After facing several obstacles before the start of the tournament, many doubted the success of the Lanka Premier League. But, against all odds, Jaffna Stallions won the inaugural edition as the competition ended on the 16th of December with overwhelming success. Yes, there’s still a lot more to be worked on but better late than never for Sri Lanka Cricket to have its own franchise-style T20 league.
First of all, creating a bio-secure bubble for more than a month is no easy task and the bubble didn’t ‘burst’ at any given time. All credit must go to the health authorities, Sri Lanka Army and Sri Lanka Cricket for organizing a tournament of this magnitude during a global pandemic.
There were a few glitches early on in adding the fake cheers but as soon as the ‘Papare’ music started to be heard from the comfort of our homes after so long, it was clear that Lanka Premier League was going to be a hit.
The broadcast deals around the world increased the attention surrounding the LPL. As per the unofficial broadcast statistics given by the Tournament Director, Ravin Wickramaratne, the first match-day had over 100 million viewers while on a daily basis, close to 15-20 million people watched the games via television broadcast and digital platforms. The opening match went past midnight local time after the game ended in a tie and went to a super over.
Both the tournament’s top run-scorer, Danushka Gunathilaka, who made 476 runs in 10 matches with an average nearly 60 and highest wickets-taker, Wanindu Hasaranga, who took 17 wickets in 10 matches at an impressive 5.18 economy rate, have certainly given the Indian Premier League owners, analysts and scouts enough reasons to bid for them during the upcoming mega auction.
The usual suspects, Avishka Fernando, Thisara Perera, Dasun Shanaka, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Perera, Niroshan Dickwella and Dinesh Chandimal had a satisfactory tournament with the bat, while with the ball, capped bowlers such as Dushmantha Chameera, Lakshan Sandakan, Malinda Pushpakumara, Kasun Rajitha, Asela Gunaratne and Suranga Lakmal shone for their respective franchises. The stocks of the Lankan players in the franchise-cricket world have risen as expected due to the LPL.
Amongst the foreign players, seasoned English T20 duo Laurie Evans and Samit Patel, Pakistani left-arm fast bowling duo Mohammad Amir and Usman Shinwari, Afghan leg-spinner Qais Ahmad, West Indian superstar Andre Russel and South African seamer Duanne Olivier were the stand-out performers.
The uncapped players such as Dhananjaya Lakshan, Ramesh Mendis, Nuwan Thushara, Charith Asalanka and Sahan Arachchige announced themselves at the big stage. They got exposure like never before which is terrific for Sri Lankan Cricket’s future. However, making it mandatory to play one under 23 player, capped or uncapped, local or foreign must be in the rule book from season 2. That’s how more youngsters will be given more opportunities.
There were several young, upcoming players who played under lights for the very first time. Through the LPL, they got a first-hand experience of playing franchise cricket with international stars and got to share dressing rooms with stars such as Dale Steyn, Irfan Pathan, Andre Russel, Mohammad Amir and Shoaib Malik.
When an 18-year old leg-spinner, Vijayakanth Viyaskanth made headlines becoming the first player from Jaffna to play professional cricket, not only were the people of the North ecstatic, the entire nation was overjoyed. Viyaskanth has reportedly even learnt some Sinhalese after being in the Jaffna Stallions environment. He was mentored by his senior leg-spinner from the South, Wanindu Hasaranga, a step towards real reconciliation achieved through Sports.
Playing all 23 matches within 3 weeks in one venue, Hambantota, was one of the biggest challenges Sri Lanka Cricket faced. The pitches used for the entirety of the tournament were true to its nature and despite growing concerns regarding the size of the boundary, fans from all over the world were able to witness entertaining T20 cricket.
The biggest drawback in terms of the cricket which was played over the course of three weeks was the poor fielding by all teams. More than 50 straight-forward catches were dropped. Dropping catches and misfielding are a part and parcel of the game but to maintain the quality of the tournament, the standards of fielding must be improved from the next season onwards.
The franchises and Sri Lanka Cricket must also be grateful to all the foreign players who participated in the first edition. However, bigger and better names should feature in the LPL if it wants to become one of the best T20 leagues in the world, with current T20 stars coming to play.
The debate on the Playoffs vs Semi-Finals commenced as soon the number four ranked team in the points table, Galle Gladiators defeated the number one ranked team Colombo Kings in the first semi-final. From next season onwards, if the five-team tournament is to be continued, the top of the points table after the league stage must qualify for the final with number 2 and 3 fighting for the other final spot. If the number of teams are increased to six from season two, then the IPL style Playoff system with two Qualifiers and one Eliminator should be played before the final.
All five franchises and the events rights holder, IPG would’ve incurred losses. But that’s bound to happen at the start of any franchise-based league in the world. The Return on Investment will take a couple of years. Hopefully the franchise owners will stay patient. However, none of the franchises failed to pay the players or the stakeholders. Some of the biggest T20 leagues in the world take 30-60 days to completely pay off the players after the competition is over. But, before departing the Hotel, all player payments were completed by all franchises which is a massive testimony to the success of the LPL.
For obvious reasons, crowds weren’t allowed to the Stadium. Fans are an integral part of any sport. But, look at the positive side of it, the next time when the crowds are allowed to come into the grounds, they’ll already be coming to cheer with an affinity to the franchises gained through the first edition.
How Sri Lanka managed to pull off a T20 league in a pandemic year after failing to do so for several non-pandemic years will go down as one of the biggest landmarks in the history of Sri Lankan Cricket. The Covid-19 pandemic doesn’t look like it will go away any time soon so SLC must start preparing for the next season immediately.
LPL is far from being the complete product. It has its highs and lows. With the money coming into the country and to the coffers of Sri Lanka Cricket, hopefully they will continue to grow this competition and make it an annual fixture without any glitches.