Nelson Mendis (Pics by Eshan Dassanayake)

Veteran coach Nelson Mendis is a little concerned that the present generation of cricketers doesn’t read literature on cricket. There are occasions when he wants to dispense magazines he has read, but often there are no takers. Mendis who follows the game on and off the field even now, says that it is difficult to find complete cricketers today because players lack the passion for the game.

He is Director Coaching of CCC School of Cricket. Designation wise, he is the Chairman of the Executive Committee that handles affairs of the school of cricket he serves. Anyone chatting to him quickly fathoms that he believes in doing his job attired in white cricket gear, not coat and tie. He is a taskmaster and strict disciplinarian. But still he acknowledges the presence of parental pressure in cricket at school level.

Nelson MendisAccording to him, this became a culture with junior cricket because parents got far too ambitious after Sri Lanka won the World Cup in 1996. “I don’t encounter these problems with the full force because I know to keep parents in their place. Most parents, who send their children to my school, aren’t allowed into the practicing area beyond a certain point. The problem at present is that a good number of parents are trying to play the role of the coach,” Mendis said in an interview with Weekend Nation.

When this writer went to interview this coach, he was busy enrolling a female student at ‘his’ school. The coach presented the player with a cricket cap and advised the player to keep it clean. When he asked the player she should keep the cap clean there was no response. “Keeping the cap clean brings with it a message. There will be so many bad things associated with the game, but never let any of that to get into your head,” he said.
Mendis acknowledged the fact that parents do tend to offer gifts to coaches. “What can you do? It is rude to refuse a gift, but I tell my coaches that they should never favour any player or treat any one in a special way,” said the veteran coach who just turned 79-years-old a few weeks ago.

Cricket is a business at present. Inside Colombo if a stone is thrown it is bound to fall on a cricket school or academy. People like Mendis maintain standards where cricket is taught to young hopefuls. “All these academies are good. But there is one underlying thing that must be maintained if you run a cricket academy. The passion for cricket should never be surpassed by the passion to make money,” he said.

He remembered the humble beginnings he had in the game when he started playing cricket at Dharmasoka College, Ambalangoda. His team had just a few bats as opposed today where every kid has a bat. Mendis carried his own cricket gear for training. These are days we see a parent or aid carrying the cricket bag for most children. Players are spoilt these days. Mendis underscored the fact that a healthy attitude is very important for anyone taking to the game. He said that the cricketers in the bygone era did a lot of things on their own.

According to him, even coaches make mistakes. Often kids are victimized and Mendis does play the role of a councilor. He is also concerned about the number of hours school kids watch television. But he admitted that he was blessed to have some parents who never interfered with the coaches’ decisions and kids who tell him, “Sir I don’t watch television”.

He checks mothers who try to have their way during team selections. He said that mothers sometimes go to the extent of trying to influence the coach so as to decide where her son would bat or bowl. “Once, a mother was pestering a coach to bring the son on to bowl. The coach initially refused. Then I sent an instruction not to use this bowler unless absolutely necessary. When the bowler was finally brought in, the batsmen were well set and pummeled his bowling. I then looked at the mother and she looked the other way. A coach must never allow team spirit to be threatened,” he reflected.

Last year, he served as the Chef-de-Mission, when the Sri Lanka under 19 team toured England. He often takes his chargers at CCC School of Cricket to play overseas. Mendis has just returned after a successful tour of India where his students contested the 20th Foreign Tour of Hyderabad. He had a strong message for cricket academy coaches. “Doing sessions at the nets don’t suffice. Those who play plenty of matches will steamroll their way over the opposition,” he said.