By Ishan Samaraweera
Former Sri Lanka cricket captain and head coach Marvan Atapattu says one of the main reasons for the decline in Sri Lanka cricket is the lack of quality in school and domestic cricket being played in the country.
“It will take at least ten years to get the system back on track,” the former opener who has distanced himself since being ousted as national head coach following the 2015 World Cup semi-final exit said. “Honestly I have lost interest in cricket. It is sad to see the crisis that the team has dug themselves into. The main reason I feel is that, we don’t have a proper plan to improve the quality of cricket that is being played at school and domestic levels where the youngsters are being nurtured before they get into the national team.”
Sri Lanka has struggled ever since the retirements of the three legends Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan to find the next generation of cricketers to fill the boots of those retired greats.
“For a country that produced world class cricketers in the calibre of Arjuna Ranatunga, Aravinda de Silva and Roshan Mahanama who graduated to play for the national team from school cricket, it is unfortunate to see that it’s not happening any longer,” he added.
Atapattu is a fine example of a player who came from the school system, having captained in all age groups at Ananda College which helped him develop as a cricketer.
“By the time I got into the national side, I was able to prosper under pressure and eventually that enabled me to become a successful cricketer,” recalled Atapattu who defied an inauspicious start to his career to become one of the finest of the game. He had five ducks in his first six innings in Test cricket.
Sri Lanka’s school cricket structure no longer produce cricketers of such calibre and our first class structure is so bad that the players have no competitive platform to hone their talents.
“Batsmen score heaps of runs at the first-class level, but when they come to the international level they fail to replicate those performances. That itself is a prime example to understand the standards in our first-class level. It is high time that those factions who are bidding for the presidency at the elections get together and find solutions to come out of this crisis,” Atapattu emphasized.
This has had a huge impact in the national team’s performances over the last few years, struggling to lift their game across all formats.
“The quality of cricket that is being played by the national team has been dismal over the last few years,” Atapattu stressed. “We have struggled across all three formats and that is clearly depicted when we look at our position in the ICC rankings. The players too lack commitment.”
He also highlighted the fact that players need to understand the value of being a member of the national team and work hard to stay in the national team, otherwise they will not be able to prosper at the international level.
“Representing your country at the highest level of the sport is an honour, but opportunities will not come to your doorstep. The players have to earn it. Anyone who does not work hard will not be able to be successful in anything,” he said.
Commenting on his stint with the national team as its head coach, Atapattu said it was the toughest job.
“Coaching is the toughest job in cricket. The management and the selectors have a lot of expectations. When we fulfill their expectations, they expect more from the coach. When the team loses the burden is on the shoulders of the coach. He is the one who is responsible for everything. During my tenure I was lucky to have players such as Kumar, Mahela and Dilshan. They were match winners for us,” said Atapattu who was one of 11 coaches employed by Sri Lanka Cricket since the 2011 World Cup.
Atapattu who was appointed as the assistant coach of the national team in 2014 was later promoted as interim head coach when Englishman Paul Farbarce joined England soon after Sri Lanka’s successful World T20 campaign in 2014. Atapattu enjoyed immediate success as the national team led by Angelo Mathews beat England in England to record the country’s first series win against the former colonial masters. The Test win forced cricket authorities to confirm his position but following the World Cup exit, Atapattu was forced to resign. Since then Sri Lanka Cricket had employed a number of coaches but none could arrest the slide.
“When Dav Whatmore took over as coach in 1996 he did not teach us to play cricket but he monitored our fitness levels and giving us confidence. Dav helped us identify our own brand of cricket and eventually that laid the foundation to win the World Cup. We did that. But what can a coach do when the players are not performing?” he asked. “Changing the coaching staff is not the way to solve the crisis. The senior players are responsible to perform consistently. The players must give priority in improving their performances on the field and not getting into off field chaos.”
According to him senior players like Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal and Dimuth Karunaratne should take much of the responsibility in taking the game forward and help new coach Mickey Arthur and his coaching staff to revive the fortunes of Sri Lanka cricket.
Commenting on the Lasith Malinga’s selection as T20 skipper Atapattu said that it shows the lack of talent at national level.
“Lasith is a legend and we should be thankful for the services he has given for the country. We have been going down the drain ever since Kumar and Mahela retired. The selection panel led by Ashantha de Mel is responsible for appointing him as captain. He was sacked before the 50 over World Cup but he was retained as the T20 captain. It shows the lack of talent at national level,” he concluded