Sri Lanka Cricket’s Cricket Committee Chairman Ranjit Fernando goes into detail about the recent surge in the game of cricket at the international level. He also delves into how the Lankan administration is looking at the challenges which face it in the near future and what efforts have gone into shaping the game and keeping [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka cricket is in good hands – Ranjit Fernando


Sri Lanka Cricket’s Cricket Committee Chairman Ranjit Fernando goes into detail about the recent surge in the game of cricket at the international level. He also delves into how the Lankan administration is looking at the challenges which face it in the near future and what efforts have gone into shaping the game and keeping it at its present healthy levels.

On the progress SLC has made in cricketing and coaching affairs

Sri Lanka Cricket has had to turn to the basics. We have restructured the coaching department under the watchful eye of the Head of Coaching Jerome Jayaratne and are now moving towards strengthening it further with more and more training. I am a great believer in continuous learning, and you cannot stay abreast in sport if your structure does not provide that opportunity.

We intend to make maximum use of all the coaching resources we have and that could be done by exposing the coaches to more learning and motivating them, to impart that knowledge to their charges without holding back. I think we are making significant headway in that direction. All these coaches have a lot of experience and knowledge and we are extremely fortunate to have them.
I have seen a marked improvement in the attitude, skill levels and commitment of district and provincial coaches. Most of these coaches too have been with us for a long time and their experience must be put to good use. We must appreciate the work they do, sometimes in very difficult circumstances in the outstations with limited facilities. Like everyone they respond to caring and being appreciated. This is not an easy job to do and most of these gentlemen have acquitted themselves wonderfully, particularly in their organisational skills. Each of their performances should be evaluated with due consideration given to the hardships they encounter. My philosophy is to see the many positives of these coaches rather than focus on the few negatives. After all, the bulk of the resources for our national teams are coming from these outstations areas. It is only the refining process that is done in Colombo and other major towns. The appointment of Sunil Fernando to overlook and work with these district and provincial coaches has produced exceptional results.

The surge in the performances of the national team

While there is no getting away from the fact that we have one of the most skillful cricket teams in the world, I must without any reservation say that the issues that crop up from time to time have been managed very well despite any limitations we have. I must make special mention of Sanath Jayasuriya the Chairman of the Selectors and his band of selectors. They have been hands on, whether handling the senior cricketers or the junior ones. They watch cricket at all levels and Sanath has been prepared to face issues of all types, face to face. The players respect him as a great cricketer and his forthright approach. The selectors’ involvement has made my job much easier. There is a great deal of understanding and listening on both sides.

The move to appoint two full-time selectors as talent managers in Hashan Tillakaratne and Pramodhaya Wickremasinghe has proven to be extremely useful. These gentlemen have played a very useful role in liaising with clubs and schools, looking after the interest of the stars of the future.

The success of our national team is not accidental. The outstanding skill levels produced by the cricketers have come about because of good planning and the hard and smart work of the coaches, who have shown excellent cooperation at all levels.

Recent pitfalls in Under 19 cricket and Sri Lanka Cricket’s expectations

Sri Lankans celebrate the wicket of England skipper Alstair Cook on their way to register the first ever Test series win in England

It depends on how you look at it. If it is the fact that we have not won a world cup, it is a definite yes. But while winning a world cup would bring a great deal of joy, fashioning players at the Under 19 level and making them players of the future has been the goal with the Under 19s and you don’t need to be an expert to say that this mission is being met in abundance. If one looks at the very skillful youngsters coming through, year in and year out, the evidence is there in black-and-white.

Having said that, we have had to accept that, it is also important to be successful in the junior world cups, and a programme has been put in place in that respect. Preparing from a younger age is thought to be the answer. The work ethic of the senior selectors has rubbed on to the junior selectors too, and they have been combing the country to see that none of the hopefuls slip through. With hundreds coming out each year, we need plenty more trained coaches in the schools throughout the country, and that is a challenge.

Dwindling levels of domestic cricket

There is a fair amount of truth in that statement, with fourteen teams in the premier tournament. It is, however, not an easy exercise to remove teams from the premiers all at once. I think we have made some progress in reducing the number to 14 and playing a Super League where the best 8 compete.

On the other side of the coin, there are the leading clubs which have excellent facilities and are the breeding grounds for developing national players, together with teams like Army, Air Force, Navy, SLPA that also provide employment opportunities to hundreds more that have talent. If these teams drop out of Premier Cricket after one season’s poor performances due to losing players for national duties or some other eventuality, it could also have an impact. From an administrator’s point of view, it can be a tough balancing act. One has to be careful, before taking drastic moves. It is easier said than done.

There is no doubt in my mind that clubs with their facilities and cricketing know-how are the pillars of success in Sri Lanka cricket and should be the actor in the primary competition. A provincial tournament should also be a part of the first class calendar, with the future in mind. Performances in both tournaments could be considered during national selections.

What excites me is the Under 23 tournament this year. I would have preferred a few more Under 19 players in a team, from the two that are mandatory now. However, watching the first few games I feel we are going to benefit from this in the near future.

Life after Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakkara and measures taken for the future

I think Sanath and company have done a fine job in maintaining a balance of experience and youth in our teams. Firstly, they have given the seniors Jayawardena, Sangakkara, and Dilshan the importance they deserve and have reposed that confidence in them. Amongst the batsmen, youngsters (Lahiru) Thirimanne, (Dinesh) Chandimal, (Dimuth) Karunaratne, (Ashan) Priyanjan and (Kithruwan) Vithanage have been exposed.

While there is a lack of consistency which is to be at times expected, they have all played quality innings from time to time and together with Kaushal Silva will be our future. With the seniors hopefully available for some more series, it will give the younger batsmen more breathing space. I am however very confident of the batting future.

SLC has now planned their ‘A’ team and Under 19 tours very professionally, and this will ensure excellent opportunities for upcoming players. Cricketers at highest levels have their dizzy heights and lowly troughs and the secret is to maintain trust in them and keep them interested. You never know when they will suddenly blossom.

It is in the spin department where we are lacking and bowlers like Dilruwan Perera, P.H.T Kaushal will have to be given a lot more overs and fast-tracked. Time is ticking and the need to unearth a few spinners could be desperate.

The policy to keep blooding younger players at every level is being religiously pursued.

In search of a head coach

It does appear to be a hard job, when the time frame is not very much. When Graham Ford gave notice, we had to go through the whole process of advertising, short listing etc. At the same time it was necessary to identify what the immediate requirements, if any, were. Once that was done it was not stressful. The appointment of Paul Farbrace worked very well from the team’s point of view, and we were also banking on our own coaching aspirants learning some of the aspects of managing players from him. It must be emphasized that at no stage did we ever think that our own coaches did not have the knowledge or the experience in coaching skills. Being head coach of a national team requires certain special attributes apart from skill alone and players expect that. Our vision is to have a Sri Lankan as head coach, and looking after our national team, but they must be well rounded and up to the job, since we want them to succeed. It’s very encouraging to see Marvan Atapattu making an impact and learning the ropes. Sri Lanka cricket forging forward with their international performances despite regular criticism from many.

Constructive criticism is important for any organisation to flourish. The smart ones just ignore those who just babble, sometimes with vicious motives, and pay attention to only those who are interested in our cricket progressing. Although I am not part of decision-making or do not play a direct role in administration, I have no doubt that everyone will appreciate that it takes time to change the culture of an organisation from one which was run by an Interim Committee for some years, to one run by a democratically-elected body accountable to their stakeholders.

The changes taking place at SLC however appear to be very rapid and significant. Speaking for myself, all recommendations may not be perfect, but being involved in cricket for over 50 years in almost every capacity, it is one subject I could claim to know something about. I am here because I am convinced that Jayantha Dharmadasa, for whom I have great respect, and his team appreciates advice, and I feel selfish if I don’t give back something to the game that has taught me almost everything. I have been hands on and follow up on all matters connected with what I do, because that motivates people.

Cricket administrators and the cricketers have learnt the art of managing difficult issues and finding common ground and this has contributed to our success on and off the field. This was also what Kumar Sangakkara said about our team. You have people of different types, but getting on with them in the cause of a common goal, is the key. This applies to you and I, and every Sri Lankan, as cricket in Sri Lanka belongs to all of us.

The worrying aspects of local cricket

The proliferation of suspect actions amongst the younger school cricketers is a serious worry. We have formed a Bowlers Review Committee to handle this aspect and are also looking to give umpires handling school games more training to make proper judgments. As 15 degrees flex is permissible, we have to be careful that we do not eliminate those who are well within that and could be very successful.

School coaches have to be very responsible in this respect and make corrections on bowlers they think are suspect, early on. Whenever in doubt, they could refer these bowlers to the SLC coaches for examination and remedial work.

Our recent encouraging performances and our chances at the 2015 World Cup

Every one of us should be happy with what our cricketers have done, carrying everything on offer before them. The England tour just now has been a resounding success and has dispelled any doubts of our ability outside the subcontinent. However, we should not judge our success from these victories alone but more importantly on the structures and processes put in place and to see that they are being efficiently implemented. I believe that this has made vast progress.

As for the World Cup 2015, Sri Lanka Cricket, at a planning workshop many months ago, agreed on having England in Sri Lanka for an ODI series in 2014 and touring New Zealand just before the World Cup. What better preparation than that?

To my mind, we have to work a lot more on our fielding, throwing and running between wickets, particularly at those large Australian venues. I also believe that a lot more responsibility will be placed on the trainers to ensure a much higher level of fitness and speed amongst all players before the World Cup.

Cricket administration in the districts and provinces and effecting improvements

There is a lot of work to be done in the districts and provinces and the work already being done could be said to be remarkable considering the facilities and coaching resources available. The situation varies from district to district. My feeling is that a lot of training has to be provided to district administrators to uplift their organisational skills and motivation, and some efforts must be put in that direction as a matter of priority. Those in the outstations should be running the game in their own areas on their own initiative.
I also believe that a lot more past cricketers must work in administration because their contribution could be immense. I am probably the last of the older brigade clinging on, but having worked closely with Sidath Wettimuny, Arjuna Ranatunga, Aravinda De Silva, Sanath Jayasuriya, Hashan Tillakaratne, Muttiah Muralitharan, Pramodhaya Wickremasinghe to name a few, their knowledge and ideas on the contemporary game are just excellent. They are very mature in their thinking and show a high degree of self confidence and are prepared to take on responsibility. They all do their part for the game outside the mainstream and should be persuaded to at least work in an advisory capacity in cricket administration. Cricket in Sri Lanka requires a good mix of efficient administrators and past cricketers. One cannot do without the other.

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