Shadow Coach goes down under in search of greener pastures

Rex Clementine, Island, 7 Dec. 2010

Sri Lanka cricket captain Kumar Sangakkara may have admitted that in the post Trevor Bayliss era after next year’s Cricket World Cup, Chandika Hathurusinghe had the credentials to take over as the Head Coach of the national cricket team, but after the administrators removed him from the position of Shadow Coach of the national team, the former opener has made up his mind to migrate to Sydney, Australia in search of greener pastures.

The 42-year-old Hathurusinghe was removed from the post despite support from the hierarchy of the national cricket team. He was accused of disobeying SLC Interim Committee Chairman D.S. de Silva’s orders, but when one looks into the whole episode, you feel saddened by what Hathurusinghe has been forced to go through. Due to one man’s ego, Sri Lanka is going to lose the services of a talented cricket coach. As a former cricket administrator put it, these days among us we have, ‘small minds in big places’.

After the T-20 World Cup early this year, the national team was playing non stop cricket having had to travel to Florida and then Zimbabwe for international commitments. According to the original schedule, the tri-series in Zimbabwe was to end on the 8th of June, but it was extended by a couple of days, apparently on a request made by India, the third participant in the tri-nation competition.

Hathurusinghe, meanwhile, was to follow a Level Three coaching programme in Australia, something endorsed and sponsored by SLC that was scheduled to start on June 13th. He was scheduled to leave for Australia on the 11th of June.

The change of Zimbabwe schedule was going to affect Hathurusinghe’s travel to Australia and after discussing with team manager Anura Tennakoon and Head Coach Trevor Bayliss, Hathurusinghe decided to stick to original schedule to follow the programme in Australia that had been prearranged. Hathurusinghe had informed  Nishantha Ranatunga, the Secretary of Interim Committee, abnout his plans. Rantunga in turn said that he didn’t have any problems if Hathurusinghe had the blessings of the Tour Manager and Head Coach which he had.

But for some reason, Interim Committee chief D.S. de Silva asked him to stick around in Zimbabwe during a casual conversation while the team was in Zimbabwe and when Hathurusinghe returned home thinking that everyone was supportive of his decision to leave, he found he was in trouble. “They issued me with a show cause notice saying I had abandoned the tour and I had disobeyed the chairman’s request. The inquiry was held but I was not allowed to be represented by a lawyer. After that I didn’t see the inquiry judgment because they didn’t show it to me but I was issued another letter saying that my services were terminated because I was found guilty of the show cause notice. What I fail to understand is there was no official complaint by the Manager and there was no official request for me from SLC asking me to stay back with the team, until I left. I only had a verbal discussion with the chairman that’s all,” Hathurusinghe said after deciding to migrate to Australia.

In a desperate attempt to retain his services for the national team, Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara wrote a letter to the interim Committee Chairman, requesting him to reinstate the coach, but that request fell in deaf ears. “My interest in regaining his services is purely selfish. I want to be part of a team that is coached by the best. I firmly believe that after the 2011 World Cup, Chandika has the capability to ably head the coaching of the national team. The whole squad of national players respect him and admire him for the work done,” Sangakkara wrote in his appeal.

At a time when the government is requesting the public and the media to support the national team, one may wonder whether the Interim Committee of Sri Lanka Cricket appointed to run the sport is giving hear to the request of the national captain.

Hathurusinghe, who played 26 Test Matches from 1991 to 1999, joined Sri Lanka Cricket as the ‘A’ team coach where he helped several players like Thilan Samaraweera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Rangana Herath and Thilina Kandamby to reinvent themselves while several others like Angelo Mathews and Tharanga Paranavithana graduated to the national side from the ‘A’ team while he was in charge and the cricket fraternity knows how well these players have performed in recent times.

Hathurusinghe’s role in national team ranged from helping the ‘A’ team players who had graduated to the national side to settle down and help the Head Coach in formulating plans and batting. He was making steady progress and was looking forward for more challenges when D.S. de Silva decided to intervene.

“When I left Zimbabwe, I didn’t see any signs of this coming. The Level Three Coaching programme had been arranged by SLC and it has been funded by SLC. The point is, you’ve got to remember that we won the tri-nation tournament in Zimbabwe. I had the backing of the Head Coach and the Manager when I left. When SLC decided to terminate my services it came as a total surprise,” he said

When asked what his formula for successful coaching was, Hathurusinghe said working personally with each player helped. “What’s required is understanding individual players and helping them to be the best they can. Press the right button to push themselves out of their comfort zones and help them to achieve what they can,” Hathurusinghe added.

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 Tamil Union bids farewell to Hatu

The Tamil Union bade farewell to yet another of its outstanding members at a well attended function at the club’s premises recently. Chandika Hathurusinghe who was widely acclaimed as one of the more successful coaches of national cricket had his services terminated by the Interim Committee on the 10th of August following an independent inquiry, the findings of which were not made public.

He consequently decided to migrate to Australia with his family. The club’s former President and one time Hony Secretary of Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka, S. Skandakumar, who was also Vice Chairman /Secretary of the first ever Cricket Interim Committee appointed in 1999, paid a glowing tribute to Hathurusinghe, recalling his early humble days with the club that began at the tender age of 14 years when he was a student of a relatively unknown school called Veluwana in Dematagoda.

“His school coach, Tom Dep a remarkably fine gentleman once told me that Chandika did 15 minutes of bat drill regularly after dinner, standing in front of a mirror, and would then tuck his bat under his pillow and go to sleep. You can therefore imagine his passion for the game at that very early age, and the kind of dreams he must have had in his adolescent years. ”

‘To improve his chances at cricket, Chandika moved to Ananda College in 1984, but failed to find a place in the first eleven team and yet in 1986, was picked to tour England with the Sri Lanka schoolboys team, creating an unprecedented record where a school boy cricketer represented his country before he did his alma mater. He made such an impact on that tour that in 1988 he was appointed Vice Captain of the first ever Youth World Cup team that participated in a tournament in Australia.’ Skandakumar recalled.

‘In 1991, ‘Skandakumar added,’ Chandika got the opportunity of his dreams when he was flown out to replace an injured Dammika Ranatunge on Sri Lanka’s international tour of New Zealand and made a half century on his Test debut as opening batsman in trying conditions. He repeated the feat in the following Test as well and went on to register an enviable hat trick of half-centuries in international cricket when he followed this up with 66 on his first appearance at Lord’s , when Sri Lanka toured England immediately thereafter. In 1995, Chandika went on tour to Pakistan and made 4 half-centuries in the three Test Match series and yet lost his place in the national team although he was a member of the World Cup squad that toured England in1999.”

Continuing, Skandakumar said, ‘Realising that the doors of international cricket were closing on him, Chandika then turned his excellent cricketing brain to coaching and in 2000 qualified as a Level Two coach in Australia. On his return he found that the Moors Sports Club had been relegated from the Premier Division and took up the challenge as Captain cum Coach to get that club back into the major division. His extraordinary skills both as a Captain and Coach became apparent when Moors under his leadership and guidance not only re-entered the Premier Division, but went on to win the Premier Championship just two years after being relegated .This was I understand the first time that the Moors had achieved it in their 99 year history. Chandika won the Player of the Tournament award in the Premier League for three consecutive years starting from 2001/2002, and yet failed to find a place in even the national ‘A’ team. While playing league cricket in England in the summer of 2003, he pursued his interest in coaching further and qualified as a Level Three coach, the highest standard in coaching in the UK at that time. Upon his return he re associated himself with the Tamil Union as player cum coach and helped the club to emerge joint champions in the Premier Limited Tournament that very season. The damage inflicted by Tsunami in 2004, prevented the final from being played. His first major international challenge as a coach came in October 2005, when he was appointed head coach of the United Arab Emirates team and was mandated to help that country secure a place in the 2008 Asia Cup tournament. To do so, the Emirates had to win the Asian Cricket Council tournament held in Malaysia in 2006.’’

“Chandika was able to guide the UAE team to that championship, adding yet another notable achievement to his string of coaching successes. Sri Lanka Cricket then woke up to the extent of Chandika’s coaching talents and offered him a contract to coach the national A team, the feeder to the national team which he accepted with relish. He was instrumental in rehabilitating the cricket careers of many players including the likes of Thilan Samaraweera and Thilina Kandamby while he also unearthed fresh talent in Tharanga Paranavitarna, Angelo Mathews, Chamara Kapugedara,Chanaka Welagedera and Dammika Prasad. Additionally he got the best out of players like Malintha Warnapura Suranga Lakmal and Isuru Udana. He was soon elevated to work with the national team as Shadow Coach and the extent of his effectiveness was common knowledge.”

‘Given this exceptional background,’ Skandakumar said, ‘ the sudden and totally unexpected termination of his services sent shock waves not only through cricketing circles and the media, but the national team itself. In that respect I wish to quote to you lines from a letter of appeal that the national captain Kumar Sangakkara addressed to the Interim committee which received wide publicity. The lines speak for themselves. “MY INTEREST IN REGAINING HIS SERVICES IS PURELY SELFISH. I WANT TO BE PART OF A TEAM THAT IS COACHED BY THE BEST. I FIRMLY BELIEVE THAT AFTER THE 2011 WORLD CUP, CHANDIKA HAS THE CAPABILITY TO ABLY HEAD THE COACHING OF THE NATIONAL TEAM. THE WHOLE SQUAD OF NATIONAL PLAYERS RESPECT HIM AND ADMIRE HIM FOR THE WORK DONE”

“Ladies and Gentlemen, you will now be fully aware of the obstacles and frustrations Chandika has had to endure and overcome in his career. Given this fervent appeal from a very successful and highly educated national captain, tendered on behalf of the entire national squad, the refusal of the interim committee to review that decision defies logic or reason. That is further compounded by the fact that there were I believe mitigating circumstances attached to Chandika’s actions that precipitated the inquiry.

While wishing you , Shivika and the children all that is best down under, I am sure that those genuinely interested in the welfare of the game will hope that your invaluable services will not be Australia’s gain and that in the not too distant future , you will be reinstated in your rightful position with the national team. Meanwhile your termination Chandika could well go down in the annals of history as a cricketing tragedy as it is inconceivable that a responsible controlling body of national cricket could turn its back on such expertise particularly when it comes from one of our very own Sri Lankans.”

God bless you and your family.

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