Sri Lanka is set to join the Twenty20 competition party, as the Sri Lankan Cricket Board announced plans to restart the Sri Lanka Premier League in 2018. The league will follow the Nidahas Trophy, which is expected to act as a platform from which the SLCB can develop their own domestic T20 tournament.
The SLPL was a Twenty20 competition in Sri Lanka, which was originally intended to start in 2011. Due to allegations of incompetence and corruption, it was postponed, and the first edition of the tournament took place in 2012. Given the league was only in its infancy, the quality of players involved in this edition was of a relatively high quality. Many of Sri Lanka’s best suited up for the tournament, while international players included Kamran Akmal of Pakistan, Tamim Iqbal of Bangladesh, and Jacob Oram of New Zealand amongst others.
Despite the relative success in 2012, the 2013 season was cancelled as a result of payment deadlines being breached. The following year, an inability to generate sponsorships caused the league to once again be cancelled.
In the three years since, the tournament hasn’t taken place, but behind closed doors it appears the SLCB has been working to make it feasible.
The upcoming Nidahas Trophy appears set to play a significant role in the recommencement of the Sri Lanka Premier League. This trophy is a tri-nation tournament which will see Sri Lanka host India and Bangladesh for a series of Twenty20 matches, and exists to celebrate the host nations 70th year of independence.
According to SLC president Thilanga Sumathipala, the trophy will provide a ‘platform’ to take Sri Lankan cricket to a ‘place where we have never ever seen our country’s cricket being positioned in the global market’.
The tournament is expected to be viewed globally, with over 150 countries able to access broadcasts. The global scale of the Nidahas Trophy will provide a basis from which the SLC can develop the SLPL.
Clearly, the SLC will be keen to avoid another situation like they saw when they last attempted to develop this league. While T20 leagues have plenty of potential to succeed, there is invariably a point at which there are too many competitions and not enough interest, and with every cricketing country in the world seemingly trying to develop their own version of the IPL, the market is relatively saturated.
The IPL is the benchmark, while Australia’s BBL has also consistently increased in popularity since its inception. Other than that though, domestic leagues have generally struggled to generate the kind of interest their creators no doubt envisioned.
With close to 1.3 billion people and an incredible passion for cricket, attracting the Indian market is one of the most important factors for developing T20 leagues. In this regard, Sri Lankan cricket has a great opportunity.
Geographically, of course, they are close to India, providing them with a number of benefits. Firstly, they share a similar time zone, meaning they are able to play games at prime time in India and maximise audiences. Secondly, they will be more easily able to attract Indian players to the tournament. Finally, their close proximity to India means that they invariably have a stronger cricketing relationship with the country; think the aforementioned Nidahas Trophy. One of the great benefits of this tournament will be that it advances the relationship between India and Sri Lanka in a cricket sense, and generates a level of interest in Sri Lankan cricket within India before they even start their own T20 tournament.
Inevitably, when the Sri Lankan Premier League gets under way, the SLC will be better placed to attract Indian audiences than perhaps any other domestic T20 league in the world, barring the IPL. This has major benefits in terms of the ability to develop an audience, and subsequently earn more lucrative sponsorship and broadcast deals.
There is plenty of work that needs to be done to ensure the 2018 SLPL, if that’s when it kicks off, does not repeat the same mistakes of SLPL attempts in years past. Sri Lanka’s position in the global cricket market though, particularly in relation to India, and particularly with the benefits which will come from the upcoming Nidahas Trophy, means they are well placed to create a high-profile and successful tournament.