Sri Lanka has been struggling in international cricket for the past few years. The below-par show in the Cricket World Cup 2019 further added to its wounds. Hoping for a change in fortunes, it suspended coach Chandika Hathurusingha and appointed Rumesh Ratnayake as a temporary replacement for the upcoming New Zealand series.
Former captain Kumar Sangakkara — who scored 28, 016 runs across formats in a career spanning 15 years — feels the cricketers need a secure environment to prosper. “They just need to have less chaos around them, less noise around them. The best facilities to train in, the most secure environment within which to play, consistent selection policies, a much, much better, more refined, more competitive domestic structure, a huge amount of planning in terms of how the pathway of cricket development in Sri Lanka reflects the requirement of the international game and the international side,” he told Sportstar .
Sangakkara — who appeared in four World Cups including the final in 2007 and 2011 — believes there is enough talent in the island. “It is not for the lack of talent or the dearth of good cricketers. There are lots and some of them will go on to become great cricketers. How that message gets conveyed from the top all the way down to the grassroots and how in terms of fitness, in terms of mental skills, in terms of technique, in terms of individuality, what it is that is required to succeed at this stage [is more important].
“And then continuously concentrate on driving the players in that direction in a manner that takes care of their growth, not just as cricketers but also as people. It is something that needs a conscious effort, a big change in mindset in Sri Lanka, and an investment of money and time to give it the years it needs to rebuild a strong, world-beating team. I hope it is done quickly,” he said.
The future for cricketers and fans
Apart from the World Cup finals, Sangakkara was also a key member of the Sri Lankan side that made the final of ICC World T20 in 2009 and 2012, eventually clinching the title in 2014. But the last five years has been dull for the islanders. Talking about a complete renovation in the board and the structure, Sangakkara added, “People are always very, very stubborn. You can have very set ways and set ideas and sometimes ego also gets in the way. The best way is to be realistic and understand that it is not about you, it is about the future of the sport in Sri Lanka and the future of the cricketers in Sri Lanka and also the fans."
“It is a big responsibility, and when you understand that, it requires a certain amount of risk-taking in terms of concept, in terms of change, in terms of getting the right people in to do the right jobs, it becomes easier to understand why you need to change. That effort has to be taken now. You can’t do the same old things and expect different results.”
A realistic approach
A while back, along with former captains Mahela Jayawardene and Aravinda de Silva, Sangakkara was part of a task force that came up with a roadmap for Sri Lankan cricket but very little came out of it.
“We’ve presented a blueprint for what we think is a better system for Sri Lankan domestic cricket, international cricket, selection policy, administration. All encompassed into a proposal that’s been bandied to and fro, presented on and off for the last 10 years at least. It takes a certain amount of political will as well to change the status quo. Or the clubs themselves have to vote for those changes. People in power also need to be able to let go of those seats in terms of allowing the devolution of power to be beneficial to the game. Again, that takes a lot of doing. It has to come from within, it has to. If the administration doesn’t do it, it has to be out of the political will of the sports minister who takes it and debates it in parliament, changes the sports law and then of course has a change in the board constitution, the required changes to the domestic structure that are required.
"We have to wait and see who the first person is who has the courage and the vision to do just that.”
Sangakkara feels the lack of structure back home is preventing the special players from becoming superstars. “It’s not just frustrating, it is also sometimes a little sad. When I watched the players who played in this particular World Cup, they are amazingly talented. Players who can go on to become world-beaters. We need those players to flourish, and we are holding them back. You see the fans getting frustrated, they are on an emotional roller coaster. You need to think about them. It is time to really take stock, be very realistic and honest, and see how best we can change.”