Bangladesh is relishing a Sri Lankan influence in its emergence on the international cricket map. Chandika Hathurusingha is a name that rings loud as the perceived minion increases its footprint in the sport. And when Mashrafe Murtaza, Mustafizur Rehman, Shakib Al Hasan, Soumya Sarkar or Shabbir Rahman get together to challenge the might of the sport’s superpowers, they credit it to the inputs of their coach Hathurusingha.
It wrought a poetic justice when Bangladesh prevailed over Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup, adding another leaf in the roster of Hathurusingha’s successful tenure as a coach. So, when the islanders were clinically demolished by the Bengal tigers, Hathurusingha received congratulatory hugs from his compatriots in the opposition dugout for the fantastic achievement. Hathurusingha, who took over the team after the last ICC World Cup T20 in 2014, says what he essentially did was changing the mindset of a bunch of talented players who were not used to success. “I found a bunch of talented youngsters who were eager to perform. The challenge was to change the mindset and bring clarity in communication,” says Hathurusingha.
Having tried many high profile coaches that included the likes of Dav Whatmore and Stuart Law, the Bangladesh Cricket Board went on a soul searching exercise after Shane Jurgensen had stepped down. That is when former Bangladesh captain and a director of BCB Khaled Mahmud recalled his association with Hathurusingha as a player. The BCB reached out to Hathurusingha, who was then coaching in Australia, to take over the side following a mere telephonic conversation. This agreement started one of the most remarkable evolutions in world cricket as Bangladesh emerged from the shadows and reached the quarterfinals of the ICC World Cup in 2015.
Hathurusingha, in company of compatriot and coaching assistant Ruwan Kalpage, had unleashed the turnaround. The former Sri Lankan opener who did a fair bit of pace bowling got into the rebuilding process bringing the individuals together in a unified dressing room. “I told the players to go for a win always and not to be afraid of losing. We then changed a lot in the way they used to work previously in terms of training, approach and tactics,” says Hathurusingha. “We incorporated a full time (sports) psychologist into our support staff work on the mental side and get the side in the winning rhythm,” says the coach, who oversaw three ODI series win against Pakistan, India and South Africa. Hathurusingha hopes the transition will pass on to the T20 and Tests where Bangladesh is yet to find remarkable success. “Bangladesh has the potential to win big tournaments and this is going to happen soon. I cannot set any deadlines,” the coach says.
“I have always tried to be honest and authentic and that is perhaps why could get the trust of the players. I have always tried to communicate sincerely and that is surely having its effect,” says Hathurusingha about how he quickly gained the acceptance of the players. “The BCB and my fellow coaches have been very supportive and collectively we have been able to get the winning instinct in place. You can see that on the field,” the coach adds.
Khaled Mahmud, who is also the manager of the Bangladesh team, says that Hathurusingha brings a cultural affinity that has worked well with the players. “Our board felt that a person who could appreciate our culture would be able to do a better job. It is not that the coach speaks our language but he is from the subcontinent and appreciates the cultural and psychological aspects much better,” Mahmud says. “We are similar cultures which are warm and accommodative. Sri Lanka developed as a cricket nation a little earlier and so we can relate to the needs of Bangladesh more effectively,” Hathurusingha agrees to what his friend says.