Sri Lanka cricket legend Kumar Sangakkara says players will have to get used to the ‘new normal’ of playing behind closed doors, reducing the rush of adrenaline without spectators cheering them in a post-pandemic era. He also stressed that consistency was the name of the game and Sri Lanka cricket was in good hands under [...]


Cricketers have to get used to the ‘new normal’, says Sangakkara


Sri Lanka cricket legend Kumar Sangakkara says players will have to get used to the ‘new normal’ of playing behind closed doors, reducing the rush of adrenaline without spectators cheering them in a post-pandemic era. He also stressed that consistency was the name of the game and Sri Lanka cricket was in good hands under South African coach Mickey Arthur while lauding the captaincy of Dimuth Karunaratne. The former Sri Lanka skipper who made history by becoming the first non-Englishman to become the President of the Marylebone Cricket Club speaks to the Sunday Times on the future of cricket after the COVID-19,

the future of  Sri Lanka cricket and

his appointment to the MCC.

Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q What is the future of cricket
after the COVID-19 pandemic?

There will be a quite a few changes as proposed by ICC. The feel of the game, players engaging with each other, the high fives, the back slapping, the real raw emotion, players standing right next to each other and everything will be affected. So it will be a quite a new experience for all of us.

Q How do you see the use of sweat instead of saliva to shine the ball?

Sweat too has a bit of problem, because you have to touch your face and the forehead. There’s a bit of risk involved here too. There has been lot of emphasis on hand hygiene with regard to COVID-19. So when you touch an infected surface and you transfer it to your hands and then touch your face, the virus can be transmitted or transferred. So you need to be very careful when applying sweat. It will be a kind of an interesting dynamic and for players it’s an instinct to use saliva. They will really have to stop themselves, because the ICC is talking about a warning and five penalty runs if players continue to use saliva. It’s not just about infecting you but it is about infecting others as well.

Q We know that a lot of international cricket tours have been cancelled or postponed. How will it affect the game financially?

Financially it will be big blow, because a lot of the boards rely on inbound tours for their revenues. So when the tours are cancelled, the boards lose a huge amount of revenue and will have to restructure and replant their finances. Also when it comes to sponsors and endorsements, the issue will be that a lot of the companies will not have budgets to commit to sponsoring and giving large sponsorship cheques to teams or cricket boards. This is something that needs to be considered. Also benchmarked tournaments have to be calibrated. The ticket collection money will also drop. Travelling fans will not be able to travel to certain countries or venues to follow their team. That will be a huge loss. As I said it will be a knock-on effect on the local economy.

Q How will it affect the
mentality of the players,
if cricket is played behind closed doors?

It might take a while for players to get used to it. The home advantage may lift player spirits psychologically. But it’s the crowds that does it cheering them on. It will be an Interesting dynamic, because the adrenaline rush is not there anymore. So it will be a new normal and players will slowly have to get used to it. However, it will be a slow transition at the start. Even on TV when you are watching when the ground is full there is energy about it playing in front of a packed house.

Q In your playing days we had a formidable team across all formats but we don’t see the same consistency in the team now. How can they regain that consistency they once had?

I think the younger players are talented, but need to be given a consistent run in the team. The final XI in each format needs to be consistent. When you have a consistent batting line-up and consistent selection, the performances also become consistent. Players need to be given that opportunity. When that is done and all the excuses are taken away, they have to perform. That is an important part to get the best out of your players. You need to have the right mentality, the right facilities, the right encouragement but also the right amount of pressure. Mickey (Arthur) the new coach is a very capable coach who has worked with many top cricket teams in the world to bring the consistency back.

Q How can the experienced players help the youngsters in the team to improve their game as they look to take
Sri Lanka cricket forward?

A: What senior players can do is to motivate the youngsters. They can talk to them about the importance of self-discipline. The most important thing a senior player can do is to perform, perform consistently, so that the younger players learn from you.

Q What are your thoughts on Mickey Arthur as the Head coach of the National Team?

Mickey Arthur is a fantastic coach, I have worked with him before. He is also a brilliant manager of players and a great motivator because he works very hard and he expects his players to work hard as well. He is extremely suited to coach Sri Lanka. I also feel the players have to respond well for that kind of a coach and only time will tell that.

Q How do you rate Dimuth Karunaratne’s captaincy
up to now?

He has done a good job. He is a balanced captain I think. The most important thing for Dimuth is not only to manage the players but also to make sure that he is performing to the highest standards because it makes decision making easier and captaincy easier.

Q Cricket experts say that our domestic cricket standards have declined over a
period of time.
Your thoughts on that?

Our first class structure has deteriorated a lot over the years, especially with too many first-class clubs. The most important thing is to try and have provincial setups where you have about six teams and demarcate the clubs in to those six teams, so the best players keep playing against the best. Instead of choosing a final eleven or fifteen players out of 400 first class players, you can choose that between 75 or 90 players, which makes it a much easier process for selectors. This will ensure that the highest quality of cricket is played and the performances can be measured properly. So the domestic scene needs a huge improvement.

Q Most people believe that you should have continued
playing International cricket for at least another year because they had predicted the current crisis. Do you think that you retired at the right time?

I think the current situation is not because of my retirement, but it’s a lot to do with the state of our first class cricket. I think that it was the right time for me to retire because there were enough good players who could have carried that mantle forward and done even better things. It was a decision I had wanted to make for some time and 2015 was the right time.

Q At the time of your
retirement, who were the players that you thought would replace you?

Quite a lot of them. Angelo Mathews was already a great batsman. There was (Dinesh) Chandimal, (Lahiru) Thirimanne, and many more like Kusal Mendis, Danushka Gunatillake and Avishka Fernando to be chosen from, and they just had to be consistent.

Q Cricket experts say that T20 cricket is overtaking Test cricket. As a former Test cricketer what are your thoughts about it?

I think T20 cricket has. It’s bigger in terms of financial viability, a larger audience, a much more passionate following and a much more varied demographic, so I think it’s already gone past Test cricket. But Test cricket still holds a wider space in terms of a format, in terms of nostalgia, in terms of people looking at it as the number one format where you try to make your mark in cricketing history. So players and fans still love it.
The important thing is to sustain Test cricket in to the future, so the ICC has come up with a tournament such as the World Test Championship so that it attracts more spectators, more players wanting to play Test cricket.

Q Don’t you think that the ICC must stick to the traditions when it comes to the future of Test cricket?

It depends. Everyone would love for it to stay as it is and be five days. But ultimately, the spectators determine the format of the game and due to the financial viability of the format, Test cricket might have to change a bit to survive.

Q What are your thoughts on Day/Night Test cricket?

Like I said it has been successful, so they need to see whether it will also be positive for Test cricket and for crowds to engage.

Q How is it to be the first non-English president of

It’s a great honour, responsibilities depends on how I see that role and be in that role. There are various things that an individual can get involved in, in terms of for example, raising the profile of the club, making sure to do your part in discharging your duties properly to the membership, hosting during the summer months. In terms of the cricket played at Lord’s, various charity functions, and all the peripheral things that happen around the cricket as well. So yes it’s a nice place to be in.

Q There was an MCC tour to
Sri Lanka earlier this year what is the current situation of the tour?

The Sri Lanka tour will be reassessed after the pandemic to see if there is a possibility of that, but it will all depend on financial viability.

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