The one-sided beat-down handed to SL by India and the passionate words of Andrew Fernando here, here, and here, shed some light on the current state of SL cricket. Question is, where do they go from here? How do they get more competitive? Do they? Given the unprecedented level of churn and chaos that cricket is undergoing right now, Franchise T20 cricket is forcing a re-drawing of international calendars, as well as forcing cricket boards to drastically change how their domestic cricket is structured, played, coached and governed. Sri Lankan Cricket will not have a popularity problem with the sport, unlike say England, Aus, NZ, SA. But they are almost destined to have a funding and talent issue, given their population base. It is no surprise that they have firmly allied themselves to the BCCI - its given them a funding lifeline without which things would have been even worse. Based on Fernando's reporting, it appears that the lifeline may have been wasted to some extent by profligate and corrupt administrators. A situation that's as sad as it is predictable. The question is, what can SL cricket do to stay competitive at the international level?
Cricket as we know it is changing. And changing rapidly. All countries and boards need to keep up with the modernization that has entered the game in this post-T20 world. Top teams need top dollars in order to compete with the best in the world, and they need to create and/or strengthen their domestic cricket structures to ensure that they have a steady pipeline of skilled players coming through. Boards need to work to provide their younger and developing players with platforms where they get to train and compete with and against the best possible circumstances - whether that's first-class cricket or Franchise T20 cricket. Opportunities to 'develop' prospects apprenticing in international cricket over bilateral series will continue to shrink.
I believe the answer is to double-down on its alliance with the BCCI. The time has come for a Columbo Franchise to join an expanded IPL. SLC already tried their hand at getting their own little franchise tournament going. It died as soon as the Indian money stopped flowing through the "Champions League" tap. They don't have the population numbers that the Bangladesh or Pakistan have to sustain their own league. Nor do they have deep pocketed fans who can make up the paucity in numbers that Australia or England do. Their best bet at acquiring and maintaining access for their unfinished talent to top-level franchise cricket is to partner with the BCCI, and a deep-pocketed Indian investor - let them get a piece of the profits, while extending the IPL's 7 domestic player rule to Sri Lankans for the Colombo Franchise. This will create a self-funded pipeline and finishing school for Sri Lanka's younger cricketers. 7 Sri Lankans starting for an IPL team, means a dozen or so Sri Lankans are guaranteed roster spots in the top T20 league in the world. Apart from the established stars that win contracts for the other teams. If they don't do this, the only Sri Lankans who will get a chance to participate in these overseas leagues will be the ones that are already on their way to international star status.
There are 2 immediate obstacles that stand in the way of this hypothetical scenario. First, This requires a bold and visionary attitude from SL cricket administrators, one that will set aside short-sighted provincial and nationalistic attitudes to recognize the long-term benefits to SL cricket. And second, it requires equally visionary and pro-active leadership on the Indian side - both within the "non-profit" quasi-governmental BCCI, as well as the private IPL Council.
From a BCCI perspective, adding the Colombo Islanders and the Dubai Stallions to the IPL makes complete financial and strategic sense. You enhance and extend the IPL's pole position as the planet's leading cricket T20 league, expand your playing calendar, increase your fan-base, your profits, and gain/strengthen long-term allies at the ICC voting table in the process. Geographic proximity and existing cricket infrastructure means the logistical challenges are minimal. There is ample precedent for this - Look at the most successful sports leagues in the world, and you'll see that the best ones already span national borders - whether its the NBA or MLB in America, for example. The NFL - widely considered to be the most profitable sports league in the US, is working hard to expand beyond its American footprint, and is investing heavily in building a platform that will ultimately lead to creating a Franchise in London. The NBA has been quietly doing the spade work to lay the foundation for spreading its reach into emerging markets like China and India. Unlike the NFL, The IPL doesn't even need to do the hard yards. All it needs to do, is say yes.