Talking Cricket with Michael de Zoysa, I: Managerial Tasks on Tour

Michael Roberts, courtesy of island.ckt …

When composing my essay on Russell Arnold in April last I rang Michael de Zoysa in Lanka in order to get some insights. In passing he indicated that he had just submitted his Manager’s Report on the Tour of NZ and Australia. When I met him for an extended chat in Colombo in late May he indicated that the new Interim Board had not sought him out to discuss this assessment or talk cricket.[1] Neither, it seems, have our ‘erstwhile’ reporters.[2]

MIKE DE ZOYSAMichael de Zoysa is a straight talker and is prepared to level criticism at one’s face. He does not wish his report to be buried. As it happens I know him well. So I can affirm that, apart from considerable executive experience in the private sector, he brings to the cricketing table something I totally lack: the ability to read and decipher turf wickets.** Succeeding the late Ranil Abeynaike he has overseen the management of the SSC grounds and its precious wickets for some time.

I stumbled on this facet, this asset, quite accidentally. It rose from my quirky opening gambit during our chat. Picking up on unconfirmed grapevine information from Adelaidian Aussie circles, I asked Michael what the practice was in World Cup matches with reference to the preparation of pitches and whether the ICC oversaw that task. The Aussie rumours intimated that the drop-in pitch for the World Cup final at the MCG was much bouncier and quicker than that used for the Quarter Final between Bangladesh and India.

Drop-in pitches have to be transported and placed very late at night because of the giant transporters and their road requirements.  In short, the implication was that the locals had tilted the arena in favour of the Aussies – not that the Kiwis were short of pace, but that their attacking batsmen were likely to be undone. This was, I repeat, unconfirmed gossip and a thought to be placed on hold in the air as “a possibility.”

In response de Zoysa was explicit. The task of overseeing World Cup pitch preparation was in ICC hands; it was their domain. But when Country A tours Country B, pitch preparation is vested with home team B. However, touring team A has the right to examine a Test match pitch some days beforehand and demand alterations (within reason of course). This is best done about four days before a match commences. He indicated that during Sri Lanka’s last tour of England he had reviewed the Oval(?) grounds before an ODI match and sent a formal letter to ICC and England seeking shaving of the grass layer.

Managers Today

In the ‘good old days,’ Managers of SL teams had more clout than today. They chaired the Selection Committee on tour.[3] As I had played cricket with such forceful and intelligent managers as Neil Chanmugam[4] and Michael Tissera[5] I was occasionally privileged to overhear some selection talk in hotel rooms in Adelaide. But over the last ten years or so, a Selector has joined the tour and the Manager has less clout. Doubtless this dimension varies with the individual, but it may be wise for the SL Cricket Board to have considered meetings with the Manager they have chosen with the Captain and Vice-Captain present so as to iron out responsibilities. Central to this review is the necessity of taking care to inspect the pitches that the team will be confronting on tour before any match with Manager and assigned team member undertaking this duty at some point before match day. This is a necessary precaution.

As vital is attention to the development of team spirit and camaraderie by regulating the periods when wives and girl-friends can join the players. This is vital arena where the previous SLC board of 2014/15 failed to exercise regulatory power during the tour of New Zealand and Australia. The laissez faire policy meant that in the result several senior players and not-so-senior players as well as some of the supporting staff hardly interacted with the rest of the team outside training sessions. The issue is so important that it calls for a separate essay.

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[1] I expect that the Coaches and captain have also filed reports and that some adverse comments re de Zoysa could feature in these remarks. The SLC board has to tread carefully, of course, and cannot release all confidential reports. However they do need to discuss matters with all concerned in camera.

[2] Journalists are expected to explore uncomfortable terrain. The specifics of selection during the two tours and the unusual appointment of Rumesh Ratnayake as Additional bowling Coach when Chaminda Vaas was already on board should have been issues they probed.

[3] Michael de Zoysa was aware of the SLC constitution and was therefore part of the Selection Team on tour. However, I believe thatManagers have not been excluded from this process in recent years. I am subject to correction on this point.

[4] Chanmugam and I played cricket together and against each other at the University of Ceylon in the late 1950s. When h was Manager of the SL team during a tour of Australia, I was chatting with him and Duleep Mendis (captain) when Roy Dias walked in. They began to address a selection issue so I got up. But they motioned me to stay. Friendship breeds trust.

[5] Likewise I was chatting with Michael Tissera in his Hyatt hotel room in Adelaide once in early 2006 when he received a phone call from the Chairman Selectors (Kaluperuma?) in Colombo and proceeded to discuss a team issue (I cannot recall what, but it was a sensitive one) without being bothered by my presence.

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Filed under Angelo Mathews, International Cricket Council, politics and cricket, Sri Lanka Cricket, World Cup 2015

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