Sri Lanka Cricket chief Thilanga Sumathipala calls for more India-SL games

Sri Lanka Cricket chief Thilanga Sumathipala calls for more India-SL games
SLC adopts GPS-driven data analytics to accelerate performances
The Sri Lanka Cricket Board has once again decided to have its T20 league, to be called Lanka Premier League in August. However, one key point will be whether BCCI will allow its players to participate in the league. The SLC president Thilanga Sumathipala talks about why BCCI should allow Indian players in their league and also why India should play with Pakistan. Excerpts.

Sri Lanka has decided to have its T20 league. Did you consult with ICC whether to have your league at a time when players’s burnout is an issue? This is a domestic matter for the board, and ICC is not involved. Of course, they will be monitoring. We need to uplift the standard when it comes to participation and competitiveness of the tournament. The challenge is to keep the crowd interest because we have 21 million people compared to say 116 million Bangladeshis and a billion Indians. We have a very small domestic market. Sustainability will be a big challenge. If we dont do that, then the gap between international cricket and domestic cricket will get wider.

“Australia is playing England in the Ashes many times. They play five Tests. So, we feel we should play more with India. They are the No 1 side. Except this tournament, all were bilateral series agreed by the FTP (Future Tours Programme). It sometimes happens that teams play each other frequently while some don’t play for 6-7 years due to FTP pressures,” Sumathipala said at the inauguration of Sri Lanka’s new Brain Centre, for player development, on Monday.

Have you spoken to BCCI whether they will allow their players in the league? We would like BCCI to allow players who are outside the 30 contracted players list to play. Im making my appeal to the BCCI. I can understand the contracted top players playing for the country should be protected and there are 100 of talented players in India. They have time after IPL. We are 20 million but we allow our players to play outside. I think Indian players should allow player outside their top 30.

The team’s high performance manager, Simon Willis, said the centre was a necessary tool in player development. “We need a player management system. Whether it is injury management or player workload, we need research and development. We need a system to create fast bowlers in this country. We need to keep a system to monitor pitches, whether they are spinning and whether it is assisting in the development of the player.”

Isnt it unfair from the BCCI part, as when it comes to them, they say we have to protect our best players but when it comes to other board like Sri Lanka, they allow their players to play in IPL? In fairness to the BCCI, India’s top players will have to play all formats. It’s a fairly big load. So you cant allow them to play elsewhere. My position is if they say these are my top 30-40 players, it’s fine, but there will be players who would have played 5-6 ODIs and not playing now, you are depriving them of opportunities, especially when there is no cricket in India. And there are players who have retired. Look at a player like Shahid Afridi. Even at 50, people will like to see him play because he is an icon in Pakistan. People like to see heroes. Tomorrow if Sunil Gavaskar comes to bat, there will be people to see him. Same is the case with Kumar Sangakkara. You have to allow players to keep the interest of the game alive!

Sumathipala said the priority of the Board was to revive the Sri Lanka Premier League and ensure there were no hurdles. “We want to launch this year and are looking at a window for the next few years. SLPL was stopped half-way through the last time and we want to make it commercially viable this time. The dates are August 18 to September 10, which will be followed by the Asia Cup,” he said.

Sri Lanka Cricket president feels they arent playing India often enough

How much has India-Pakistan relationship impacted smaller Asian boards because Pakistan was supposed to host Emerging Cup for under 23 but didnt as India couldn’t travel there? I think India and Pakistan must play in everyone’s interest. I can understand the sensitivity of both the countries. Its nothing new, such things have happened time again and again at various sports; not only India and Pakistan. There will be visa issues.

In the last nine months, India have played Sri Lanka in six Tests, eight ODIs and four T20s. They are currently playing in the Nidahas Trophy T20 tri-series, also involving Bangladesh. On their 2017 tour, India whitewashed Sri Lanka 3-0, 5-0 and 1-0 in the Tests, ODIs and T20s respectively. On Sri Lanka’s visit to India late last year, the visitors lost 0-1, 1-2 and 0-3 across the formats.

But stopping them from playing is the problem. In the spirit of the game you have to go and play. If you cant play in Pakistan go to Dubai, if you cant play in India, go to Bangladesh or Colombo. It is important to continue the fixtures because politically and culturally if you keep playing then society wants them to play at home. So there will be pressure on terrorists and people who are making life difficult to stop the activities because people are not with them. If you dont play with each other for years then people will forget and pressure will be covered up.

There is a debate of club vs country and we have seen how players in recent times have chosen club because of financial reasons. Dont you think the boards should also be blamed because they are the ones who have their own T20 leagues? At the end of the day we are in the business of entertainment. Its a sport which has got the acceptance of the public and they are entertained. You have to cater to the demand; you cant deprive the public. If people are asking more content on the television, they want to follow it more. There is a already a structure in place at the ICC, its Tests, ODIs and T20s. As a board, we have to be smart and ensure that all formats compliment each other. There should be some gaps. But no national boy will become international star if there are no premier tournaments. You are looking at pink ball day-night test cricket because you have more time in the evening. People never said they never likeTests; it was just they only have a time after 6 in the evening. Let us be more accommodative.

Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC), in their bid to accelerate performance on the field, has devised its own data analytics technology that will enable them to collect a wide variety of information (both own and oppositions) to make better informed decisions. Called the Brain Centre, it is believed to facilitate identifying, developing, performing, managing and monitoring their players. Credited as the Board president Thilanga Sumathipalas brainchild, who took over two years back, it aims at creating a live database system that not only formulates the information gathered through live matches and training sessions but also researches on countering injuries typical of Sri Lankas conditions.

“Massive part of world cricket is how countries identify and develop talent. Just because someone is a good player at Under-15 doesnt mean will go on to become a world beater. So what does that pathway look like? What did Mahela Jayawardene look like at 15, 17, 19 and why did it take for someone like Asela Gunaratne to make his debut at 31? All these questions can be answered to better predict future performances,” said Simon Willis, Sri Lankas High Performance manager, also responsible for seeing the ambitious project through.

The board believes that the Brain Centre will help players meet the demands of the fast changing modern game, and help them keep up with the competition from their oppositions. It will also keep close tabs on every player through a player management system, from assessing recoveries from injuries, workload management and identify youngsters coming through their system. While it is expected to cover players at all levels, it will also help coaches and the support staff to assess the information better and come up with strategies to better performances.

Thilanga Sumathipala has donned many roles in his association with cricket. The 53-year-old president of Sri Lanka Cricket headed the body in 1997/98, 2000/01 and 2003/2004 as well and was also International Cricket Council director from 1998-2000. (India vs Sri Lanka 4th T20 blog | Scorecard)

When Simon Willis arrived in Sri Lanka, there were nine players out due to muscle tear injuries, and through the management system that has helped them regulate workloads and recovery period, the injury list has come down to only two at the moment. “The player workload going forward for Sri Lankas cricketers is massive, the fixtures over the next 18 months is huge. We need our best players available for the biggest tournaments. It has helped us not just understand players better but also better predict when to rest a certain player,” Willis added.

We have produced Sangakkara and Mahela from this system. This is the structure where they have made their name in cricket. If you think the structure was wrong, what was wrong with them? Certain people are trying to show that we are not going along with what they are saying.

Each player has their own GPS device that is worn on their back throughout match and training sessions – which is a first in cricket – and helps the support staff individualise player profiles, like monitoring the intensity levels, time spent sprinting, moving around the field, etc. The GPS technology has been brought from Barcelona through Nic Pothas, who had first pitched the idea to enhance the fielding standards in the team.

“When the President took over, he asked me, Are we ready to compete with the world? We need to invest in our resources to have the technology in place and have people with necessary competencies in the system. Nick Lee, trainer, and Willis, have worked elaborately to finally get this system,” Ashley de Silva, SLC CEO, said.

Willis, who was mentored by the late Bob Woolmer at Kent, lauded him for being the forward-thinking coach, and believes his ideas are now seeing the light of the day. Willis highlighted that there is a need to provide all the information available to the coaches and players, and empower them to then take the best decision as per their judgement. “There isnt one way to do everything. One formula doesnt work for everyone and it is to customise data for players and management to get the best out of everyone. Hopefully what we have created, brings in a no-excuse culture. Weve got everything on the table that allows the coaches and players to do the jobs to the best of their possibilities.”

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