Andrew Fidel Fernando, Courtesy of ESPNcricinfo
Only four players remain from the Test XI Paul Farbrace oversaw in his last series as assistant coach with Sri Lanka. In August 2009, Muttiah Muralitharan still led the attack, Rangana Herath was still making his comeback into international cricket, and Thilan Thushara was the brightest pace-bowling hope. Four-and-a-half years and four captains later, the makings of a competitive pace battery is emerging, the top order is hinting at regeneration and the team has moved beyond Murali’s shadow. It is an exciting time to come aboard, Farbrace said, as he settles into the task of completing Sri Lanka’s transition successfully.
“It’s really encouraging to see new players coming through,” he said. “Suranga Lakmal was starting to get involved when I was here last time. I’m really pleased to see how he has developed. Shaminda Eranga is fantastic – he really does look a quality bowler. Nuwan Pradeep was someone who was around when I was here and he was working hard on his game then. To see those three guys, with Vishwa Fernando as well, you’ve got some very talented youngish fast bowlers. Not a lot of experience in terms of international cricket, but it’s quite exciting to see there’s some pace bowling coming through.
“From a batting point of view, Kithuruwan Vithanage played very well for his hundred in Dhaka – I really like the look of him. Kaushal Silva was someone who was scoring lots and lots of first-class runs. He was playing for the A team last time he was here. I worked with him on his keeping, so I know him pretty well. It’s really nice to see the likes of him getting the opportunity to play the longer form, just on the back of his performance and hard work. Everyone was delighted when he got his hundred. Dimuth Karunaratne looks a good player. He’s played nicely and is due a good score pretty soon, because he does the hard work and gets in. Right the way through, there’s a lot of talent.”
Farbrace joins the team with several major challenges looming. Beyond the ongoing series, two major limited-overs tournaments are on the horizon, in Bangladesh, before a full tour of England. Sri Lanka’s Twenty20 form has been satisfying, but their ODI returns have been less convincing. Their last series was a 3-2 loss against Pakistan.
“Our first big thing is obviously the Asia Cup – we want to compete and do well in that. Next is the World Twenty20, which is a format in which Sri Lanka are the No. 1 team in the world, and that’s because they’ve earned the right to be the top team in 20-overs cricket. We are going into that competition full of confidence. We’ve got four games at Chittagong, and Chittagong conditions will hopefully be advantageous for us. After this series our focus will be on those tournaments with a continual eye towards the World Cup in 2015.
“The one-day games in England will also give us an idea of how and where we need to keep working for World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, because conditions will be quite similar. The key thing is we’ve got to find our best 15 players. We’ve got to know what combinations are going to work for us.”
Farbrace’s contract began on January 1, and as former coach Graham Ford did not relinquish the senior team to him until the tour of Pakistan ended on January 20, Farbrace had been working with coaches in Sri Lanka to reacclimatise himself with the system. He was complimentary about the coaching structure in place, as well as of assistant coach Marvan Atapattu, bowling coach Chaminda Vaas and fielding coach Ruwan Kalpage.
“Marvan, Vaasy and Ruwan are all experienced people who have a lot of cricket knowledge and they’ve been great players for Sri Lanka. That’s a big advantage for me, to tap into their knowledge and their skills. We’ve spent a lot of the last week talking about players and the way we’re moving forward.”
“The great thing about Vaasy is that Vaasy played a lot of Test matches. The fast bowlers get to travel with Vaasy, spend time Vaasy, pick his brains and talk about the game. Vaasy is not going to be making technical changes during a Test match, but he’s able to talk them through the passage of play in games. How a game develops, how you bowl at different phases in the game, and how you bowl at different batsmen. It’s fantastic that they can get that out of Vaasy, and he’s very giving of his knowledge.”
Farbrace said his familiarity with the Sri Lanka system and players, and his relationship with Ford has eased his arrival in the dressing room. “The thing that has made it slightly easier is my relationship with Fordie. We worked together for five years at Kent, so all the time that he has been here, we’ve communicated. I’ve been up to speed with where he’s at.
“I’m quite lucky that I’ve had three years [with the team] before. I know some of the players. I know the coaches, and I know how things work. It’s a reasonably easier way to come into it. I’ve not been surprised by anything because I followed the team’s fortunes quite closely and a lot of the individuals. Having been here with them, you build a close affinity.”
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here
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