Ford way – the forward way


Graham Ford in conversation with captain Mahela Jayawardene.  

by Rex Clementine

The year 2016 started with the national cricket team suffering new lows at the hands of a resurgent New Zealand side. The authorities needed to take several corrective measures to put things back on track and the foremost of them was to hire a proven coach. Graham Ford’s arrival will help Sri Lanka sort out many shortcomings.

Ford is a coach in the mould of Australia’s John Buchanan and New Zealand’s Mike Hessen. All three were average players, but were outstanding teachers of the great game of ours.

Originally from Pietermaritzburg, just outside Durban, Ford rose to prominence when he coached Natal. The team had West Indian superstar Malcolm Marshall and other rising South African youngsters like Shaun Pollock and Lance Klusener.

Cricket South Africa identified his immense potential and put him as understudy to Bob Woolmer for the 1999 World Cup. When Woolmer moved on after South Africa tied their World Cup semi-final against Australia and were knocked out of the finals, Ford took charge of the Proteas.

Now 55, Ford had stints with English counties Kent and Surrey and last year helped the latter to the top division of English County Cricket. Surrey’s Director of Cricket Alec Stewart announced Ford’s stepping down with regret.

Many top teams have shown interest in obtaining the South African’s services over the years. In 2007, he declined the lucrative coaching job of India after emerging as the preferred choice to take over from Greg Chappell.

Ford completed his two year tenure with Sri Lanka in 2014 after joining them in January 2012. He was recommended to SLC by former captain Sanath Jayasuriya, who had played under him at Natal.

During his stay with Sri Lanka, Ford refused to entertain anyone who didn’t try. He demanded his players to be the best they can be. Kumar Sangakkara has often highlighted him as ‘a huge influence on my career’. Sanga hit a purple patch around 2013 in ODI cricket scoring heavily and executing certain strokes never seen by him before.

In July 2013, following his career best ODI score of 169 against South Africa, Sunday Island asked Sangakkara on Ford’s influence on his career. "Graham Ford has been very insistent that we work on reverse sweeps, sweeps and paddle sweeps. We have been doing that because Graham has designated specific net sessions for us for new kind of stroke making. We go on the bowling machine and try paddle sweeping fast bowlers."

Ford was particularly good working with younger players. The development of young players under him was steady and they were introduced to fresh ways of thinking about the game. They were also encouraged to play the Sri Lankan brand of cricket - to play positive and to show aggression.

Ford formed the nucleus of the side during the two years he was in charge. He was willing to stick around for longer, but everyone within his coaching staff weren’t pulling in one direction. One episode made him bitter and he started looking at other options and ended up with Surrey. Ford had applied for leave and it had been approved by Head of Coaching, Director Cricket Operations and the CEO. Then, a powerful member of the Ex-Co had reservations and the leave was cancelled. That was the last straw for Ford.

Sri Lanka’s recent reputation of mistreating their coaches was one reason for Ford to ask for a longer tenure. He had been granted a four year contract which will see him through to the ICC Cricket World Cup in England in 2019.

Ford’s costing SLC US$ 20,000 a month (approximately 2.8million rupees). His salary has been raised by US$ 5000 a month compared to what he was getting the last time he was coaching Sri Lanka. Previously, his annual contract was worth US$ 180,000. Currently, it’s annual worth is US$240,000. He has become the highest paid cricket coach of Sri Lanka ever.

SLC’s Head of Coaching Jerome Jayaratne is set to take over as Manager cum Assistant Coach until the board finds a full time Manager. Former captains Roshan Mahanama and Duleep Mendis are frontrunners to take over Manager’s post, an insider at SLC told Sunday Island. Mahanama quit as ICC Match Referee last year but whether he is willing to take over another job which involves hectic travelling remains to be seen.

Mendis was a highly successful former Manager of the national cricket team, but currently he is coaching the Oman national side.

SLC is also negotiating with former national coach Dav Whatmore to take over the ‘A’ team.

Several steps are being taken to help Sri Lankan cricket to get back to winning ways. There should be changes in the selection panel as well. There’s no way Sri Lanka Cricket can justify the selection of Dilhara Fernando at the age of 36 for national duty when there are several promising players around.

The selectors have no vision and there’s no planning. That’s one major reason why our Test team is ranked number seven and ODI side is ranked fifth. After losing both T-20 Internationals to New Zealand earlier this month, we are no longer ranked number one in T-20 cricket, a position we held on for more than two years. The bad news is that the gap between second placed Sri Lanka and other teams in T-20s is too narrow. A poor show in India could see Sri Lanka ended up as low as sixth in T-20s!

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