It was a different era in cricket in Sri Lanka, yet the same blue skies hovered over the island, though the evening shadows were just about to cast in. Even if the most junior cricketer in today’s context walks into that setup he certainly would not recognise the ambiance; in short the Lankans were a [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Coach quandary: From Whatmore to what’s next


It was a different era in cricket in Sri Lanka, yet the same blue skies hovered over the island, though the evening shadows were just about to cast in. Even if the most junior cricketer in today’s context walks into that setup he certainly would not recognise the ambiance; in short the Lankans were a set of gusty cricketers who were already in the big scene, but treated as minnows. Yet, at the same time they had very little to show for it – at that time their trophy larder was almost empty. No 35, Maitland Place, Colombo 7 was a different entity. It was not the same posh cricketers’ headquarters and the pennies in the kitty were a few. The year in question was 1995 and the month …. may be March.

That evening we were driving to the Katunayake International Airport. Accompanying Ana Punchihewa, my former boss at Pure Beverages and President of the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka, were myself, my immediate superior Jagath Pattiarachchi and the Brand Manager Ranjith Dissanayake. We were on a mission. We were going to collect a precious cargo. We were going to receive Sri Lanka’s first overseas cricket coach – Sri Lankan born Australian Davnell Whatmore — a man with good coaching credentials and a cricketing background.

He did walk in through the normal channel with his unmistakable Mexican mustache and the friendly warm smile. He met the few of us and after the initial empty banter Whatmore just poke about his task at hand. He said, “Technique-wise I have nothing to teach you Sri Lankans. Your technique is as good as in any other cricket playing nation. I feel my task is different. What I have to do is to inculcate a culture. Teach you the psychological aspects of big-time cricket and change your mode to take up and live up to the challenges of playing the game in the big-league.”

Thereafter what transpired is world cricket history, and today, the Lankan cricket is as good as any other – which means we have come a long way.

Prior to Whatmore’s arrival, the Lankan cricket was in the hands of the former national cricketers turned coaches and by 1994 the Lankans had come a long way, though they won their full internationals caps in 1982. With their huge history of over a century of cricket played at home by that time, the Lankans knew how to hold the bat and even had produced cricketers in the calibre of R. Sathasivam, Stanley Jayasinghe, Clive Inman, Michael Tissera, Anura Tenekoon, Roy Dias and Aravinda de Silva.

Nevertheless, with Whatmore’s advent into Sri Lanka cricket, there was a marked difference. There was another difference that blended in concurrently. However, some may argue that Arjuna Ranatunga’s astute captaincy was the perfect blend. Ranatunga’s ‘do-not-care-for-big-names’ attitude and Whatmore’s big time gimmicks worked wonders. At the same time the Lankan team had played together as a unit for a while and was one of the most experienced sides in world cricket. In 1996, Sri Lanka won the world cup and the world began to look at this little island in a different perspective.

The Lankan cricket began to grow in confidence and the legacy was carried forward by Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas – two bowlers who etched in with the rest of the Lankan brood to inscribe the lettering in the Lankan cricket chronicle.Now the scenario changed and it took a different turn. After the exit of Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva, the Lankans still had super-cricket-characters such as the just mentioned Murali, Vaas, Sanath Jayasuriya and Marvan Atapattu — players who kept the Lankan flag flying with the rest of the cricketing powers.

Now for the coaches who came to preside over Lankan cricket, it was a different proposition. Like the other big-timers the Lankans also knew their ABCs of cricket and the main coaches’ job criteria became different. The job became more of a strategist’s task rather than a mere coach. At the same time the army of coaches had different specialists. One for batting, one for fast bowling, one for spin bowling, one for fielding and even there was an analyst.

The head coach’s job was to put all these available material together and prepare the Lankan cricketing broth.

At the same time these foreign coaches were professionals who were making an afterlife living in the dressing room. So for the weaker characters who took the challenge up as the Lankan coach, it was a task of keeping his home fires burning. To keep the fires burning, the team has to produce results. To do that he had to work closely with the senior members of the team; they had to sit together and plan strategy. In this process, some foreign coaches became virtual ‘yes’ lads of the seniors because some of the seniors in the Lankan side had credentials as long as their surnames.

Marvan Atapattu and one of the foreign coaches who presided over Lankan cricket - Geoff March - watching the Sri Lankan players at nets. - File pic

In the recent past, the only coach who singly handled himself and not only produced forward strategy, but also inculcated future planning was Australian cricketer Tom Moody. He was one man who took his job seriously and planned each charted course and every bye-way. Some times when he saw some seniors overstaying their welcome, he showed the selectors, what action they should take. The results of his stay in Sri Lanka are still prevalent.

At the same time there was a certain move to alleviate a Lankan coach to the helm and at one point Lankan cricket management took former opener Chandika Hathurusinghe to the level of being the shadow coach of the senior side, but, blockheads in the administration thought he was more of a threat than an asset and today he is the main coach of New South Wales in Australia – the very country which has pumped the most number of cricket coaches to the Lankan game.

At present, Sri Lanka has Marvan Atapattu as the head batting coach and Chaminda Vaas as the bowling coach. But, the hierarchy is scared to bite the bullet. The reason: There are three seniors in Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela a Jayawardena and T.M. Dilshan who have played along with the two Lankan coaches.

But, believe me even if the head of selectors Sanath Jayasuriya played his cricket along the very cricketers in question, the wheel keeps turning. Besides a 35,000 foot question, Jayasuriya’s action as the selection committee chief has not been bad. Even my only contention in this problem is: If there is a Lankan coach, how many 35,000 foot problems that he would have to dabble with? It is a direct result of politics creeping into sports in Sri Lanka.

May be Peter Moors or Paul Fabrace or any other – a new coach means the Lankan cricketers having to look into their short term and long term goals in a different angle. Whoever it is, a new coach – other than the Lankan coaches who are there already — would look through his own eyes and fashion different strategies. Though successful, even a man like Tom Moody or Andy Flower would mean the Lankan cricket at the helm having to change its stance.

The T-20 World Championship comes in 2014, Cricket World Cup in 2015 and the Test Championships in 2017. By now we should be icing the cake and not looking for cooks to bake it.

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