As the BBL project looms, another has just taken place to attract young Sri Lankan cricketers to the Dandenong District Cricket Association, writes PAUL AMY.
There were no marquee players on offer and there was nothing quite like the hype that will accompany the first Big Bash League draft on August 28.
But a few days ago in Melbourne’s southeast, another cricket draft took place quietly, over Zoom and involving local clubs.
And he was closely followed in Sri Lanka, where a dozen young players hoped to be picked up.
In what is believed to be the Australian cricket club’s first ever draft, Dandenong District Cricket Association clubs had the chance to sign players nominated by the Sri Lankan Cricket Board.
Six players have been selected and will fly out at the end of September for a summer of grass cricket in one of Melbourne’s strongest local leagues. All will be ranked as one-point players (foreign players normally attract higher point rankings, depending on the level they have reached).
The Dandenong association had planned to launch the “emerging player exchange” two years ago but the Covid intervened. DDCA board member Craig Slocombe said the idea was to try to strengthen all the clubs, while giving emerging Sri Lankan players the experience of playing and living in another country. .
Slocombe and other Dandenong district association officials met with Sri Lankan board representatives in Galle last month to finalize details. Sri Lankan officials have named 12 players. Some have played first-class cricket and others have represented the national under-19 team and been on development tours.
Lower club North Dandenong had the first selection and chose left-arm spinner Kaumal Nanayakkara.
St Mary’s had second choice and opted for the Manelka De Silva pastry.
Hallam Kalora Park picked up slugger Avishka Tharindu, Buckley Ridges grabbed all-rounder Kavindu Nadeeshan and Springvale South got slugger Avishka Perera.
St Mary’s also took the option of bringing in a second player, Movin Subasinghe, a versatile hitter.
Slocombe says clubs will arrange accommodation for players. He estimates the cost to get them out will be around $3,000.
The Dandenong District Association encompasses the Greater Dandenong and Casey council areas and has produced a number of Test cricketers including Damien Fleming (Springvale South) and James and Darren Pattinson (Doveton).
Former Victorian batsman and Premier Cricket great Warren Ayres (Springvale South), former Vics fast bowler Will Carr (Berwick) and former Victorian rookie Brett Forsyth (Springvale South) also emerged from the DDCA.
The top section, Turf 1, has eight clubs.
Over the past 20 years, a large number of foreign players have taken part in the competition as professionals, including South African A-batser David White, Nottinghamshire captain Steve Mullaney (both of Buckley Ridges) and the men of test Michael Vandort and Malinga Bandara.
Sri Lankan athlete Ruwantha Kellepotha joined the association nine years ago and is quickly making a name for herself in Victorian Premier Cricket with Casey South Melbourne.
Slocombe says the imports have helped create an excellent level of cricket. But in recent seasons there has been a chasm between top and bottom clubs.
“We had to think about how do we stop the big clubs from buying the best players and continuing on their merry way and potentially we end up with a competition with just four or five teams,” Slocombe said.
“We know that not every club can afford to go for a David White or a Danny Law (former County player) so we want to give everyone a chance to have talent in their squads and make the more competitive cricket.
“This (the draft) can help all our clubs and from the perspective of the Sri Lankan authorities, it can improve some of their best young players.
“I hope they come back bigger and better cricketers and better people for being here.”
He says the DDCA also emphasizes developing more local players to a point.
He set up an academy program for juniors two years ago, with former Premier Cricket star and Victorian second XI all-rounder Matt Chasemore appointed as coach. Over 150 players completed 10 training sessions earlier this year.
Just as Sri Lanka sends players to the DDCA, the association plans to have junior representative teams touring Sri Lanka next year. They will play against the best school teams and will be guided by the best Sri Lankan coaches.
Slocombe, a DDCA Hall of Fame player, is a former head coach of the Sri Lanka national indoor cricket team and has a deep passion for the country, its cricket and its people.
He says Dandenong District clubs should be very proud to give opportunities to young players coming out for the 2022-23 season.
“Who knows, it could be life changing for one or two of these boys. It could be the start of their journey to top cricket,” Slocombe said.