'It's not as if we have to hunt from top to toe'
Tom Moody, Sri Lanka's latest Australian coach, has arrived in Colombo and started preparing for the future. Some may question the wisdom of signing up with a cricket board that perpetually hangs on the brink of crisis, but rarely has there been a better time to make an impact as a Sri Lanka coach: the team has a strong, fair and unpoliticised captain in Marvan Atapattu, a leader who has gained the respect of the players; the chairman of selectors, Lalith Kaluperuma, appears committed to supporting Moody's vision for the future. Never before has a coach had so much power and already the changes are taking place.
What were you thinking as you touched down at Colombo airport and the job of coaching Sri Lanka became a reality?
I was looking forward to the challenge and the opportunity. I was just keen to get my teeth into the job. I wanted to have a very much backseat role at the start so I could observe things and it has been an advantage that not all the players have been here this first week because it has allowed me to see how things are run without being responsible for a full squad. Now, I am looking forward to getting into the front seat.
What are your plans now that the players are coming back from overseas?
Well, firstly, I will be going up to Dambulla to watch some of the A team cricket. This will give me a chance to watch some of the young guys coming through. It will also be useful to have a look at some of the West Indies players. Then, on July 1, we will be having a four-day training camp. We will be doing a bit of everything at that - net training, centre-wicket training, fielding skill work, fitness training, fitness and medical assessments and we will have a mental skills coach, called Sandy Gordon, coming in for the first two days to do some one-to-one and group sessions.
Is the mental-skills help something that the players wanted or something that is just needed nowadays?
I think this is required now. We give the players support in every other way and one of the most challenging and important areas is the mind. I understand that they have not had a lot of this stuff before and it is something that I want to introduce on a consultancy basis. Ideally, I would like to get Sandy involved quarterly and the players will have access to him on an ongoing basis via phone and email.
What about the rest of the support team?
I am hoping to sit down with the board and look at the options for an assistant coach and we are currently looking at the physiotherapy area. Hopefully, we will have someone in place for the camp as well. We are obviously talking to people. CJ [the present physio] is going to look after all the physical training. There have been a number of injuries over the last year or so and this is an area that we want to review and get on top of, particularly with the volume of cricket that we will be playing over the next six months.
The recruitment of foreign coaches in Sri Lanka and India attracted a huge amount of publicity and debate in the last few months. But what is the role of a coach in international cricket now?
The bottom line is that the coach helps the players and the team prepare the best they possibly can to win games of cricket. There is nothing the coach can or should do once the game is up and running. The players are the ones that score the hundreds, take the wickets, win the games and ultimately take the accolades. What the coach can do is provide an environment of excellent professionalism and supply a support team that can allow the players to perform at their very best.
How would you describe your coaching style or approach?
You need to ask the players. I think I am hard, but fair and honest. I am not military-like though. I have learnt a lot from an extended experience in Australia and England and I know the bottom line is that to be consistently successful you need to be polished and professional.
Which areas are you particularly keen to work on over the coming months?
I want to help them [Sri Lanka] maintain the success they have at home, but develop their ability to win matches away from home. I think a lot of that has got to do with them believing in themselves that they are capable of being successful away from home. You also need the talent to be successful away from home. You are not going to be playing three spinners at the MCG and at Lord's. You need the variation in the attack to be able to deal with different conditions away from home. The exciting thing is that the talent is there to address that. It is not as if we have to go hunting the country from top to toe to find it - the talent is very much there.
What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of the team at this stage?
Their batting is an obvious strength. There is a world-class top order. And having a world-class spinner as well is a huge advantage. Australia have reaped the rewards of having one and Sri Lanka have as well. The consistency of bowlers like Chaminda Vaas has also been a huge advantage. What we need to do is to provide consistent support for Vaas. To do that one of the first hurdles is to get on top the injury list. Bowlers like [Dilhara] Fernando, [Prabath] Nissanka and [Nuwan] Zoysa are tremendously exciting bowlers, all three of whom given full fitness would be excellent international bowlers. But I don't think any of them have had a consistent run without injury. We need depth of quality with both bat and ball. The depth of quality is there with the bat and it is there with the ball, but too many are on the bench. We need to get them off the bench and get them pushing for places.
If you were to look for any areas of concern in the batting department where would it be?
It is difficult to comment at this stage, but for me the batting looks strong. Obviously, in the long-term, we need to develop some openers because the age of the two current openers is at the mature rather than youthful end. They are still fantastic players right now who are producing huge volumes of runs and consistency, which hopefully will continue for a few years yet, but you always need to prepare for the future, whether it is two or three or more years ahead.
Did you have any fears about signing up with Sri Lanka, considering their long history of cricket board instability?
It is something that I looked at only very briefly because the experiences I had with the people that I was dealing with gave me every bit of confidence I needed to take on the position without any hesitation. And my experiences to date have been very good. My discussions with everyone about the future have been very positive experiences. I feel that everyone is in the same boat, rowing in the same direction. There is no doubt that they have been through some tough times off the field, but what counts now is what we are trying to achieve in the next couple of years.
|I feel that everyone is in the same boat, rowing in the same direction|
You have been given a wider role than any other coach in Sri Lanka's international history with a remit to look at the entire development and coaching structure - is that something you asked for?
I think that was something that was mutual. To do the job I have to look beyond just the eleven main players. What is important to me is what is happening underneath so we continue to produce world-class players. So the structure, and the people within that structure, is important. There has to be clear communication right from the senior side through to the Under-19 side so there is a clear path for the players to follow.
Were you able to catch up with some of Sri Lanka's players this summer in England?
Yes, we had a small get-together when we were playing Somerset. It was a good opportunity to meet with Sunny [Jayasuriya] again and also to meet with Upul [Chandana]. We had a curry and it was good fun. We talked about a number of things, from Sri Lankan cricket through to County Cricket. I knew Sunny already, of course, but it was a chance to meet Upul and generally to get to know the players a bit better.
What has been the feedback from Worcestershire on Chaminda Vaas this season?
Very positive. The club have been thrilled with his professionalism and performance on and off the field. I'm sure he would be welcomed back to Worcestershire whenever he is available, but unfortunately for Worcester he is not going to be available for a while because there is so much cricket.
This is the first time that a handful of players secured contracts in England. What is the general feedback on the circuit about Sri Lanka players and is it something that should be encouraged more?
The impression has always been very positive is because what you do get from the Sri Lankan players is 100% commitment and they welcome every challenge and opportunity that is thrown to them. It has been great from Sri Lanka's point of view as the exposure is invaluable. We saw what it did to West Indies in the 1980s when they had a steady flow of players playing and there was a trend for recruiting West Indies players. It helped developed their cricket no end. Hopefully it is a trend that continues but with the hectic international schedule it is not easy.
Were you able to meet up with Murali at Lancashire?
I didn't have an opportunity to see Murali but I spoke to him on the phone a couple of times. He seems to be going well. The rehab on his shoulder has been progressing smoothly. I have spoken to the medical team at Lancashire and they are very happy with the way that he has progressed so hopefully he will be 100% fit and ready to go for the series against West Indies. He has had a frustrating year but he has had a very successful career to date and you are bound to have setbacks. He has bounced back well, which is the important thing. There is no questioning his enthusiasm and love for the game and you are always off to a good start when you have that kind of passion.
What was your take on the controversy surrounding his action in 2004?
My opinion is that there is now an expert panel that is responsible for that and I would not comment on anyone's action without the guidance of experts. Murali has been through the mill with regard to his bowling action and he has come out positive at the end of it. Really, there should be no further questions. No-one has been scrutinised as much as he has in the history of the game and he has been given the thumbs-up so let's get on with it and play cricket.
Charlie Austin is Cricinfo's Sri Lankan correspondent