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Can the IPL help save Sri Lankan Cricket?

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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.  

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Why Dubai Stallions? Who will play for them?


And how is adding a Lankan IPL team going to help them in test cricket which is the ultimate format of the game. They aren't that bad in the shorter formats, just going through a difficult phase. Same Lanka murdered us in the CT and won the more recent ICC trophy(2014) compared to India(2013), so all is not lost for them. If this trend continues for another 5 years where they lose all matches (unlikely) then we can think about it. As of now let us not get ahead of ourselves. For all that we know, we may lose all matches in the overseas assignments and an Aussie might be tempted to write an article explaining the need of an Indian franchise in BBL to help poor Indian cricket turn things around.

Edited by Gollum

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I will address the "Dubai Stallions" question in a separate follow-up.   Let me attempt to explain the point I attempted to make in this quick write-up.   I just vomited the original "article" out in a quick 15 minute write-up, and clearly, I should have made a more detailed argument to support my hypothesis.  


First, the intent of this article is not to denigrate 'poor' SL cricket in any form.   Its merely an attempt to look at Cricket's on-going re-structuring and evolution, and an idea for a improbable, but plausible IPL expansion that could benefit SL Cricket.  


Read what Malinga just said yesterday regarding the "lost generation" of Lankan cricketers.   His primary point is that top level cricketers need experience to really be able to compete at the highest level.    SL don't have a proper core set of experienced cricketers at the moment, because outside of Sanga/lady Jaya/ Dilshan, they simply kept chopping and changing the players too often.  Maybe they were forced to, due to the mediocre levels of performers.   But that lack of seasoned, experienced players is really a core issue for them at the moment.


Now, going forward, with Franchise cricket forcing cricket boards to sharply cut the fat and reduce the number of "bilateral" series and tours - the opportunities for SL cricket to apprentice the next generation of cricket at the highest level will keep reducing.   Teams simply cannot afford to assume that they will find rookies from domestic first-class cricket who will step into international cricket and start performing at required levels of skill and consistency.   Those that have a well-established and competitive domestic cricket scene, with reasonable levels of talent, are bound to produce better prospects in quantity and quality over time - apart from the odd talented freak of nature that can appear in any country.   Today, the SL board is able to get the Indian team to play a dozen ODIs, home and away, in exchange for voting support at the ICC level.  Looking a few years down the road, more and more space-time on the international cricket calendar is going to be blocked off by IPL, BBL, CPL etc.   Tomorrow, SL Cricket is going to get even fewer opportunities to try out their players and give them experience against top teams at the highest level, between global tournaments like the World Cup.  


While not all T20 leagues are equivalent in quality, apart from the profits, the biggest benefit they provide for the hosting countries is to give a platform for a big chunk of their domestic players to train, practice, perform and compete at a high level against the best possible quality of opposition outside of international cricket.  This is not a novel insight - Top-level Franchise cricket is increasingly becoming a big part in helping young cricketers develop their skills and get ready for the next level.  The BBL has given the Australian team Chris Lynn.  The IPL, for example, has already helped the Indian team 'find' players like Ashwin, Bumrah, Hardik Pandya, and many more are coming.   There is a reason why Pakistan, England and South Africa are all trying to get their own leagues started.  


Countries that don't have the population base, or the money to run their own version of a T20 league - one that can afford to bring in top players from the international circuit, will not be able to give 30 of their best prospects, this kind of exposure.   Sri Lanka is one of them.   But because of the historical alliance with the BCCI, and the geographical proximity, it is very possible for a Colombo Franchise to participate in the IPL.   And its not about insulting SL - its about the benefits they would gain from doing so.   Assuming the 7 native player rule is applied, right off the bat, that means that the Colombo squad will scout, select and train at least a dozen Sri Lankan cricketers along with importing 5-7 international 'stars'.    Think about what that means for Sri Lankan Cricket.  How many Sri Lankans play on the international T20 circuit today?  Maybe 3 or 4 - and most of them are established stars - retired or soon to retire.   Outside of Sangakarra, Malinga, Mathews, Thisara Perera, who is getting opportunities?  A Lankan IPL Franchise would mean that the SL equivalents of Shreyas Iyer, Krunal Pandya, Vijay Shankar would get access to IPL level coaching, fitness training, and game participation.   They will get to rub shoulders with the top T20 players in the world - Pollard, Raina, Aaron Finch, etc on a regular basis.   And all at a minimal up-front cost to the Sri Lankan Board.  Eventually, they will find the next generation of Sangakarras and Dilshan from this.  


Consider the alternative - SL first class cricket is considerably bloated with over 15 club teams IIRC, who don't play nearly the same amount of domestic games as their counterparts in India, Australia or England do.    And a weak domestic cricket scene always guarantees that the international team will be weak as well, barring the odd Sangakarra or Murali who shows up randomly once in every few generations.    Just look at Zimbabwe - those guys hardly get to play international cricket, and their domestic cricket has atrophied to maybe a handful of games a year.  That is why Zimbabwe has fallen to associate level performances from where it was in the 1990s - a competitive team with the Flower brothers, Heath Streak etc - lack of a system that gives the young players adequate opportunities to develop short of the international level.  



Edited by sandeep

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