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The Messiah has arrived



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by Rex Clementine


The long wait for the arrival of the Messiah who will redeem Sri Lankan cricket from its current predicament has ended. Former Test opener Chandika Hathurusingha today will formally take over as Sri Lanka’s Head Coach in Colombo. Millions of admirers of Sri Lankan cricket will be desperately hoping that he will take a team that is in total shambles into the Promised Land.


Hathurusingha arrives with an Alex Ferguson like reputation. Everyone talks about the impact he has had with Bangladesh during his three-year tenure, but equally successful has been his coaching stints with Sri Lanka ‘A’, UAE and New South Wales. But very few know the impact he had on Moors Sports Club. In the year 2000, when he took over as Captain cum Coach of Moors SC, the club had been relegated from Premier League cricket.


In 2001, he guided Moors back to the top division and by next year they won the First Class Championship virtually with no stars in the team.


What has worked for Hathurusingha as a coach is his approach with the players – frank, to the point and let them know what exactly is expected. Often we hear modern-day players talking about ‘playing their natural game.’ That will be taboo with Hathurusingha. First, he will urge them to play for the cause of the team or to go and find another team where they can play their natural game.


Apart from having a knack to unearth raw talents, he has also been able to help players find a new edge in their game.


The current Batting Coach of the Sri Lankan side Tilan Samaraweera is a fine example. When Samaraweera was dropped from the Test side in 2007, he went back to the ‘A’ team, worked with Hathurusingha and redefined his game. Eventually, not only did he go on to pile up more than 5000 Test runs but exhibited an array of attacking shots as well that earned him a spot in the 2011 World Cup squad. Samaraweera, who was primarily a defensive batsman, started playing with more freedom.


A decisive moment for Bangladesh came when Hathurusingha tried to discipline Shakib Al Hasan. All hell broke loose in Dhaka as Shakib was Bangladesh’s most iconic player. The Bangladesh board wanted to defuse the tension and urged Hathurusingha to soften his stance. Then the coach asked the board one question. "Do you want to have the best all-rounder in the world or you want to become one of the best cricket playing nations?" Sanity prevailed. Shakib’s suspension remained and Bangladesh started playing as one unit instead of individual glory.


Imagine the same thing happening in Sri Lanka! The player will most probably run to a Minister and put pressure on the board to overturn the suspension.


Of course, we have the classic case of Danushka Gunathilaka. A serial offender, he was suspended for being drunk and arriving at the ground on a match day without his kit bag. SLC suspended him on the recommendations of the team management. Then SSC, Gunathilaka’s club intervened and the suspension was drastically reduced. For those people managing the affairs at SLC, the vote of SSC is more important than national cricketers conducting themselves as professional sportsmen.


Hathurusingha should be allowed to do his job without interferences. Certain powerful members of SLC Executive Committee have meddled with the affairs of the national team like never before in recent times.


Graham Ford couldn’t handle it and stepped down and less than one month into the job, his successor Nic Pothas spoke about ‘too many cooks’ meddling with the team.


SLC bigwigs have their own subtle ways to skin a cat like they proved by fixing a club match early this year, an episode that did irreparable damage to the reputation of the sport.


When SLC sacked Hathurusingha in 2010, then captain Kumar Sangakkara wrote an appealing letter. "My interest in regaining his services is purely selfish. I want to be part of a team that is coached by the best. I firmly believe that after the 2011 World Cup, Chandika has the capability to ably head the coaching of the national team. The whole squad of national players respect him and admire him for the work done."


The appeal fell on deaf ears. Sanga again has played a crucial role in convincing Hathurusingha to come back to Colombo. SLC should not repeat the mistakes of past.  


When Chandika Hathurusingha addresses his inaugural media briefing at Maitland Place today, there will be hosannas from the men running the sport, but don’t forget that it did not take people a long time to crucify the Messiah. Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on a Sunday with people singing hosanna. He was tried on Maundy Thursday and nailed on Good Friday. What fate befalls Hathurusingha will be closely monitored.


William Shakespeare once wrote, "Hell is empty. All the devils are here."


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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