By Naushad Amit
Since its inception in 1896 Burgher Recreation Club (BRC) has been a silent contributor to Sri Lanka cricket in various ways. But until into its 124th year as one of the pioneers in domestic cricket, BRC has not contemplated seriously on transforming itself into a fully-professional outfit.
The radical overhaul was not an overnight effort, but it took a sudden speed-up soon after the BRC administration managed to rake in Charith Senanayake as Director of Coaching, just after the Invitational Limited Overs Club Championship. As any club playing at top level would anticipate, the Limited Overs Tournament was not the perfect beginning for BRC, and with Senanayake walking in, things started to get better for the Havelock Town club.
“Never was my intention to go back into coaching, I thought my coaching days are long over, but when the BRC management came up to me and indicated that they desperately are in need of restructuring the cricket, I simply said no. Though I was initially reluctant, their persistence and non-dying interest actually persuaded me and I thought, why not give another go,” revealed Senanayake, who had been associating closely with the current cricket set-up.
Skipper Bhanuka Rajapaksa
BRC has had its ups and downs and were featured twice in the Premier Championship from 1988 to 1989 and from 2012 to 2013. BRC were relegated after just one season after their first promotion, but in 2013, they were an unlucky lot. The number of teams were brought down from 20 to 14 and BRC was one of the teams that faced an unjust axe. But after their third promotion, from a successful SLC Emerging Cricket season in 2015/16, BRC has cemented its status among the top premier clubs. Yet they were far from perfection.
“When I took over, particularly this season, BRC had a setback in the Limited Overs, losing all their games and the team was completely depleted. Soon after that the coaching staff underwent some changes and it was very hard for me at first. At that time most of the senior players have left BRC, and the club needed a complete overhaul,” explained Senanayake while detailing the initial odds.
“We were short of players, the basic infrastructure was falling apart, and I knew it was a challenge, and I had very short time to get adjusted, because the T20 tournament was starting. And despite all, we did well, played six, lost two and won four. It was good though to really understand the players and their capabilities. I know it’s not going to be easy, from where we were and where we ended up by the time the T20 finished was somewhat satisfactory. But still lots of work needs to be done with the Premier League coming up, because it’s a different ball game altogether.”
For the last so many years, BRC have got used to a single coach’s style. As any other institution, BRC cricketers too underwent certain training and management styles according to the coach’s need. During the recent past Indika de Saram has guided BRC, earlier as a player cum coach and later a fulltime coach. But with de Saram deciding to part ways with the club, BRC turned its focus on hunting for a potential replacement, who could bring in and implement a professional approach.
Senanayake, who has had a stint or two at Colombo Cricket Club earlier before deciding to settle down in Kenya temporarily, joined the Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) team administration more than once. He was manager twice of the Sri Lanka team and even had managed teams at SLC’s Inter-District and Inter-Provincial competitions. This comes as a value addition to BRC, to have a coach who is a former First Class and National player and with a proven administrative record.
Charith Senanayake comes in with a load of innovations and ideas for BRC
“My style of management, I believe, is totally different to what many do. My training style is somewhat similar to what the Sri Lanka national team does. It was challenging at the start, as my requirements were big. I wanted three batting nets, a bigger squad, better facilities, overseas players, complete changes to the batting and bowling lineups, changes to tactics and so on,” the veteran of three Tests and seven ODIs stated.
To help his effort, Senanayake had a squad containing mostly with youngsters, though it has a mixture of few experience players. Unfortunately most of them are younger cricketers, who have played under seniors for a long time at BRC.
“They are like shadow cricketers, who have not blossomed on their own. It’s a matter of giving the boys the confidence and make them know that they are good at that level. So that was my initial task. The biggest challenge was getting the mindsets of the boys to the bigger occasion. One or two senior players need to raise their bar, I have spoken to them personally. All needs to raise their game, if they are looking at surviving at the top level. There are other clubs with reputed players, but we have enough depth to spring a few surprises in Division I,” added the former national opener.
Unlike managing a school team or any other, managing a First Class side like BRC is a daunting task and a challenge. The most important part for a coach is gaining the respect of the players, but for Senanayake, most of the BRC players were not strangers.
“I believe the players have responded overwhelmingly. I had the advantage of handling the national, ‘A’ and district level teams, so I have known most of these players from a certain time, and they too knew my style of handling matters. They had a certain amount of confidence in me, and that helped me a lot. I was able to gather the boys around, change their mindsets, train for long hours,” stated Senanayake, who was critical on the quality of domestic cricket played in Sri Lanka.
“The domestic structure has to change. During our playing days, the maximum number of clubs competing were eight, and mind you all these sides had a club house. But now, there are lots of clubs competing in the top division and most of them do not even have their grounds. That’s a massive issue because there are selected number of grounds that premier level cricket can be played in the country. Sometimes we have been compelled to play back-to-back matches and the quality of wickets and cricket have gone down. There’s quantity and not quality.”
As any other side, BRC too has to invest heavily during a season in order to play quality cricket and in return see most of its players enter the national grid. To make this continuous flow of commitment the keen BRC administration headed by Lasith Nanayakkara and his dynamic team, which also includes Cricket Secretary Upali Manukularatne, BRC is currently thinking as how a true premier level club be.
“BRC are aware of the direction they are heading to and where they want to be. To me, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a pleasure to work under such a fantastic setup. They have all the facilities around and the beauty is they still work hard to become a better club. That’s a good environment to work under,” outlined Senanayake.
BRC appointed national cap Bhanuka Rajapaksa as its skipper for the ongoing season, but the southpaw batsman’s contribution to the club has been restricted with his national duties. Allrounder Hashen Ramanayake, who has been with BRC for over five seasons, stands in as skipper in the absence of Rajapaksa. And he has experienced a positive transformation as the one to lead the team during its transition.
“I was appointed the Vice Captain and stand-in captaincy was anticipated. So I knew that it would be a task coming up to lead BRC very soon. The start was not that good, the Limited Over tournament was disastrous, but we picked up during T20. But I suppose, we have geared up very well ahead of the Premier,” stated Ramanayake.
The side has some very good performers besides Rajapaksa and Ramanayake. The list includes Raminda Wijesuriya, who played his first proper Premier season last year, Deshan Dias, Shanuka Dulaj, Nisal Fransisco, Mohamed Shiraz — currently touring Zimbabwe, Duvindu Tillekeratne and P.H.T. Kaushal as spinners. For the all important Premier League BRC has recruited two Indians Sagar Mangalokar and Vibher Yadav, and a Pakistani paceman Muhammad Zuhaib.
“Now our practice sessions and training programmes were very well organised. We started having discussions prior to each game as a professional side from this season, which is really good. The coaching staff has done a commendable job to uplift the standards in a very short time. Above all the club is looking after the players on and off the field, creating a good environment to be in. With all these around us, we are certainly aiming at winning the league, that’s our goal as players,” Ramanayake added.
While fighting to cement its authority among well seasoned campaigners Director of Coach Senanayake was outlined the importance of changing the layout of the competition. BRC is among 14 teams in the Top Tier while the second tier includes 12 teams, summing up to 26 First Class teams in total.
“Someone needs to seriously look into it and see if we are playing cricket for the right reasons. A lot of money is being spent during a season and perhaps at least some standards should be adhered at the top level. There are clubs that do not have a clubhouse to have a team discussion, and I know that some clubs were formed for the wrong reasons. It doesn’t make any sense. As I said there’s quantity, not quality, and it needs to be seriously looked into and restructure it meaningfully that there will be effective contribution from the main domestic tournament to the national level. Right now I cannot see it happening. BRC has a system, which was restructured meaningfully. The intention is to build up for the future, where other sides would fear to play against BRC,” stressed Senanayake in conclusion.