May 22, 2007

Casting a giant shadow

Tom Moody brought Sri Lanka's cricketers out of their comfort zone and into a level of professionalism that brought no mean success



Tom Moody chose to look at the big picture and take a decision that will protect his family and enhance his career © Cricinfo Ltd

It appeared Sri Lanka's cricket officials could staved off the decision; armed with extra cash after the World Cup, they appeared confident of securing their coach for a fresh contract. Even some of the players thought and hoped he would stay. But Tom Moody, who will step down as Sri Lanka coach after Tuesday's match against Pakistan at Abu Dhabi, had clearly made up his mind weeks before and the rationale was entirely in keeping with his style of decision-making while with Sri Lanka: he looked at the big picture, weighed the pros and cons and took a long-term, balanced decision that will protect his family and enhance his career.

To some, trading the international arena for state cricket will appear a backward step but the reality is that it will polish his skills further and spare him from the dangers of spending 75% of his time in sterile international hotels, thousands of miles away from his wife and children.

Staying in Sri Lanka would have ensured him greater international exposure. It could also have brought further successes with a team that now has strong foundations. However, the end of the World Cup is increasingly becoming the time for coaches to start afresh and staying might have locked him out of plum positions for up to four years.

Coaching Sri Lanka also carries certain risks that would have been beyond Moody's control - just ask Dav Whatmore and John Dyson, both of whom were handicapped at times by administrative mismanagement. Moody, though, was fortunate to work during a time of unusual stability within the cricket board and the environment was supportive of his efforts. Sadly, however, such stability is unlikely to last indefinitely and, when the in-fighting and political meddling does resume, coaching will become much harder.

Moody could have asked his price of Sri Lanka Cricket and they would have paid. The board is believed to have been willing to cough up around US $300,000 plus housing and a car - far, far more than was ever paid to Dav Whatmore or John Dyson, his immediate predecessors. India, too, with their deeper pockets, would have been a financially attractive job. Aged just 41, though, and having coached Sri Lanka so successfully, Moody knows that he can walk back into international cricket when he wants. His stint with Western Australia will provide the ideal launching pad for a role with Cricket Australia in the nor-so-distant future. The smart money is on him coaching Australia after Tim Nielsen. Chaminda Vaas certainly believes so: "One day he will go on to coach Australia and I wish him all the very best", he told The Island recently.

The loss of Trevor Penney, Moody's assistant coach, also caught the board by surprise. They would have hoped that he'd have stayed to ensure continuing focus on fielding. The cricket board are now left with a tricky search to find replacements of similar calibre. Fortunately, Penney will stay for the Bangladesh tour in July, giving Sri Lanka several months to complete their recruitment.

Replacing Moody will not be easy. His overall statistics are good without being exceptional - 37 wins in 70 ODIs at a respectable 56% win ratio, just above Sri Lanka's career figure of 48%; and 10 Test wins in 18 Tests - but this hides the progress of the team during the past two years. The fact is that the team is in far better shape than it was back in mid-2005. There are several factors for this but Moody has certainly played a major part. Mahela Jayawardene put it emphatically: "There is no doubt in my mind that he is one of the best coaches in the world right now. It was an emotional moment when he told us he was leaving, but the boys respect his decision."

The best thing that I saw in him was that he insisted on us playing our Sri Lankan brand of cricket. He reminded us not to imitate any other team and encouraged players to believe in their talents. His role was massive in developing the team

Lasith Malinga on Moody

Players talk of him "pushing them out of their comfort zones" as he waged a war against complacency, forcing all players to analyse ways of improving their performance. "Tom challenged every individual," said Jayawardene. "You could not stay in the same place. Every training session, every team talk mattered. We all learned, not just the youngsters but the senior guys too. He certainly didn't allow me to coast and helped me become a better and more consistent player. He pushed us all out of our comfort zones and in the process made us much tougher mentally as individuals and as a team."

His influence on the younger players, instilling self-belief and helping them grow, was obviously immense. The likes of Lasith Malinga, Upul Tharanga, Chamara Silva and Farveez Maharoof all flourished under his guidance. Were it not for his vision, for example, Silva might have never returned to international cricket. Moody saw him during a training match and was immediately impressed. Within months he'd persuaded the selectors to re-introduce him. He then stuck by him after a pair in his maiden Test match in New Zealand last year and was rewarded thereafter with a flood of runs.

Lasith Malinga was transformed from a strike bowler prone to inconsistency and waywardness to one of the most potent pace bowlers in the world during Moody's two-year term. Unsurprisingly, Malinga also paid tribute to Moody, thanking him for letting Sri Lanka be Sri Lanka: "The best thing that I saw in him was that he insisted on us playing our Sri Lankan brand of cricket. He reminded us not to imitate any other team and encouraged players to believe in their talents. His role was massive in developing the team," Malinga told The Island.

Moody's success was achieved through the introduction of a new performance-based culture that encouraged self-improvement. He was organised and clear with his communication, insightful in his thinking and able to motivate the team. And there was one characteristic that will be particularly hard to replace: his willingness to stand up to senior players when they stepped out of line. The senior hierarchy are not troublemakers, but their high profile makes them powerful and, like all players, they sometimes need to be confronted. His management of Sanath Jayasuriya, Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas was exceptional. There were no screaming tantrums or chair-throwing theatrics, he was strong in his own careful, methodical, rational manner.

The search for Sri Lanka's next head coach is unlikely to include, in the long run, homegrown candidates. There are quality coaches now with proper training and international experience, including the likes of Rumesh Ratnayake and, more recently Chandrika Hathurasingha, the new A team coach, but the unfortunate reality is that the man management of the national team will be easier for an overseas coach with no political or personal affiliations.



A key point in Moody's success is his handling of senior players. There were no screaming tantrums or chair-throwing theatrics, he was strong in his own careful, methodical, rational manner © AFP
Moody has already given the board some potential names and the senior players may also throw more into the hat. However, finding a coach with the right blend of coaching and life skills will be very hard. Aside from the standard coaching skills of organisation, technical analysis, man-management and talent-spotting, he'll need to be sensitive to Sri Lankan culture, willing to live overseas, immune to the irrational nature of some media criticism and strong enough to hold his ground with senior players and, at times, the cricket board and selectors. International playing experience will be helpful, but not essential.

The big names normally bandied about - John Buchanan (now entering the commercial world), Greg Chappell, Duncan Fletcher, Dav Whatmore - are unlikely to be considered. Instead, the focus might be on some of the lesser known but well-respected assistant and specialist coaches currently working in Australia and county cricket in England. Graham Ford, the former South Africa coach who was approached by Sri Lanka after Dav Whatmore, is also respected by Sri Lanka's cricketers.

Whoever does sign up, though, will do well to carefully study Moody's tenure.

Charlie Austin is Cricinfo's Sri Lankan correspondent