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Cricket news - No light at the end of the tunnel for Sri Lankan cricket - Atapattu
To mention that Sri Lankan cricket is currently in disarray may not be too far from an understatement. Following Sri Lanka's Test series loss to Australia - their third successive series loss on the trot - former captain and coach Marvan Atapattu opens up about the state of Sri Lankan cricket and how it presents a picture of a grim future.
Is this the darkest period for Sri Lankan cricket?
Honestly, I would say there have been bad times. But we always could see a light at the end of the tunnel. But the way things are being handled and what I see now, there's nothing like that. There are more than a few reasons why I say that. It's coming from outside, it's within the team, it's something to do with planning, and it's something to do with people outside waiting to come into the board. Everybody having different ideas and agendas. I think you can have a million ideas but you have to arrive at one common place and give it a go. It's no good doing something today and saying tomorrow what we did yesterday was wrong and going on.
So you just see darkness in the distance now?
I don't see light. I am inside the tunnel but I don't see light. I am not surprised, and I hope I'm wrong, but for some of these players and support staff who are in the system and are the face of Sri Lanka cricket at the moment, it's the same and that's dangerous. For somebody in the system to not know where they are going is dangerous.
How did Sri Lankan cricket get here?
The term transition gets used over and over again, and I think that's something we need to forget and eradicate from our vocabulary as a Sri Lankan fan, ex-cricketer and present player or coach. Yes, you don't have the services of Sanga, Mahela, Dilshan and now Herath. There has to be a set of guys whom you can invest on, and whom you trust and believe can carry the system forward. When you have 30+ players playing within 18 months representing Sri Lanka, that tells you that you are not quite sure whom to go with, whom to invest on. When you have different batting line-ups in each tournament and in every country that you go to, it tells you that you're confused and that leaves everyone confused, including player and fan. So it's like you telling me you're good enough for No. 3 in Sri Lanka for a couple of months, and then you go to another country and 'Ah you're not good enough'. You're not No. 3 anymore. What does it tell you?
There's this uncertainty that has crept in. When you're a good unit, and a team, you know as a fan yes, these are my openers and you don't have to watch a game or listen to one. You knew in our days, if someone said two-down, Aravinda (de Silva) is at the wicket. When you say a spinner has taken a wicket for India, you know it's Ashwin. In Sri Lanka's context, who's a spinner? Sandakan?
You were part of the system till 2015. At what point did you think the downslide become irreversible?
I left after we lost to India and Pakistan in 2015 at home. That's when Sanga left, and he had a major role in there. But 2015-16 is when it started going the other way. People who are responsible, and I'm talking administrators, coaches, media and the cricketers need to have one ambition, one plan to work with. You can't have two sets of administrators coming and saying two different things, and two sets of selectors coming and doing the same. Say for instance, Chamika Karunaratne. Was he ready to play Test cricket? My question is that. It's good for him and he got a wicket in his first over. He could have easily scored a fifty. But what does it tell you? It's like a fluke. Did you train him enough at A team level? He wasn't ready. Not in his wildest dreams, he would have thought that he would be here. So where's the planning? There is no planning. So you are just thinking things will fall in place, but it doesn't happen like that.
Who do you start blaming first?
You can't point a finger at an individual. It's about keeping your differences aside. At the moment, everybody is trying to get everybody's vote. It's about saying 'yes, I have got this one on my side." It's not about having a national policy for cricket right now. It's not about 'if I come into power, I will come and change things'. But if you are an ex-cricketer, you want cricket to do well. So why wait until only you come into power to help or contribute.
Are the former greats from your era giving back enough?
I can speak for myself. I don't want to get involved. I don't want to get branded as someone's supporter. I have played cricket very happily and luckily. I just want to enjoy my retirement. If I can contribute with a word even, I would but at the correct forum and not to gain publicity. I find many from my era to be similar in terms of keeping a low-profile.
Do you think people in power have realised that the rot has set in or are they in denial?
I think people have realised it but they try to not talk about it. Everybody wants power in Sri Lanka. But nobody says I want to serve Sri Lankan cricket. It's the same in other sports too in Sri Lanka. If it's an honorary job and you're an ex-cricketer, why fight over it? It's not worth it. Isn't it better to get together, make a policy and give it a shot? The way things are working, it's personal pride that people are after.
All this talk of corruption, to what level do you think it's seeped in?
It's hard for me to comment without knowing hard facts. But there are enough and more questions raised. From what's going around and what you get to hear, it seems like anything is possible. For a fan, who has not played cricket, it might sound a bit weird. But for someone who's played cricket like us, if you think deep, in this field of corruption and how the script's being written, anything is possible.
How did you deal with hearing about Sanath Jayasuriya and Nuwan Zoysa, two guys you played a lot of cricket with, coming under the scanner?
It is shocking. But with the fame and popularity in our part of the world, you don't know who you are talking to or taking photographs with. And suddenly he's some person who's wanted by the ASCU. In Sanath's case, as I've learned, it's a case of him not producing his phone. It's unfortunate what's happened to a legend like that who changed the country. For the game's sake, you have to clean up things though. It's been dragging on too long, this corruption, and like Russel (Arnold) said in an interview it could lead to a case where you don't trust each other within the 15-member squad even.
At some level, are you hoping more that it's not true?
Hundred per cent. We hear about amnesty, them (ACU) having an office in Colombo, and we hear about all that but we don't know, and nobody knows the depth of what has happened. You can hope that it's not as much as they say but things need to be ironed up for the game's sake.
Where does the reversal start?
Look at India. During our time they had Javagal (Srinath) and (Venkatesh) Prasad but now they have six fast bowlers who can be called upon at any time. We need a separate unit who look after our fast bowlers, get their discipline right, get them to respect the game, and put enough into the game.
Why would anyone want to be a coach of the Sri Lankan team? Look what has happened to Chandika Hathurusingha and him being removed as a selector.
(laughs)... That's a million-dollar question. I must admit that over the last 7-8 years, Sri Lanka haven't handled their coaches very well. It's like you win a game, and you're a hero. The moment you lose a game, you have to start looking over your shoulder and see if they are going to catch hold of the coach as a scapegoat. It's always the coach who's to blame. If the coach is a bit too hard, which was the case in Chandika's then you've seen what happens. Earlier, it was with Angelo [Mathews], and they got rid of him as captain. In my opinion, you can't judge a coach on performances at such a short notice. Look at the team Chandika has. It's hard isn't it? You give Steve Waugh's team, you don't need to have a [John] Buchanan. You can have me as the coach or my father, and we'll still win. I don't have to get [Glenn] McGrath or [Shane] Warne to do anything. It seems like agreements with the authorities as a coach, is just a piece of paper on the table to sign. They don't seem to be putting any value to it. It's not a great reputation to have as a nation. You need to give some value to the head coach. You don't want him to be someone who just says good things about their players.
There were victories that came during your time - T20 WC, Test series win in England, and Asia Cup. How do you look back at your time? Happy memories or just plain regrets?
Every day that I was a coach, I had concerns, win or lose. I found it very, very hard compared to being a player or even a captain. It was a very stressful job. I don't know whether that's because how they treat people in my country. I was very uncomfortable through winning and losing. People who make decisions come and talk not based on sense but just purely on emotions. They are outsiders and make decisions on what your salary is. When those people barge into the system and start saying this is what we need to be doing, at a point you wonder why they're doing that? Those are the times that made me regret being a coach.
Lasith Malinga sums up the issues with Sri Lanka's conditions. Last year he was not playing for Sri Lanka and was in the support staff with Mumbai Indians. Now he's back as Sri Lanka's potential World Cup captain. How do you explain this?
The only way I can explain that is because you have two different groups of selectors, one finishing their term and the other starting over having two different ideas. If Sri Lanka cricket had a vision of the players who are going to represent the country over the next 12 months and had them covered by a contract, the selectors' changing would just be a selection change because the policy has been set. You as an individual selector can't say "x" is good today and I become a selector tomorrow and you say, "x" is no good. How unfair is it on that player we're talking about? You are chosen as a captain and then all of a sudden, you are notified that you're not a captain. Sri Lanka have had five captains in the last 18 months in both formats. They have only not tried you and me. It's like captaincy is for sale in Sri Lanka.
Has it reached a point where players are scared to express their opinions?
I won't be surprised if that's the case. There should be a proper channel for all players to express their opinions to the administrators. We were lucky during our time to have Arjuna [Ranatunga] who we could go to, and who at times could take decisions himself. He had all the backing.
Has Angelo Mathews been treated unfairly?
I don't know what's happening behind the scenes. As Chandika said after the Asia Cup defeat that they're concerned about his running between the wickets and his partners getting run out. They removed him from the captaincy and what did he do? He came in and made a few runs, and he's doing push-ups and signalling to the dressing-room. What was he trying to say? We know. But is that the culture that you want? He's a senior player and needs to be the frame. As a team we need to work on fitting him into the frame.
Sri Lanka barely escaped playing the qualifiers for the 50-over World Cup and will be playing the qualifiers for the T20 WC next year. You lost a Test at home to Bangladesh. Has it sunk in how far you've sunk?
And imagine how many finals have we played in the T20 WC? Three times, and won the tournament once. Now, we are neither good at T20 or Test cricket. You can't be playing qualifiers for T20 WC and be sixth among 12 teams, which includes Afghanistan and Ireland. We are nowhere in either list, and ODIs are the same. Where are we going?
And then there's the first-class system everyone talks about.
We have 24 teams playing in the first-class system. We are halfway through the season, and have 12 double-centurions up to now, and one guy scoring two in the same game (Angelo Perera who became the first since Arthur Fagg in 1938). It tells you there are lots of batsmen scoring lots of runs. Does it tell you anything about the quality of the bowling? No, because there are 24 teams. These players then get picked for the A team or the developmental squad under the high-performance system. Where do they get their experiences? Playing Bangladesh A, Ireland A, Zimbabwe in our conditions. So they are playing even a lower grade than our first-class system. They come to the national team from there, and we expect them to be Sangakkaras, Jayawardenes and Dilshans. It won't happen. It's an eternal wait. But the Sri Lankans will come and say young team. That bugs me. In terms of matches, they're not a young team. These Australians in this series are much younger here.
Do you see anyone by any chance holding a switch anywhere to find that light at the end of the tunnel?
I think we can turn it around if we keep away our political and other differences aside. Treat cricket as a different entity and as the pride of your nation. We would want the rest of the world to know our country for our cricket. It's not tea anymore. It used to be a Jayasuriya country, Ranatunga country, de Silva country. We want that again. Get more minds together and have one ambition and vision. Give the future cricketers a clear path. Don't message coaches and send Whatsapps saying "include this player, and you'll be rewarded" which some ministers have done. Look at the support cricketers get in Australia, and they know who is coming next from Pucovski and Patterson. We are totally blind at the moment, only darkness.
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