Fate of women’s cricket in the hands of husband-and-wife duo

Thursday, 23 September 2021 01:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

 Hashan and Apsari Tillakaratne



  • Hashan and Apsari given the task of uplifting standards

By Sa’adi Thawfeeq

Sri Lanka has many ‘firsts’ in its history and the husband-and-wife combination handling women’s and girls’ cricket could be another in its ever-growing list.

The fate of Sri Lanka women’s cricket is now in the hands of former Sri Lanka Test Captain Hashan Tillakaratne and his wife Apsari Tillakaratne. While Apsari scouts for talent at grassroot level from the outstations and oversees development and promoting cricket amongst the schools, Hashan is the Head Coach of the national cricket team preparing them for the international matches ahead. The immediate task for Hashan is to get the national women cricketers up and running in readiness for the 2021 Women’s Cricket World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe in November-December where the top three teams from the qualifier will progress to the 2022 Women’s Cricket World Cup in New Zealand.

“Right now, we are in a bubble and playing five very competitive practice games amongst the 23 players with umpires and scorers to pick the final 17 before the deadline of 16 October,” said Hashan. 

“We are finishing all the matches on 29 September and selecting the 17 players on 30 September.”

The matches are being played at the P. Sara Oval. Prior to this, the women cricketers completed a training session in Dambulla.

The players will disband after 30 September and get together again and form a new bubble on 7 or 8 October till their departure to Zimbabwe on 15 November for the World Cup Qualifiers.

In order to prepare the women cricketers for this all-important qualifying event, Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) tried to get Pakistan women cricketers down and send our women cricketers to Bangladesh in November, but unfortunately both tours have fallen through. SLC CEO Ashley de Silva said that they were in the process of organising an SLC Invitational 50-over tournament for women next month with four teams participating.

Apsari, who has been appointed as Convenor – Women’s Cricket by SLC said that she is mostly involved with the Development Squad. 

“My job is to tap the talent at the grassroot level and bring them up to national standard. The players I prepare from the Development Squad are the one that acts as a feeder to the national team coached by my husband Hashan.”

“We did the Development Squad for two years and 70% of the players who were in that squad are the ones who are playing in the national team today. We lost a lot of ground in the past two years due to COVID-19 and my contract not being extended. As a result, the newcomers are all at home and they have been sending messages to me saying ‘we are getting old, what do we do?’ We had a discussion with SLC. Our immediate goal is to take 20 girls and prepare the Development Squad as soon as the environment improves for cricket. That will be the next step,” said Apsari 

“When I first came in, there were girls playing from about seven or eight clubs. The same group was being recycled and played. Now it is not like that, there is competition for places. New talent is surfacing, we have prepared a pathway through the district and provinces, and it has formed nicely. The players who joined clubs progressed because we conducted the club tournament, but those who are outside cannot play for a club, nor do they have a school tournament. There is no SLC district or provincial tournament because of the pandemic and there is no going forward for them. There are a lot of talented girls and I feel really sorry for them.” Until COVID-19 struck, Apsari had been going out of Colombo to the outstations and concentrating her attention on schools that are struggling to play cricket and also hunting for talent.

“We look for hidden talent, and having identified them, we take them into the district squad and then the coaches contact them and commence practice. There are schools where you may not find 11 players but there are one or two talented and potential players,” said Apsari. 

“When we go, we take the coaches from the districts, associations, schools and provinces. We go as a group to tap talent, and after that we do a talent program – training with basics to pick on those who are talented and have potential. More than forming a school team, our main aim is to weed out the hidden talent. The schools that are already playing cricket continue to do so.”

“From the schools, we select the players to play in a district tournament. From there, they get the training from SLC. From the tournament only we pick the Development Squad. We couldn’t work on it for the past three years from 2019. My no. 1 priority is the safety and security of the girls. There has been no incident so far since I took over. I take it as my personal responsibility. With that assurance only I go to the schools, and they have a lot of confidence that the wife of Hashan is the one who is in charge, and without any fear, they send the girls for district training. 

“When the male coaches go and request them to come, the parents are reluctant to send their girls. A lot of schools in far off places appreciate it a lot when someone goes personally and talks to them and invites them to send their girls to play cricket. At the moment, the coaches are conducting zoom practices from all districts. There are about 25 districts each with a squad of 20 players. Today there are so many players knocking on the door for recognition. The girls that we have identified, if they receive the proper training, develop their skills, toughen their mental condition and given the proper coaching, we can become the best team in Asia, which is our target.”

“I am like a brand ambassador doing the job of one, I am doing a promotion for cricket. A lot of people have not recognised my contribution. We have done a lot for the development of women’s cricket although it has not been made public. When the national women’s team loses, they blame me for it. Actually, I have nothing to do with the national team, it is not my area.”

Apsari has the full backing of the SLC top brass to carry out their vision for women’s cricket. SLC has set aside a budget for the promotion of girls’ cricket and Apsari has been given a vehicle and a driver to move around.

“I was given back the contract in 2020 by the present SLC President Shammi Silva, who called me personally and wanted me to continue what I had been doing. I am doing this as a service, not as a profession. I have got the fullest support from the SLC President and the two Vice Presidents, to whom I report. I carry out their vision for cricket, to introduce cricket to the villages and bring the hidden talent to the national team. That’s my role.”


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