It was a strange coincidence the day Bangladesh scored a historic maiden ODI series win over South Africa that an article should appear on DS de Silva on ESPN Cricinfo titled “Somachandra de Silva’s age-defying journey”.
Whilst agreeing to what author Janaka Malwatta portrays of De Silva as a cricketer, it is pertinent to mention here that it was De Silva’s poor misjudgment of Chandika Hathurusingha as a potential Sri Lanka coach that saw him end up coaching a different country other than his motherland.
That piece of impetuous decision-making took place when De Silva was chairman of the government appointed interim committee that administered Sri Lanka Cricket at the time. De Silva’s grouse was that Hathurusingha had disobeyed his orders and returned home early before the one-day tri-series final in Zimbabwe to follow a coaching course in Australia.
However at the inquiry Hathurusingha stated, “What I fail to understand is there was no official complaint by the manager and there was no official request for me to stay back with the team from SLC, until I left. I only had a verbal discussion with the chairman that’s all. The decision taken by SLC to sack me came as a surprise. I never expected it because I still don’t think I have done anything wrong.”
However the damage was done and even a personal appeal made on behalf of the team by Kumar Sangakkara, the Sri Lanka captain, requesting a lenient punishment for Hathurusingha considering his value to the team especially ahead of the 2011 World Cup fell on deaf ears. Hathurusingha was suspended on disciplinary grounds.
At the time of this incident Hathurusingha was the shadow coach of the national team and was being groomed under head coach Trevor Bayliss as his understudy. He served in the capacity for one and half years before his unexpected exit. During that period Hathurusingha played an integral part in the players’ development. Although he was asked by Bayliss to look after the batting, plan for the opposition and formulate game plans, he also played a big role in the players’ mental make-up which had made them become successful cricketers at international level.
Unable to bear the ill-treatment he received at the hands of SLC Hathurusingha migrated to Australia with his family where he became a successful assistant coach with state side New South Wales, head coach of Sydney Thunder and assistant coach of the Australian ‘A’ side before Bangladesh grabbed him last year and signed him on a two-year contract.
Since gaining Test status in 2000 Bangladesh has gone through several foreign coaches including Dav Whatmore who coached Sri Lanka to win the World Cup in 1996. Whatmore once confessed that Bangladesh was the most difficult team to coach because of the players’ attitude. None of the past coaches were able to address this issue until Hathurusingha arrived.
He made it known to the rest of the team that he meant business and that big names in the team mattered little to him. For him the team came first not individuals. Not surprisingly the first player to suffer from his stringent rules was none other than all-rounder Shakib Al-Hasan, who was adored by the entire nation as a super star.
Shakib was suspended by the Bangladesh Cricket Board from all cricket for six months and was not granted an NOC to play in overseas competitions till the end of 2015 following “serious misbehavior” with Hathurusingha and for his altercation with a spectator during an ODI against India. His suspension got across the message to the rest of the team that Hathurusingha was not going to stand for any kind of nonsense. He had the full backing of the Bangladesh CB that issued a statement on the lines, “He (Shakib) has a severe attitude problem, which is unprecedented in the history of Bangladesh cricket. We think that his behaviour is such that it’s directly impacting the team. What is perhaps more alarming is that other players have started to behave like him. If this continues, our future will be destroyed. So that’s why we believe he deserves a strict punishment.”
Hathurusingha it is reported has not directly addressed individual players, but he has let many of them know what is expected of star performers and cricketers.
“It is for me to educate them in that sense, make them understand what their responsibility is,” Hathurusingha said. “If you play well that’s how you become stars. I haven’t done it individually, but I have talked to them in a group. What makes us special, why do people want to look at you or follow you?
“I have actually spoken as a senior group, talking about legacy once they finish their careers, talked along those lines. How to behave; if you play well, all these things follow, so one must not forget that. We have addressed that in a way.”
The discipline that Hathurusingha has brought to the Bangladesh side is today paying great dividends. Signs that Bangladesh cricket was on the rise was witnessed during the 2015 Cricket World Cup in March.
On the back of 3-0 and 5-0 wins over Zimbabwe, Bangladesh reached the quarter-final of the World Cup for the first time, defeating England on their way. Then they crushed Pakistan 3-0 and a full-strength India 2-1 at home. Last Wednesday they beat South Africa 2-1, a team that in the last 13 years had defeated them by margins of 206, 168 and 128 runs, and twice by ten wickets.
Hathurusingha has been a key factor in the team’s turnaround since last October. To some extent Bangladesh cricket owes it to an individual by the name of Somachandra de Silva for their success. Sri Lanka‘s loss is turning out to be Bangladesh’s gain. How many similar individuals have we let slip through our cordon due to the folly of bungling administrators?