Rex Clementine in Island, 31 December 2017, where the title runs Hathurusingha harps on No Dickheads policy”….. with emphasis in highlights added by Editor, Thuppahi
Not many Asian teams go to South Africa and excel. Sri Lanka in particular have a disastrous record over there. Yet, one man conquered the last frontier. Chandika Hathurusingha took a young Sri Lanka ‘A’ side to South Africa in 2009 comprising the likes of Angelo Mathews, Tharanga Paranavithana and Suranga Lakmal and they recorded a 4-1 series win against a strong opposition.
That series win was Hathurusingha’s biggest statement as a coach until then. He had a knack to turn unfancied teams into champions. Nobody gave Moors SC a chance when Hathurusingha ended his long association with Tamil Union and went to number 50, Muttiah Road, Colombo-2. First year, Hathurusingha helped them to get back to top division and in the second year he guided them to First Class title.
Soon after Sri Lanka ‘A’ achieved the unimaginable in South Africa, then Test captain Kumar Sangakkara made a request to SLC to divert Hathurusingha’s services to the senior side. There, he made an immediate impact. He was understudy to Trevor Bayliss and was expected to take over at the conclusion of the 2011 World Cup. However, the administration at that time had a few run ins with Hathurusingha. His no-nonsense approach didn’t go down too well with the likes of D. S. de Silva and Nishantha Ranatunga. He was sacked in 2010.
Soon an opportunity came with Bangladesh and with meticulous planning, Hathurusingha turned Bangladesh into a force to be reckoned with, especially at home. Beating Sri Lanka in a Test match in March this year at his beloved P. Sara Oval was his greatest achievement so far. With Sri Lanka desperate to hire his services, he answered the call leaving Bangladesh half way through his contract.
Sunday Island caught up with the 49-year-old after one of his training sessions and in this candid interview, he spells out his vision for the national cricket team, his coaching philosophy, the influence of Mr. S. Skandakumar and lots more.
Here are the excerpts.
Sri Lankans feel so passionate bout their cricket. At the moment, the spirits are down. Sri Lanka have been whitewashed 5-0 thrice this year in ODIs apart from suffering two 3-0 clean sweeps in Tests. Can you make Sri Lankan cricket great again?
The expectations scare me. There’s so much of expectations on one person and I am not even going to play. That is the reality. That is the truth. What I can do is to prepare players mentally, physically, tactically and technically the best I can for them to go out there and perform. I see the ability in the team and I am confident of my ability to prepare them. If I can’t do that, I will bring the expertise from outside. Give us some time and we will start delivering. Doesn’t mean that we are going to beat everybody. But we will play that attractive cricket that people would like to see.
You stunned the entire country by helping Bangladesh to their maiden Test win over Sri Lanka in March. The series was drawn as Sri Lanka had won the first Test in Galle. Looking back at the Galle Test, Kusal Mendis made a stunning 194, but he was dismissed in the first ball he faced off a no-ball. Had you dismissed him cheaply, could you have won the series 2-0?
I always believe that one decision, one dropped catch or, for that matter, one incident doesn’t decide the outcome of a game. Sri Lanka to be honest played well in Galle. Mendis, especially after that no-ball, didn’t give us a chance till he got onto the 90s. They played better cricket while we didn’t capitalise from the advantage we had in that game. Batting let us down. In the second Test, Sri Lanka dropped Shakib Al Hasan early, but that wasn’t the only reason why Sri Lanka lost. They played defensively. I was getting the feeling that they were trying to hold onto the 1-0 lead rather than going for a win in the second Test.
Rex: Where did Sri Lanka get things wrong in the second Test?
From the selection perceptive, I knew they were going defensive. As soon as the toss was over, I saw the team sheet and knew that they wanted to draw the game. We badly wanted to win. I remember after the Galle Test match, I asked the players to spend one hour alone and come up with a plan to figure out what was going wrong. I took all the support staff out. I told them sort out the reason, then come and tell me. Then we had a very good discussion and took a decision as to how we were going to play our cricket. Our challenge at that time was going overseas and winning Test matches. Then, again after lunch on the final day in the second Test, we had to make 100 odd runs. We decided to attack Rangana Herath. First over after lunch, someone reverse-swept Rangana for four. We showed our intent and Sri Lanka went on the back foot from thereon.
Rex: The fact that the win came at your beloved P. Sara Oval, where you spent a lot of time, must have been special too.
Those days, all outstation boys used to come and play and they found their feet in Colombo at Tamil Union. If you didn’t have a job, they looked after you well. There were several people who took a keen interest on us. Upul Gunasena was my Division Two captain. Then there was Felix Perumal, who captained the Division Three side. They all guided us. Gave us cricketing knowledge and helped us to mould our lives. We felt that we were valued there. We were given opportunities.
Rex: How much of an impact Mr. S. Skandakumar had on your career?
He was like father figure to me. I was 14 when I came to Tamil Union. My coach at that time was Tom Depp. He actually handed over me to Skanda and said, ‘look after this boy’. I enjoyed my cricket under him. I was well looked after. I still remember that he asked me to read the English papers whenever I came to the club. He used to walk at the club before he went onto play tennis. So what I used to do was to read the sports page and get back to him. I couldn’t speak a word of English when I went on my maiden tour to England in 1986. That was one area that he helped me to improve. Not only just cricket. Even to become a better person. He used to provide meals and stuff from his own pocket. He has been a great mentor and thorough gentleman.
Rex: You spoke about Rangana Herath, the two of you have a very good understanding.
I am really proud of him. The way he has come up and what he has achieved is remarkable. I remember in 1997 my brother told me that there is this guy who bats and bowls like Sanath Jayasuriya at his office at John Keels. He wanted to bring him along. Rangana turned up at Moors and the rest is history. Of course he can’t bat like Sanath but certainly can bowl better than Sanath. Rangana is genuine person. Most of all for me, that aspect in a person’s life is important. I never thought that he will achieve 400 Test wickets. That is amazing. That shows his grit. Your grit is part of your success and a testimony for any sportsman.
Rex: Are you a taskmaster when it comes to coaching?
If anything is affecting the team culture, I will not tolerate that. I will allow people to make mistakes, as long as they are not doing it intentionally. There’s a second chance for them to do the right thing.
Rex: There has been a few issues with discipline over the last few months and one player was even suspended.
While in Australia, I was exposed to a lot of sports. There, all the sports are integrated like Rugby League, Rugby Union and Aussies Rules Football. We coaches, when we get together, talk about the culture. The culture you build within is the key. So they call it ‘No Dickhead policy’. If you have a great culture, the Board doesn’t have to impose things. The board has to support that kind of a vision from a coach or leader. If it is there, these sorts of things will not happen. Even if it happens, it will be dealt within the team and everything is solved quickly.
Rex: You’ve had a couple of training sessions so far. How do you feel?
What I want the players to understand is that physical effort is not enough. Your mental effort is equally important. Engagement is the key to improvement.
Rex: Who is the captain who will take the team through to the 2019 World Cup?
We have made too many decisions on captains. There is no one, standing out at this stage. I have to be a bit cautious and we have to wait and see and work on the person given for the next tour.
Rex: So many coaches have had issues running the Sri Lankan team starting from Geoff Marsh to Graham Ford due to interferences by board officials. What prompted you to take up the challenge amidst all the chaos.
I didn’t see it as a risk. I saw it as an opportunity for me to come. I don’t think that they will get rid of me as there are lots of guys who can go before me.
SLC treated you harshly previously. You were sacked unceremoniously in 2010.
I never had a problem with Sri Lanka Cricket. The problem was with a couple of individuals. I didn’t have any grudge against Sri Lanka Cricket. I could have easily sued SLC. My lawyers said you can sue them. I said no point. I had got everything because of Sri Lanka Cricket and I didn’t want to go on that path. I let go everything. By losing the job, your lifestyle suffers obviously. I had a family to look after. My professional career was never at a threat as I knew what I was doing. It is hard for a family to go on without me having a job.
Before you took over the Sri Lankan job, Muttiah Muralitharan told Sunday Island that he wasn’t sure whether you will be given a free hand. The two of you seem to have a close rapport.
I am proud to talk about Muri. I was the captain of Tamil Union Under-23 side when a 19-year-old Muri came along. My vice-captain was Damian Nadarajah. He is from the same school like Muri and he came up to me and said there is this young kid who can turn the ball square and he has taken over 100 wickets in the last two seasons for St. Anthony’s College. From there on, we had a good relationship. He was very competitive from day one. Even when he is playing billiards, he wants to win. He loves his cricket. I remember his first Test match. We were playing Australia at R. Premadasa Stadium. I was fielding at short-leg. Muri was going to bowl his first ball in Test cricket and Arjuna had set the field. Then Muri shouted and asked me, ‘Hatu aiyya, is this field okay?’ I felt embarrassed. Arjuna was having a laugh. He called me up and said, ‘Listen, from here on, you better start fielding at mid off and make sure you keep talking to the young bloke.’ These are the memories I have of Muri. We are very close to each other. We were having quite a bit of success at Tamil Union.
From humble beginnings, you have reached great heights. What would be your message to young coaches.
Be yourself. Be a good student of the game and learn.