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April 3, 1999


The Rediff Interview/Ranjit Fernando

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'Aravinda D'Silva has lost his motivation'

Edward Ranjit Fernando, wicket-keeper-opener of the Sri Lankan cricket team in the 1975 World Cup, has been associated with Sri Lankan cricket even before the island nation was accorded Test status, having represented Lanka in close to 30 unofficial Tests.

He parlayed his career as a cricketer into an equally successful one as television commentator before being pitchforked into the job of managing the current Lankan side. And now he finds his job cut out for him -- the World Cup holders are not in the best of form, injuries are taking their toll of the senior stars, and overall, the defending champions don't look too hot during the buildup to the World Cup.

Ranjit Fernando discussed these, and other problems, in a free-wheeling interview with Faisal Shariff. Excerpts:

What's with the defending champions? There seems to be a dramatic slump in form...

Yes, I do admit that. We carry the world champions' tag, and it has been a rough ride in the past few months. I would attribute this to nagging injuries to some of our key players, and also the fact that a lot of our stars are now three years older, so they are not as fit.

I would also attribute our bad performance recently too lack of motivation for some of the senior players. The absence of Jayasuriya and Muralitharan are also problem areas.

Sri Lanka's 1996 Cup win owed much to the strategy of going flat out in the first fifteen overs. Is that ploy valid this time, for English conditions?

96 World Cup Trofy The last World Cup was held in the sub-continent, where that gameplan worked, it was a huge success. But yes, it is no secret that this time, we have to rework our strategy, and we are doing that. Of course, I can't disclose our thinking at this stage, but we do have things chalked out, we have a definite gameplan in mind.

In England, no team will be looking at scores like 280-300. I reckon 225-235 will be a winning total. There, the ball moves around a lot, so it will be crucial for batting sides to last out the full 50 overs.

At this point in time, what would you identify as your team's main area of concern?

Our bowling. I think that is where we have our biggest problem. But we do have Vaas, Wickremasinghe and Muralitharan -- when fully fit, Murali will be our main bowler. Plus we have batting all-rounders in Jayasuriya and Aravinda.

You mean you can think of going with only three frontline bowlers?

Jayasuriya and Aravinda have been bowling regularly for us, with considerable success.

Even in England, where the spinners will find it difficult to grip the ball?

Aravinda is a smart guy, he will definitely be valuable with his bowling irrespective of conditions and as for Jayasuriya, he bowls seam-up whenever required, especially towards the end ofthe innings, and this will be very helpful for us. You have to remember they did pretty well in the tri-nation series held in England last year.

That was in late August, whereas this time, you are going to be playing in early May...?

One thing you can't be sure about is the English weather. Even last time round, England did not have a perfect summer, I remember in that tri-series, the game against South Africa, we played it in very cold conditions. I guess it is just a matter of making adjustments, acclimatising ourselves. We are going there two weeks in advance, that should give us enough time to adjust.

Jayasuriya and Muralitharan, both coming back from injuries, seem to be short of match practise, is this a worry?

 Sanath Jayasuriya The injuries to Jayasuriya and Muralitharan were minor, not serious injuries. We are playing six practise games there in England, so both those players have the chance to get back to match fitness, to get back to the top of their game.

The Lankan fielding was a key to the 1996 win -- what has gone wrong in that department, do you think? It is surprising to see so many catches going down...

That's true, but one of the reasons for that is that the team now has some new players, and you know how nerves can play a part. Also, too much cricket has been played lately, and that has led to a certain lethargy in the team. You see, we played 3 Tests in about 19 days in the Asia Cup, and that kind of schedule is going to impact on the team performance. But it is true that our standards are slipping, we need to get our act together and bring back the fielding standards of the past. No team can win unless good fielding backs their bowling.

Kumara Dharmasena is another key component of your one day side, what is the status with him?

I think he is okay now, he has come back from England, and the officials there seemed quite happy with his action. I am not sure how quickly he will come back to the team, that is a matter for the board to decide on.

Sri Lanka had started a programme aimed at making it the best Test-playing nation by the year 2000. How far have you come towards that goal?

It was in 1995 that the Lankan board announced that goal. I don't think we have achieved it completely, but I think we are on the right track now. No one appears to have noticed, but we did win the last three Test series we played in. We won against New Zealand, then we beat England in England. And remember we did very well in the Asia Cup as well, keeping in mind the fact that we were without our star players. Yes, the finals of the ATC was pretty disappointing but then we discovered the calibre of our younger players.

Do you think the Lankan team misses the services of a foreign coach? Did the departure of Whatmore and Yardley have anything to do with the slump in form of the Lankans?

I don't think that is such a valid argument, though I would not want to take away from the two coaches the credit they deserve. See, there is no harm in having foreign expertise as long as they provide value for money. They are doing us no favours, since they are paid for their services.

What was the reason that Sri Lanka opted for a foreign coach? The problem was that at that period, the BCCSL could not find any players who were willing to take up the assignment. You see, the players here are all well settled and doing well in their respective businesses. So it was difficult for the board to induce anyone to take up the job. But now, the right people are coming forward and offering their services, and they are doing a good job, so the same situation doesn't apply.

You will notice that we still make use of the services of Alex Kontouri, the team physiotherapist. He is a very valuable member of the team and is good value for money.

What are your suggestions for the development of the game in Sri Lanka?

There is a lot of developmental work being done in Sri Lanka at present. What I feel is that work on the short-term objectives should be accelerated. The reflection of this acceleration will show on the team's performance as well as on the bench strength of the team. I think a national academy is the need of the hour. There are mini-academies all over the country, in all our schools, we need a central one to coordinate.

I also would advocate running national squads at all junior levels. Under 15, U-17, U-19 and also a Sri Lanka 'A' squad, each under experienced coaches. I believe any academy is as good as the people running it. They have to have the right kind of attitude, which is primary to the game. They must have an understanding of the players and the game in depth.

While on that, who would you name as the stars of the future? Mahela Jaywardene

Mahela Jaywardene is a definite find for the future. Russell Arnold, Avishka Gunawardene and Rucheira Pereira are finds of the season, and I think they will serve Lankan cricket well in the near future.

Has the Lankan media been supportive during the team's slump?

Actually, no. This is the problem with the media in the sub-continent. They have a very negative approach to the teams. Look at the Australian and South African media, they know how to project their teams. Australia lost in India and the media played it down. South Africans lost in India and the media chose to ignore it. If the game has to be made more popular here, the media has to play a very important part. It has to back the team. We in the sub-continent don't know how to market the game well.

Aravinda D'Silva Look, some of the senior players lose their motivation because they have seen it all, they just seem to be going for personal records now. Take for example the case of Aravinda D'Silva, he has just lost motivation. The media needs to play their part here, in firing him up again. The way Azhar has been put under pressure by the media for instance is very unfortunate, does anyone realize how insecure Azhar must be feeling right now? The media needs to back him at this point. Look how the media back Hansie when he was not doing well with the bat.

Anyone who considers that the teams don't try hard enough has not played any level of cricket. You think the guys don't try when they are out there on the field? See, this is what I mean by negative approach of the media, when they write such things.

Who do you think are the favorites this time?

Sri Lanka have a good chance of defending its title successfully. I also think Pakistan and England are good bets. But I reckon Zimbabwe will be the dark horses of the tournament.

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