There was a time when Sri Lanka had to depend on cricketers from other nations to come and help them out with their cricket.
Soon after Sri Lanka achieved Test status in 1981, the Cricket Board president Gamini Dissanayake, a man with a vision got down cricketers like Peter Philphott, Sir Garfield Sobers, Don Smith and even a renowned psychologist from the Caribbean like Rudi Webster to help our cricketers find their feet at international level. The Minister knew that Sri Lanka needed to draw expertise from nations who had played Test cricket before them.
Minister Dissanayake’s concept of getting down foreign coaches to give the national team the knowledge they lacked at Test level as well as individuals in other fields who form part of the support staff continues even today. Although the present Sri Lanka team has a local as their head coach they have in their midst two foreigners in Australian Stephen Mount who is the team’s physiotherapist and Englishman Michael Main who is the trainer.
That Sri Lanka cricket has benefitted immensely by the presence of these foreign experts is to say the least. They have won two World Cups (50-over in 1996 and T20 in 2014) and reached the finals of four World Cups – 2007 and 2011 (50-over) and 2009 and 2012 (T20). At the same time they have been amongst the top five Test-playing nations for a considerable period of time. Through these foreign coaches the country has managed to produce cricketers of repute that today it is the other cricket playing nations who are seeking the assistance of past Sri Lankan cricketers to help them enhance their skills and knowledge on the game.
The latest addition to this ever increasing list is former captain and cricket legend Mahela Jayawardene who is to join the England side as batting consultant during their winter series against Pakistan in the UAE.
Jayawardene retired from international cricket last year but continued to play T20 cricket in England and the Caribbean when he was approached for this new coaching assignment which he has accepted.
When New Zealand toured Sri Lanka in 2012, the Black Caps used the subcontinent expertise of Sri Lanka’s most successful fast bowler Chaminda Vaas to help their seamers by signing him up as bowling consultant. New Zealand ended up sharing the two-match series one-all by winning the second Test.
Almost on similar lines the game’s greatest wicket-taker Muthiah Muralitharan was hired by Australia to improve their spin credentials in Asian conditions. Muralitharan who took 800 Test wickets and 534 ODI wickets in his career was coaching consultant for Australia’s Test series against Pakistan in the UAE last year.
Another former Sri Lanka cricketer Chandika Hathurusingha broke new ground when he became the first Sri Lankan to be appointed head coach of an ICC full member country when Bangladesh signed him up last year on a two-year contract. Along with Hathurusingha two other former cricketers were also contracted by the Bangladesh Cricket Board – Ruwan Kalpage who is their fielding coach and Mario Villavarayen as trainer.
The success of Bangladesh in the past five months by qualifying for a World Cup quarter-final place for the first time in their history and then going onto beat Pakistan, India and South Africa in the ODI series just proves to what extent the coaches and support staff from Sri Lanka have been successful in turning out an ordinary team of cricketers into a match-winning unit that has made other countries sit up and take notice.
Bangladesh’s recent success cannot only be attributed to those involved with the national team alone for the foundation for it was laid by past Sri Lankan cricketers as well like Carlton Bernadus, who structured their domestic cricket from school level and, Malcolm Perera and Sumithra Warnakulasuriya who coached their junior cricketers.
On a lesser scale former Sri Lanka vice-captain and perhaps the country’s first ever Test batting great Roy Dias was associate member country Nepal’s guiding light for over a decade and his tenure as coach of both the senior and junior sides has seen the country produce remarkable results.
After Dias quit, another former Sri Lanka cricketer wicket-keeper Pubudu Dassanayake who had coached Canada to the 2011 Cricket World Cup took over Nepal and is their present coach.
Former Sri Lanka captain Duleep Mendis who played alongside Dias is currently coaching Oman who has qualified to play in a major ICC event for the first time – the 2016 ICC World Twenty20 in India. By qualifying they also secured T20 international status for the next four years.
Off-spinner Mumtaz Yusuf who toured England with the Sri Lanka team in 1984 in their first official visit coached Malaysia before settling down in Los Angeles where he coaches their junior squads, several of whom have been selected to represent USA.
What these past cricketers have proved is that Sri Lanka is second to none when it comes not only to playing the game but in other facets of it as well.