Only on Tuesday evening at Hotel Taj Samudra that I really comprehended the meaning of the age old cliché “Cynosure of all eyes”. It was different. It was a press confab to launch the Sri Lanka-Bangladesh cricket series. Yet, generally, the coach of the visiting team may get caught in the crossfire but, he never [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Who would be the cynosure of all eyes?


Only on Tuesday evening at Hotel Taj Samudra that I really comprehended the meaning of the age old cliché “Cynosure of all eyes”. It was different. It was a press confab to launch the Sri Lanka-Bangladesh cricket series. Yet, generally, the coach of the visiting team may get caught in the crossfire but, he never held the centre stage.

It looks as if Bangladesh coach Chandika Hathurusinghe is saying, “Hey Mr. Ford, we know what you are up to!” (Pic Amila Gamage)

Yes, at the head table, the man who stood out was Bangladesh coach Chandika Hathurusinghe, while the man with the back to the wall was our own Graham Ford, playing all kinds of strokes to stave off the heat directed at him by the members of the fourth estate.

From the word go, I was of the view that the Sri Lanka-Bangladesh series is going to be important from a Lankan cricket perspective. What we were watching was, “Could the Lankans hold their own against this Bangladeshi ensemble”? When they last played each other here in 2014, Bangladesh did remarkably well against a Lankan combination that included Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardena and T.M. Dilshan. Yes, the Lankans got the better of the exchanges but, the visitors were not belittled. Still the majority of that Bangladeshi collection is intact. Now they are older and wiser.

Since Bangladesh cricket came under the tutelage of Hathurusinghe, the team has improved leaps and bounds. In their past few exchanges, Bangladesh have collected more wins against their names than reversals. In short, this is a unit that is moving in the right direction, with the entire Bangladesh hierarchy backing Hathurusinghe’s efforts. It is clear that Hathurusinghe and company have drawn up a strategic plan and the whole gamut of Bangladesh cricket believes in what he is doing.

I really like the way Hathurusinghe described how happy he is in his present perch as coach of the Bangladesh team. He said, “Yes, I am happy when I come to Sri Lanka, because my mother lives here and I would be able to visit her”. It was a complete sentence with a clear statement. Right now, he is working with Bangladesh cricket and enjoying what he is doing.

But, as a professional and coach, can Graham Ford speak with the same confidence? Right now, there are several areas in Sri Lanka cricket that is in total disarray, and I do not think many in the press audience bought the idea, when Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) Secretary Mohan de Silva, who conducted the meeting, said that, “Sri Lanka Cricket is working on a strategic plan and are moving in the right direction.”

Targeting coach Ford, there was more than one question about the mechanics of Lankan cricket. He clearly admitted that Sri Lanka have a huge problem in fielding, and thinks it is a deep-rooted cause. Only the next generation of cricketers now in the Under-19 age group, would be able to cope with the new fielding techniques and bring them to the national level in the future. He was of the view that “Old horses can’t learn new tricks”.
Well, at least for now, let them learn the right way of holding onto a straight forward catch, and not miss catches the way Dilshan Munaweera grassed Aaron Finch in the third ball of Lasith Malinga’s first over, in the final T-20 in Adelaide. We are not talking about acrobatics. We are talking about catching catches. Well, with the fees they get, the coaches should be able to teach the Lankans how to hold on to a regulation catch. They should do at least that. What is so strategic about missing catches?

Then about the yo-yo combinations. This is another subject that is being talked about. During the past few series there have been more than fifty different caps worn by the Lankan cricketers in the three segments of the game. There is no consistency.

For instance, we can take the case of Dasun Shanaka. But, it was with the ball that Shanaka first made his mark on the international stage, though he was hardly a bowler. He took 3 for 16 on a green-top at Pune, against India. Prior to that, he had only two T-20 wickets at domestic level. His forte was his ability to hit the ball out of the park. Then, in April last year, he was picked for the Test squad — for Sri Lanka’s tour of England — for the first time, largely on his potential. He capped it with a Test 100 in England. Then he faded away — but, not completely. Now he surfaces again. It does not help Shanaka or Sri Lanka cricket or, the cause of what they stand for. Then Thikshila de Silva set foot on the Lankan stage with a huge bang. He batted at No 4 and even opened bowling. Now, without a whimper, he is locked up in Pandora’s Box.
Then Kusal Janith Perera had a reputation of being a hard hitting, late order batsman who could open for a cameo on and off and, on his day, be a match-winner. Yet, in Test Cricket, he played more than a few useful innings, batting in the lower order. Then came the mix-up. He was forced to bat at No.3 in test cricket against South Africa, arguably, the best bowling attack today. He failed. Now it seems he has lost the plot. He has no Test Cricket or ODIs. Now he is playing side cricket for the Sri Lanka A team. Someone said he is sidelined to teach the stubborn guy a lesson. But, who is the loser?

Then Niroshan Dickwella and Asela Gunaratne were brought in for the Zimbabwe series and they performed well but, soon after, they were unceremoniously dumped. They said only so many players could make a tour squad. Somehow both Cricketers were brought back subsequently, they kept up the form and now they are heroes, and the darlings of the press. Hypothetically — what if either of them starts to fail.

After the series against South Africa, heaps of pressure were brought on several players. Mathew’s story is still different. Top of the list was then Vice Captain Dinesh Chandimal. Then he lost his Vice Captaincy and his T-20 ticket Down Under. Now he is just there in the squad but, his place is not assured. Besides Chandimal, Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya de Silva, Dimuth Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva were under a cloud. An ‘A’ team double hundred saved Dimuth Karunaratne. But, for now, Kaushal Silva is dead.

One could understand when a batsman is beset with a problem and starts getting out. It even happened to the great Greg Chappell, just before he retired. At one time, even the now chief selector Sanath Jayasuriya was short of runs at international level. But, there should be some other reason for a whole top batting order to start floundering.

In this case, we ask if Graham Ford is in complete control of the situation. Is chief selector Sanath Jayasuriya in complete control of the situation? As for every press communiqué, there is this tag — “ON THE INSTRUCTIONS OF THE PRESIDENT SRI LANKA CRICKET” .
Anyway, only time will tell, whether the Hathurusinghe style or the Ford style will finally prevail.

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