So the inaugural Lanka Premiere League concluded with the Jaffna ‘Stallions’ defeating Galle Gladiators’ to win the title. Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) deserves a pat on the back for perseverance in conducting this tournament despite the numerous postponements mainly due to the Covid situation prevalent in the country. Overall, the cricket was of a decent standard and the organizers couldn’t have asked for a better start than the super over thriller in the opening game between the Colombo ‘Kings’ and the Kandy ‘Tuskers’.
SLC has made a wise choice in selling the tournament rights to an event management company (i.e the IGP Group) as this has ensured that it will not make a loss and be a burden on its coffers. As per the terms of the agreement disclosed to the media SLC will get $2 million plus 20% of TV revenue from each tournament with it having to pick up the tab for some expenses related to logistics. Since the main objective of conducting this tournament is to provide exposure to local cricketers to a high-quality competition and thereby build a competitive white ball National team the outcome of this process should please SLC both from a cricketing and financial perspective.
With the foundation now having been laid after the completion of the 1st edition of the LPL, ‘The Papare’ will look at 5 key areas that the organizers should address in order to make this league bigger and better in the future.
Attracting the best of foreign players: The importance of getting the best possible T20 specialist from the circuit to participate in the LPL should not be underestimated. Not only will the local players benefit by their presence from a cricketing point of view but the ‘Star’ quality they bring will help in raising the profile of the league and there by its commercial value as well. For this to happen it’s imperative that a clear window is identified (that does not clash with another major T20 tournament) and the dates are set early so that the franchisees can sign up these players at an early stage.
Building a fan following: For the LPL to grow in popularity in the Island teams need to have a fan base. SLC could allocate provinces to each team and work with the franchises to cultivate a following through engaging with the populace in that area by conducting activations ranging from coaching clinics in schools to ‘Meet your team’ fan days. This will not only increase the brand equity of the franchise but also make the players feel they are playing for something more than themselves which will improve their performance as well. A demarcation of the provinces to each franchise could be something along the lines as follows:
- Colombo ‘Kings’ – Western Province
- Kandy ‘Tuskers’ – Central Province, Sabragamuwa Province & Badulla District
- Galle ‘Gladiators’ – Southern Province & Monaragala District
- Dambulla ‘Vikings’ – North Central Province & North Western Province
- Jaffna ‘Stallions’ – Northern Province & Eastern Province (or a team from the East)
A home base: Although all games this year were played in one venue due to the prevalent pandemic situation it is important that matches are played around the country if the situation improves by the time the next event comes around. In view of this each team should have a home ground of its own to host matches which is an important part of building a fan base. From the current facilities available, the Colombo team can use the Premadasa Stadium as its home ground, while Galle, Dambulla & Kandy teams could use the MRIC – Hambantota, Rangiri Dambulla Stadium & Pallakalle Stadium as their home bases respectively. This would leave just the Jaffna team without the venue of its own. SLC could work closely with the consortium of owners of this franchise whom have family roots from the peninsular to put up a stadium in the north which would have far reaching benefits in the future. While already having expressed their intention to raise the standard of the game in the region, they exemplified this by recruiting 3 young players into the team from Jaffna. One of them, young leg spinner Vijayakanth Viyaskanth’s performance gave a glimpse of the untapped talent that is available if given the platform to perform.
Team Identity: While it is inevitable that there could be the transfer of players from one team to another it is important that it is kept to a minimum – especially those that represent the National team. By having a core set of players regularly representing the team, its identity can be established which will enable the franchise to promote the team to its support base. In return the connection between the team & its supporters will grow.
It is also important that the number of teams are not expanded in the medium term as this would dilute quality of the teams & thereby that of the tournament. It is something that has been the bane of the domestic club tournament which should be avoided in the LPL.
Tournament Format: SLC will need to have a relook at how they select and structure the knockout phase of the tournament. A good competition structure is one where as many games as possible should have some meaning in to the final standing in the points table as well as reward consistency. In a 5-team competition having a semi-final is too simplistic and doesn’t necessarily ensure teams that perform well throughout the round robin phase get their due. At this tournament 3 teams had already booked their place in the semis halfway through the tournament and it could be sensed that their intensity was dropping.
A more appropriate qualification mechanism for the knock out stage upon the completion of the round robin stage would be where the team that tops the group stage moves directly to the final and teams that end up 2nd and 3rd play off to qualify for the final. While this format rewards consistency, it also means that there will be competition at both ends of the points table in terms of reaching the top spot as well as avoiding elimination.
While the LPL has got off to a good start, for it to remain sustainable and grow it’s of paramount importance that SLC as the tournament owners, IPG Group as the organizers and the franchisees work together to add value to each other’s purpose of being part of this venture and honor each one’s financial commitments. Not doing so will mean the same fate that befell the now defunct Sri Lanka Premier League in 2012 which was plagued by default payments and other incidents that didn’t do any good to for the game.
The success of this tournament would have no doubt enhanced the flailing fan following in general and SLC should take a bow for the gutsy stance in undertaking such a difficult task. The so many collaborations that worked tirelessly and disciplined must be strongly applauded and is testament to how success can be achieved if all concerned gush to one end-goal.