Sri Lanka Cricket has reiterated its commitment to starting a condensed, provincial-based first-class tournament in the 2017-18 season.
Although a similar tournament had been scheduled and budgeted for the 2015-16 season, the board led by Thilanga Sumathipala had scrapped those plans, and has since failed to organise a high-quality first-class tournament for two seasons running.
Next season, however, will see the introduction of a four-team first-class season, SLC vice-president K Mathivanan has said. The teams will be based in Dambulla, Pallekele, Galle and Colombo. This "Super Provincial" tournament will effectively be the centrepiece of the domestic schedule, with the club-based first-class tournament likely to be a three-day tournament only, where usually a portion of it is played across four days.
"Since our focus is mainly on the Super Provincial tournament where only the top cricketers will be in action, we will play the [club tournament] as three-day games only," Mathivanan told Sunday Times. "The 60 [that will play in the Super Provincial tournament] are the cream of our cricketers who will be selected for the national team, Sri Lanka A team and the Sri Lanka Emerging team."
While previous iterations of provincial-based tournaments had been short-lived, Mathivanan said he is intent on making the Super Provincial tournament a long-term success by ensuring "there's a clear graduation path," and that there is "loyalty of the players for their provinces - a culture we need to create in this country".
The domestic season will also be more clearly divided into first-class and limited-overs segments: "We do not want to switch from one format to other in a haphazard manner. Unlike previous years, we will be first playing red-ball cricket (first-class) followed by white-ball cricket (List A). This will enable players to have a better focus."
Mathivanan's words align with those of SLC president Sumathipala, who told ESPNcricinfo in May: "Definitely, we are going to play the super provincial four-team tournament. We are looking at day-night pink-ball cricket for that as well. Initially, for the next two to three years, we've decided to distribute the players into the provincial team based on where they come from, as much as we can. The national selectors will then sit together and work out the best possible balance, and assign players accordingly."
However, the present board had also promised to organise a provincial-based first-class competition for the 2016-17 season, and subsequently failed to do so, scheduling only a List A provincial-based tournament instead.
Nevertheless, if the Super Provincial first-class tournament is actually played as Mathivanan and Sumathipala have outlined, it is likely to represent a significant step in the development of senior talent. The club-based first-class system has been criticised for its bloated format for several years, and a consensus has formed that the quality of cricket in that competition has declined substantially.
And while Sri Lanka's age-group based tournaments remain relatively healthy - thanks in part to the present board's investment in that area - cricketers who leave the school system have graduated to one of the weakest domestic structures in the Test-playing world. The club tournament has also been plagued by poor pitches.
A four-day tournament, with fewer players and a higher quality of play, aims to fix that. Additionally, as each of the venues at Dambulla, Pallekele, Galle and Khettarama can be directly administered by SLC, this should theoretically mean the Super Provincial competition will be played on good surfaces.