Need to make first-class pitches suited to fast bowlers - Vaas

Sri Lanka news August 12, 2017

Sri Lanka's bowling coach Chaminda Vaas has become the latest insider to criticise the country's domestic system, drawing particular attention to its tendency to produce pitches unsuited to quick-bowling.

Of the top 15 wicket-takers in the most recent first-class season, 14 were spin bowlers. In the previous Premier League Tournament season (2015-16), the most successful fast bowler had been placed at 15th overall - only two seamers entering the top 20. It is not unusual for spinners to take the new ball in first-class cricket, where dustbowls are routinely prepared, especially towards the end of the season.

"We can't be satisfied with the way first-class cricket is," Vaas said. "We need to make first-class cricket work for fast bowlers. We talk a lot about what ails first-class cricket, but no matter how much we talk, the issue hasn't moved forward."

It is widely believed that it is partly because of the poor nature of domestic surfaces that Sri Lanka do not possess a well-honed battery of quicks. Promising fast bowlers are generally picked in the academy, but must largely develop at the A-team and international levels.

"If we want to improve our cricket and increase the number of fast bowlers we have - if we want to do justice to our cricket - we need to make pitches that are suited to fast bowlers," Vaas said. "If we do that I trust that our bowlers would be better off than they are now."

Sri Lanka's meagre fast-bowling depth was of particular relevance in the ongoing Pallekele Test, in which Lahiru Kumara and Vishwa Fernando were the frontline quicks, following injuries to Nuwan Pradeep and Suranga Lakmal. Fernando is playing only his second Test match. Kumara, 20, is playing his seventh Test, but has played only three domestic first-class games in his career, having been in the Under-19 team only a year ago.

"They need to play more, I think," Vaas said. "If you take our first-class cricket, they don't have enough first-class experience to play well. If you take quicks from any country, they start bowling well after they have played 20-25 Tests only. We can't suddenly expect a lot from Vishwa and Lahiru Kumara. It's with their mindset that they can improve. They need to practice a lot and play a lot of games. With that match experience only they will develop."

First-class surfaces have been unduly spin-friendly for at least five seasons now, and two seasons into their tenure, the SLC board headed by Thilanga Sumathipala has failed to bring about meaningful change to domestic pitches. Sumathipala has conceded the surfaces are a problem area, however. In an interview with Cricday in May, he said the board would make improvements on that front.

"Next year we're going to have independent curators approving certain wickets," he had said. "It's all costing us money because we have to retain a lot of people."

According to Sumathipala, part of the problem is that some first class clubs - such as Badureliya CC or Ragama CC - do not have grounds of their own, and are forced to hire grounds for their home matches. Those venues, in turn, are not adequately maintained, said Sumathipala.

"We're putting the grounds on notice. By June or July, we'll tell them they need to have good wickets ready by September. They have to put the top dressing and so on. It takes about three months. Hopefully next year we'll have some better wickets. We're importing rollers. We would like to have more of those three-ton rollers, because that is important to getting an even surface. We've asked our curators to go around and give the ground staff some training. We need to give some infrastructure assistance to the clubs. By the time we get to September, they'll be sound."

His board, however, has done nothing to cut down the number of first-class sides, which may help ease pressure on the common grounds that are on rotation in domestic cricket.

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