The on-again, off again Lanka Premier League cricket tournament -the 23-day-long cricket fiesta-which commenced in November reached its climax last week at the Mahinda Rajapaksa stadium in Hambantota.
The ’Jaffna Stallions’ did the northern capital proud when they beat the lads representing the Ruhuna in an exhilarating final which kept one and all at the edge of their seats, albeit in front of TVs.
Neither of the teams was among the fancied favourites to winning the championship, but in keeping with the glorious uncertainties of cricket, two unexpected entities made it to the final. And what a final it was, with a glorious display of batting and bowlers put to the sword. Unfortunately some of the fielders let their sides down.
All-in-all credit must go to the often-criticized SLC, which in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic and falling popularity of cricket in the island, were able to host an international tournament with panache, and resuscitate the declining fortunes of cricket in the island.
Courtesy COVID-19, we did not see crowds of people at the match itself or crowds gathered at street corners with their noses glued to shop-windows advertising particular brands of televisions.
But the enthusiasm is back, and for this a big thank you is due to the SLC and the India-owned Dubai-based company, Innovative Production Group (IPG) who in fact bank-rolled the tournament.
While the SLC handled local problems thrown up by the dreaded virus and created conditions to make the holding of the tournament possible, the IPG enabled the tournament to be held through provision of finances needed to make the tournament possible.
A big thank you also goes to the young Minister of Sports who lent unstinted support to the organizers and took a certain amount of political flak as well, for pressing ahead with the tournament despite the pandemic and criticism from political opponents.
Salaries paid to international players amounted to $ 50,000 per player. With the SLC’s financial position not being at its strongest, the contribution of the IPG group cannot be underestimated.
Salaries paid to local players too are extremely high and virus-hit Lankans, many of whom have lost their jobs,turn green with envy at the high sums paid to‘droppers of catches’.
But high salaries come with great expectations of high quality cricket. While a number of our local players excelled with the bat, the same cannot be said for the ground fielding, which at times was atrocious.
So many times we saw fielders dropping ‘sitters’ which many cricket lovers felt school-boy players would have taken without too much difficulty. Similarly so many times we saw the ball run away to the boundary when it could have been easily stopped.
High salaries come at a price, sponsors expect players to achieve highest standards possible. So too do the cricket-loving public. The Indian Premier League (IPL) has set a benchmark and our players will need to reach these standards if spectator interest in the game is to be maintained.
However, one of the greatest outcomes of hosting the LPL has been the exposure of budding local talent to international cricketing standards. With this in view it is being suggested that the scope of the tournament be expanded to accommodate more teams.
Yet it must be kept in mind that India covers a large land area. India also has a population of over a billion people. Currently, the IPL features eight franchises -Mumbai Indians, Kolkata Knight Riders, ChennaiSuper Kings, Delhi Capitals, Sunrisers Hyderabad, Rajasthan Royals, Royal Challengers Bangalore and King’s XI Punjab- with each team playing each other twice in a home-and-away round-robin format in the league phase.
Sri Lanka has neither the land area needed to host so many matches, or sufficiently large numbers of top quality players available. Nor does this country have that many large commercial establishments willing to sponsor sports and its requirements. It may therefore be best to limit the number of teams participating in the tournament to the present level and place emphasis on horning the skills of players to international levels.
In the end the success or otherwise of the LPL will depend on whether authorities have a capacity to create a product which will draw people’s interest.