Dinesh Weerawansa, in Sunday Observer, April 2016, where the title is “Lankan team only lacks experience – Former Observer Schoolboy Cricketer Kumar Dharmasena”
Observer Schoolboy Cricketer turned ICC elite panel international umpire Kumar Dharmasena does not see any crisis situation in the Sri Lanka national team. In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Observer during his short visit to Colombo for the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, Dharmasena said he does not see any crisis or an alarming situation in the Sri Lanka team. The former Sri Lanka all-rounder who was a member of the 1996 World Cup-winning team, attributed the recent dismal performance of the national team due to lack of experience and international exposure and expressed confidence that the team would be able to bounce back in near future.
Dharmasena said winning the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title in 1989 was the turning point in his cricket career and paid a tribute to the Sunday Observer and the present sponsor SLT Mobitel for keeping the mega awards ceremony going, identifying it is a great source of encouragement to thousands of schoolboy cricketers across the island. The excerpts from the exclusive interview Dhramasena had with the Sunday Observer in his shot visit to Colombo during the Indian Premier League tournament in which he is officiating at present.
When you compare with the present day school cricket and that of your era, what are the differences you see?
Firstly, there is a drastic drop in spectator interest. When I was playing for Nalanda in the late 80s, we saw good crowds at most of the inter-school matches. But it does not happen now. That may be due to various factors – too much of cricket and the spectators’ preference to watch the television coverage under home comforts. Secondly and the most importantly, present day schoolboy cricketers are being groomed more on T20 games and limited over cricket, rather than the conventional two-day matches. During our time, we were mainly focused on outright wins in schools two-day matches. Our coaches always told us to earn wickets with quality bowling. But now, it’s a matter of the bowlers trying to contain the batsmen to go through the overs or batsmen going for unconventional strokes to maintain their run rate in limited over games. That kills the established game.
How did you feel when you were adjudged the proud recipient of the prestigious Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year some 27 years ago?
It was the biggest turning point in my cricket career. In fact it was a big blessing to my school career when I stepped in to club cricket and international arena after representing Nalanda in school cricket. When you win such award, you are always a step ahead. It was the most rewarding thing that a schoolboy cricketer could ever dream of, after all the hard work during a strenuous season of over seven months. The Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award was a source of encouragement for me to go places in international cricket.
How could Sri Lanka national team get out of its present crisis situation? What are your suggestions to build another world champion team?
I don’t see it as a crisis but a situation that they have encountered due to lack of experience and international exposure. Everyone concerned will have to take the blame. There is enormous talent to feed the national pool. We always had rich talent. But the problem was that we have not set the right retirement plans for the top cricketers and allowed them to retire whenever they wish. When most top players quit in the same era, a big vacuum develops in the team.
In other countries, players are given optional retirement plans at the right time, in the best interests of their teams. For an example, a top player like Shane Watson had to call it a day as his team wanted to groom a prospective player to establish in that position in the next few years. Unfortunately we have not implemented such retirement plans for the past eight to ten years.
In the past we have seen some top schoolboy cricketers marching directly to the national team from school level and cement their places in next to no time, for an example you and some of the other star players in the same era, such as Muttiah Muralitharan and Marvan Atapapptu. Why don’t we experience that now?
There again, it is a problem that could be attributed to present they strategies of school cricket coaches and officials who pay undue attention on limited over cricket and T20s. The present day schoolboy cricketers are not focused enough on the longer version of the game. During our time, almost every top team had players who have captured over 80 wickets or scored over 800 to 1,000 runs. But we don’t experience that now. They only try to contain the batsmen and don’t work hard to earn wickets. This is the scenario we experience not only at Under-19 level but in other age groups in school cricket as well.
Your vigil eye during the recent ICC T20 World Cup found the ultimate anchorman in the champion West Indies team Marlon Samuels a fair deal the final against England. Samuels appeared to have edged a Liam Plunkett delivery to England wicketkeeper Jos Buttler. Samuels started his long walk back to the pavilion. It looked to the naked eye as if the ball had landed right into the gloves of Buttler. How do you recall that incident?
I was standing as the square leg umpire and felt as if there was something amiss about what had happened. We, in the umpires’ panel, always work as a team and when I expressed my views, it was decided to consult to the TV umpire who ultimately ruled Samuels not out. Television replays showed that the ball had clearly bounced before entering Buttler’s gloves. (Samuels went on to play a match-winning innings of 85 not out)
Now that you have achieved great heights as a cricketer, what are your future goals as an international umpire? Which level of umpiring you enjoy the most – Tests, ODI or T20s?
Honestly, I enjoy the most as a Test umpire. Officiating as an umpire in the Ashes series or a Test at the Lord’s is greater than any other level in the limited over games. There is no doubt about that! I wish to complete 50 Tests as an ICC umpire and see how it goes thereafter.