Ford warning over ageing Sri Lanka stars
The Sri Lanka coach Graham Ford has warned that the team needs to start producing cricketers capable of replacing the star names in the side otherwise they will struggle to compete at international level.
Ford's assessment comes in the wake of captain Mahela Jayawardene stating that he would reassess his future after the current tour of Australia. Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Thilan Samaraweera, who form the core of the team's batting, are all in their mid-thirties and the team needs to guard against being hit by mass retirements.
"What is really important for Sri Lanka cricket now is be aware that some of these players - superstars who have done great service to the game - are not going to be around for that much longer and an emerging player program of real intensity needs to be put in place urgently," Ford said. "We need to start producing some more superstars and we need it to happen pretty quickly. That I see as a very important part, as to the future for Sri Lanka."
Ford praised the role played by the senior figures in the dressing room at setting an example for the younger players coming into the game. He has tried to instil the notion of personal responsibility within the team and believes he is starting to see the benefit of that approach coming through.
"Some of them have done fantastically well and are very professional," he said. "We also have a few young guys who have come in and who have quite a bit to learn. Our coaches need to be a little bit different from player to player. The example set by some of the senior players is fantastic for the younger guys coming through. If we can keep that going, in time it will become part of the cricketing culture in the dressing room.
"I've really tried to introduce the adult approach in terms of players taking on the responsibility for their preparations and their performances. The coaching staff is always available to support them in whatever way they need, but they must make decisions about their cricket and how they are going to go about their business and for them to implement those decisions. I am really trying to get each individual to be as professional as possible."
Ford took over in controversial circumstances after Sri Lanka Cricket suddenly terminated the services of Geoff Marsh after just two tours to England and South Africa last year. He is thankful for the support given to him by Jayawardene, especially in helping to overcome some language barriers.
"Initially the language barrier with a number of players was a challenge, fortunately with a great captain and some of the senior players who do speak English pretty well and, the coaches I managed to overcome a lot of those challenges. They've been great in helping along the way."
Under Ford, and in the post-Muralitharan era, Sri Lanka are still striving for consistency. Since the change of coach they have played three home Test series, drawing against England and New Zealand either side of beating Pakistan 1-0. Results in one-day cricket have been mixed and there was also the crushing disappointment of the World Twenty20 final defeat against West Indies.
"I came in pretty suddenly and it all happened very quickly, so that was a challenge," Ford reflected. "It has been very enjoyable, there has been some tough times and tough days but part of what is exciting is to witness the fight and character within the group along the way over the ten months. On a number of occasions the chips have been down, times have been tough and they've bounced back fantastically in one-day cricket and Test match cricket. It's brilliant to be part of something like that.
"We have achieved reasonably well. The triangular in Australia was encouraging, just disappointing we couldn't win the final. Against England in the Test series, to win one against them when they were riding high as the No. 1 Test side was good but disappointing to let them level the series. It was a real opportunity to win a series against a top side. Against Pakistan, a very dangerous side, to win both Test and ODIs was a really good achievement.
"We were disappointing in the ODIs against India and the whole nation was disappointed that we didn't win the T20 World Cup. It was a very tough tournament, a lot of good teams, and to get as close as that, everybody dreams of winning it, not that we didn't try, but we really did play some fantastic cricket and produce some wonderful results."