Photo Credit: Rainier De Mel (courtesy of Ceylon Indoor Cricket Association)
Four Australian teams have arrived in Sri Lanka for an indoor cricket tour of the island nation, known as the Australasia Cup.
The tournament will be held from 20 to 24 September at the Austasia International Sports and Leisure Complex in Colombo. The facility includes a two-court indoor cricket stadium which was created in 2001 and remains the only indoor cricket centre in the country. The Ceylon Indoor Cricket Association (CICA), which is the governing body for indoor cricket in Sri Lanka, are running the tournament. The event is sponsored by Austgrow and is sanctioned by the World Indoor Cricket Federation (WICF).
Australia last toured Sri Lanka in 2013, in which they came away with the title. This time around the Open Men's tournament will include India and Singapore, with the four countries playing a double round-robin format. The top two placed countries will face off against each other in the final on 24 September.
Three other Australian sides have also travelled over - the Open Women, Under-21 Women and Under-21 Mens' teams. These sides will each play a five-match test series against their Sri Lankan counterparts.
Several matches will also be live-streamed with commentary online, allowing viewers to watch all the action as it unfolds. Live-streaming has become a real technological advancement within indoor cricket, allowing anyone to view matches from any computer, tablet or phone.
A mutually beneficial tour presents a chance for the sport to grow
Photo Credit: Rainier De Mel (courtesy of Ceylon Indoor Cricket Association)
The tour represents another step forward for indoor cricket development on a global scale. It is part of the development programme of Cricket Australia Indoor, the indoor cricket division of Cricket Australia, to take the game to countries which play the sport on a less regular basis. This in turn will give greater exposure to all the players involved in the process and help raise the profile of the game. The Australian teams will get a taste of touring a country and playing in conditions they are not accustomed to, which will help improve their skills. Meanwhile, India, Singapore and Sri Lanka get to play a high level of cricket without the constraint of funding issues.
As Hiran de Mel, Head of Technical and Operations for CICA, and WICF board member explained to RealSport, the exposure for such a tournament is immense in a place like Sri Lanka, where they are overshadowed by their outdoor cricket counterparts. "That is a key part of this tour. Australia coming over here as World Champions gives us the impetus to take the game to the next level in terms of development, getting people talking about indoor cricket, getting crowds at the matches and live-streaming the games. The opportunity is there for us at this event", said de Mel.
de Mel was a pioneer in establishing CICA back in 2000 and acknowledged Australia had set the standard and platform for indoor cricket, just not in terms of their playing quality, but their administration. "We are looking to establish plans and build a new indoor cricket stadium, having had those discussions with the sports minister and national cricket board. We have one centre at the moment. Having more indoor centres will bring in more interest from players in other areas. But that hasn't yet come to fruition", said de Mel. "Australia takes their very indoor cricket seriously and it's no surprise they are number one in the world in that respect. Having established Cricket Australia Indoor under their national board is excellent, and that should be the way forward for all indoor cricket playing nations, to enable them to get ahead".
Another step forward for development
As Australia's new Open Men's coach Brenton Brien explained to RealSport, the tour is one of development for the teams, which will give them greater exposure in foreign conditions whilst also taking the game overseas. "It's about developing the players, taking them overseas and testing out some different combinations for us against some different opposition. There were guys who haven't been able to make the trip over, but they will be in contention for the Trans-Tasman series (against New Zealand) next year, so some players in this squad have the chance to make an impression" said Brien.
Credit: Powershots Photography
Brien was recently appointed as the Open Men's coach, taking over from seven-time World Cup winning coach Ross Gregory. He knows there are big shoes to fill, but feels comfortable in the environment having coached the Australian 22 & Under Men's side to a World Cup title in Dubai last year. He has also been the coach of the Queensland State Open Men's side, a few of which feature in this Australian squad, including veteran captain Lyle Teske and senior players Rhys Dearness and Rob Fitzgerald. "I've worked with a lot of the Queensland players having coached them at State level, so I know their games well, and it's great to be able to work with now on this scale", Brien said. "There are some new players in this team who haven't been capped either, so it will be interesting to see how they go and I'm excited about bringing them into the Australian set-up, including Ryan Dowse, who I've seen come up through the age groups in Queensland and for Australia. A few of the guys have been to Sri Lanka on the previous tour but this is my first time; it's great we've been able to bring our sides here yet again and this will benefit every country and every team involved. We are looking forward to it".
Uncapped players in the Open Men's squad include former Australian 22 & Under captain Dowse, Ashley Paddison and Brock Winkler. Trent Lawford, who has played outdoor cricket for the State of Victoria and featured for the Melbourne Renegades and Adelaide Strikers in the popular T20 Big Bash League, also gets his first call-up. Two sets of brothers may also feature in the side on tour - the Floros brothers of Tim, Benji and Matthew are joined by teammate Justin Perkins and his brother Kieran, who was selected for the first time.
Sri Lanka ready to lay down the challenge
Australia should expect some fight from the host nation this time round. de Mel explained that the bowling and fielding aspects have been to a good standard, whilst it will be the batting that will need to improve. "The Asian sides, they are naturally pretty skillful so they are good in the bowling and fielding departments. But it is the batting they struggle with, and that's where Australia will take the game away from you. That's why they are the best team in the world", said de Mel. "A natural indoor cricket shot is to play it down and up, but play each ball on its merits. Be strong in your mind to select the ball you want to go after. If you get out trying to hit one to the back, then suddenly there's pressure on you, not only on yourself but from the fielders. You can get yourself into a tangle then if you aren't hitting the ball cleanly, not communicating with your partner. That's where it can easily fall apart".
Credit: Rainier De Mel (Courtesy of Ceylon Indoor Cricket Association)
But he believes they are ready to take on Australia this time around at home. "We have some very experienced players now who know their games very well. We've seen the Australians play in their State and local competitions on the online live-streams which gives you some added insight", said de Mel. "We are at home, we are used to the courts and the heat and humidity the weather brings, and we are optimistic we can push Australia close yet again this time around. The Asian teams always bring spice to these matches, and we are looking forward to hosting a tournament which benefits every country that takes part, to take indoor cricket forward",
Coach Asela Pathirana has had a huge workload in the lead-up to the tournament, as he coaches all four Sri Lankan Men's and Women's sides, which hasn't gone unrecognised. "He's done a superb job, training every team four days a week on the court in separate sessions leading up to this. He's worked very hard to get Sri Lanka up to a higher standard and being a former player he knows the direction he wants to take them in. That's what we would like to do, so future coaches have something to work with going forward", said de Mel.