S. R. Pathiravithana in The Sunday Times, 27 October 2013
There needn’t be any beating around the bush. Sri Lanka’s cricket chief selector Sanath Jayasuriya has been involved with the game long enough to know the prevailing ground situation and what ammunition should be used to fight the battle and win the war. The Sunday Musings took this opportunity to pick his cricketing brains and get that great cricketer who changed the face of the game at one juncture to talk about what he and his band of selectors are up to and how they see the game of cricket progressing in the country.
The narration was segmented into three parts. The present situation, the short term plan and the long term plan. First to go through the magnifying glass was the junior segment – school cricket and where it has gone wrong. Initially Jayasuriya did not seem to agree with the statement that things have gone wrong with the schools segment. He said, “The schools segment is progressing and there are a lot of young cricketers with talent coming out of the mill.” However, the chief selector agreed that the culture of cricket had changed with a majority of parents putting a lot of emphasis on the education of their children.
He said, “If a child is in the mainstream of cricket we can help him. But, we cannot give them a guarantee about them representing the country one day. It is up to the individuals to decide on what their priorities are.”
Then speaking about drawbacks, Jayasuriya said he had noticed that the transition from school cricket to the District and Provincial cricket especially in the outstations was not as cohesive as expected. “At this point I must say sometimes the district coach may see the talent in certain boys and the school coach’s choice may be someone else. Here, there may be a clash of ideas. But what I want to stress is that there should be no favouritism. What we expect as this juncture is that both parties should make the national cause their priority. They must inculcate and encourage good talent up to the focus of the proper channels. Therefore, unlike in the past the five of us in the selection committee devote a lot of time watching even young talent. As a matter of fact, we make it a point to watch the junior games under 15 and under 17, besides the first eleven matches when we get the opportunity,” he said.
Jayasuriya agreed that there was a certain drop in the standard of school cricket. He said players like Arjuna Ranatunga, Aravinda de Silva, Asanka Gurusinha, Roshan Mahanama, Hashan Tillekeratne and Roshan Jurangpathy played school cricket with the promise of bigger deeds and likewise they represented the country while still in school or straight after that. But the situation was different now.
However, when posed with the question as chief selector if he and his team would pick a schoolboy to represent the country, Jayasuriya said, “They should be like the cricketers that I mentioned before. If they possess the same class and potential of the cricketers of that calibre, certainly I would not hesitate to elevate them to represent the national side”.
Then the focus turned onto the conversion from school cricket to the club segment. Jayasuriya said he saw the club segment as an important area. He said, “While playing at school the cricketers are looked after. It is a regimented atmosphere, but once they leave school they must make up their mind on how they are going to develop their game. This is the most crucial part of it. Now they come into a professional scene, where your training and dedication keep you in the game. There are no short cuts”.
Then the former Sri Lanka opening batsman tuned on to the premier cricket system. He said one cannot dispense the club system. For over a hundred years the club system has evolved and even he was a product of the club system. At the same time he admitted that there was an ever widening gap between the club structure and international cricket. He said, “Yes, the Lankan cricket administration and even we are aware of the situation. However, every time we have a discussion the club segment overpowers whatever ideas that are put across the board. However, this is a vital area that should be addressed. Whether it is provincial cricket or any other change that they decide to implement, it should be analysed carefully and implemented the way it suits our type of cricket the best. But it should be implemented as soon as possible”.
Our conversation then moved to national cricket. The question was how Sri Lanka was preparing itself for the challenges of taking part in the T-20 Championships in Bangladesh next year, the ICC World Cup in New Zealand and Australia the year after and the World Test Championships in England in 2017. Measured up, the Chairman of the Lankan Selection Committee was ready for it.
He said, “In the short term, we have a posse of young cricketers who are on the fringe of making it into the national team. At the same time the three senior cricketers in T.M. Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena have said that they would be available for selection till the next world cup in Australia in 2015. But, we have not relaxed because of that situation. “We are constantly scrutinising the performances and their current form. If a senior cricketer is slacking and is not among the runs, we will not hesitate to replace him with a younger player. We are not short of talent. For every slot from 1-11 we have replacements. The replacements may not be in the class of the top three, but they have what it takes to be in the next slot. However the younger lot also must be ready to work like professionals. For instance take Kumar Sangakkara as an example. You must see the way he trains. He takes a knock in the morning session and again in the evening he is at the nets. That is his dedication. He is willing to train and be in good shape at any given moment and just see, he made a fine knock of 169 runs in his last inning.”
When asked to name some of the youngsters who are within the ‘popping crease’, he said, “Cricketers in the calibre of Dinesh Chandimal, Lahiru Thirimanne, Kusal Janith Perera, Kithruwan Vithanage, Kaushal Silva, Ashan Priyanjan and Udara Jayasundera are the batsmen in focus right now. Though some are of the view that it was too soon that Chandimal was given the position of vice captain, how we see it is — he has the necessary qualities to go on in the international arena, and he should learn to take up the challenges that come along with it. Then Kusal Janith Perera also must work hard at his game. There is no doubt that he has the talent, but, talent alone will not take them to the full length of their careers. They must be willing to work hard like their seniors who have amply proved how hard work can bring in results”.
In bowling, the two fast bowlers — Suranga Lakmal and Shaminda Eranga — have improved by leaps and bounds. They have made use of their stints with the ‘A’ side and they are now ready to join the rest of the fast bowlers in the grid.
Talking of off-spinner Dilruwan Perera, Jayasuriya said that he does not understand how he has been overlooked for so long because he is a young cricketer with a lot of potential. Sachitra Senanayake is another young cricketer who has impressed and Jayasuriya added that he too would have a long way with the national team. Another name that came across the board was of all-rounder Ramith Rambukwella who, according to Jayasuriya, has a lot of potential with his off spinners and middle order batting.
Talking beyond 2015, Jayasuriya said that they have made it compulsory to have some very young blood working with the seniors, even while engaged in internationals. He added, “They have to get that exposure. I am sure by 2017, the youngsters now would be experienced enough to play one-on-one with any foreign opponent”.
The chief selector then took on the subject of the coaches who are working with the cricketers. He said whenever possible he and his selectors make their way to the R. Premadasa Stadium to watch the posse of coaches at work. He said sometimes the people at Maitland Place may not know. Yet, we are aware of the workload that is put by the coaches there. Some of the coaches who are working with the juniors have not only identified players who have the potential to play the next under 19 world cup, but even the one that would follow. “The players are in constant training under the watchful eyes of the respective coaches. I know some of the players who need individual attention are being taken to indoor nets on the account of the coaches and they work with them till around 9.30 – 10 in the night.”
Jayasuriya added finally, “We are a country which is involved in playing serious cricket; people in this country and even the people living abroad love this game. Cricket has become a game that Sri Lanka is being identified with. Then it is our responsibility to live up to those expectations. For instance, we have said that these trial games should be taken seriously and the message has gone into the players. You can know that they are playing serious cricket when you look at the performances. It is a mirror of their capabilities”.