System) training for all cricketers in the three main squads. Ideally this could be arranged either at Khettarama or SLC, space permitting. It has to be made compulsory for these cricketers to go for these classes. I always marvel at how the foreign coaches are able to communicate in English to our cricketers and still get their message across!!
SUPPORT TO CLUBS FROM SLC
- The clubs fully appreciate the excellent financial support they have been receiving over the past few years from SLC. Clubs are remunerated for every match day (in addition to the players being paid), which takes a big burden off them.
- I would also like to suggest that the SLC raises the additional monthly amount paid for Coaching and support staff. It is difficult to get a good Head Coach, Asst Coach and Physio at the current level of remuneration.
- Unfortunately, most of the best coaches are employed by the SLC itself. It is imperative that the SLC gets down world-renowned coaches to impart their knowledge to our local ones. Sadly, the communication skills of the local coaches (other than for those who have had playing experience overseas) are nowhere near where it should be. More emphasis should be placed on “Soft Skills” like report-writing (in English), counseling, empathising, nurturing, encouraging etc. In my experience, the coaches are either too coaching-focussed or too laid-back in their approach.
- The cost of equipment needs to be looked at – especially in the case of cricket balls. If Kookaburra balls are used, the same balls must be provided for practices, and these balls are upwards of Rs 20,000 each!! Several clubs will find this difficult to afford.
- Another concern for me is that the Domestic Competition is not being MARKETED properly. Most other countries have major sponsors for the Premier tournament at least.
The matches are televised live and given Back Sports page coverage in the newspapers.
Unfortunately, none of this seems to be happening here, which is a great pity.
- Schools cricket and rugby and club rugby seem to get so much more coverage and sponsorships compared to Premier League Cricket.
- I’m sure SLC realises that the PL is feeder to the National Team. The players put in a lot of effort to play at the highest level, and they must be given due recognition at the Domestic level, so that selectors and fans are aware of them and which clubs they are playing for.
- Presently, the Clubs have hardly any fan following. Nobody knows which clubs players play for, until they get National recognition. This is sad, because it is the clubs which identify, recruit, host, nurture, coach and promotes the players till they get into the National system.
- Therefore, I’m asking that this important aspect is addressed in time for the next Season, starting with the Under23 season. I recall that a few seasons ago, SLC took the initiative and found corporate sponsors for each PL team. It would be wonderful if we could try to do this again.
I have tried to address what I see as the issues. I’m sure that there are others who will have different views. I have merely put down a road-map. It is for Sri Lanka Cricket to go into the details and arrive at a compromise.
The writer is a Vice President and Chairman – Cricket at the Tamil Union Cricket and Athletic Club. The views expressed in this article are purely his own, and are not those of the Club concerned