By Madushka Balasuriya
Sri Lanka Cricket yesterday held a special coaching seminar for over 75 provincial and youth coaches in the country. The move is the latest in a string of initiatives put in place by Sri Lanka Cricket this year, beginning with the recruitment of Simon Willis as High Performance Manager, to formulate a holistic coaching structure from the grassroots level upwards.
Following the seminar, SLC held a press conference to engage with the media and to also formally announce the inclusion of Hashan Tillakaratne and Upul Chandana to the national coaching staff. Chandana will work under Willis in the coaching department, which is presently being finalised, as an overall fielding consultant with a large purview, as no clear role has yet been formalised. Tillakaratne meanwhile will undertake the role of one of the assistant batting coaches, and will use his experience as a former captain and integral member of the national team to assist up and coming players in the system.
“This coaching seminar, which is going to be the first of many in the future, highlights exactly what we’re focusing on at the moment, which is to try and develop our coach’s knowledge right through to the grassroots level and to work towards one cause. That is to develop cricketers that are able to perform at the highest level,” explained SLC Cricket Committee Chairman Aravinda De Silva.
On the appointments of Tillakaratne and Chandana he added: “It’s great to have these guys with such vast experience and knowledge with us. Hashan will be one of the lead batting coaches who will help batsman in the development squads, and Upul will also be doing similar work on the fielding side with a lot of provincial and youth teams.
Noting the wide scope offered to the new coaching additions, De Silva emphasised that more important than the particular role of a coach was the need to get all the coaches from various districts and provinces to try and work together in one direction.
“What we’re trying to do is to get all the coaches to understand that there is one Sri Lankan way of coaching. This is to ensure that the kids, even at the lower levels, aren’t confused and that the right message is sent to them,” he added, warning against the dangers of ‘over-coaching’ a young talent which “may ruin their natural ability”.
We’ve identified 20 promising fast bowling prospects
Sri Lanka has long been known for its development of spinners and spinning all-rounders, with wickets island-wide favouring the players of that ilk. While this has seen Sri Lanka gain a lot of success in the subcontinent, a dearth of quality pace bowling talent has seen Sri Lankan sides over the years struggle on tours to nations such as Australia and South Africa.
This was one of the first areas Willis identified as needing improvement and the work being done via his High Performance Centre is already seeing some results.
“We’ve recently set up fast bowling programs because we had identified a shortage of quality fast bowlers in the country. We’ve identified 20 bowlers at the moment who are going on a fully intense program under Chaminda Vaas and the other coaches,” he explained, adding that going forward, further areas in terms of the needs of the national team will be identified and addressed.
“So we have both a short-term and long-term plan. We have to produce an oversupply of players for the national team in all skills. We want to create as many players as possible so that it creates competition and keeps the players in the national team on their toes.”
Sri Lanka Head Coach Graham Ford meanwhile also highlighted the need for more fast bowling all-rounders coming through the system, and praised the appointment of another batting coach for developing players as a way of helping achieve this goal.
“Appointing an extra batting coach is extremely important, it’s not just about coaching the batsman but it’s also about helping ensure that we get valuable runs from the tail,” noted Ford. “When we played here against Australia we saw that our spinners were able to get some runs and that saw the momentum shift in some of those Tests. So longer term it’s important that we start to produce seeming all-rounders, and I’m pleased to see the board is working towards that.”
In time we’ll become the leading fielding nation in world cricket
Ford was also full of praise for Chandana, who he remembers as being an “annoying” thorn in his side when he was coach of South Africa. Relating a story from when he was coaching against Sri Lanka, Ford recalled how “brilliant fielder” Chandana had through his “sheer speed” prevented South Africa from salvaging a result.
“I always remember Upul as a brilliant fielder and quite annoying in fact. There’s one incident that sticks out, where we were playing at Galle and taking quite a beating and ended up following on, so it was all about seeing ourselves through to the close of play. One batsman that seemed to be handling Murali okay was Gary Kirsten, so I was keen to see him get through the last delivery without getting out.
“So he works the ball on the leg side and sets out for a run, and I was so relieved because he had got through the last ball, so I turned my back on the game and walked off only for Upul to pick the ball up and run him out when he tried to complete the second run.”
“It was just the sheer speed that the man had in the field and South Africa had a great respect for his fielding ability so I’m sure he’s going to bring a lot to our coaching.”
Addressing the conference earlier, Sri Lanka fielding coach Nic Pothas had spoken about the importance of fielding to a successful team, and the fact that it was the one element in cricket where a team could strive to be successful for a majority of the time. Ford echoed these sentiments and believes that the work being put in at all levels currently will eventually reap great dividends in the future.
“So much of the good work done in the national team is down to the effort put in at the emerging levels, in particular fielding. Nic Pothas is doing a lot of work across the board and if we can add Upul to that I think in time we will become the leading fielding nation in world cricket.”