Women's Asia Cup, 2006-07 December 10, 2006

Coach Perera expects big improvements after takeover

Sa'adi Thawfeeq

For nearly a quarter-of-a-century since Sri Lanka's ill-fated tour to South Africa, Bernard Perera had kept a low profile of himself shunning the limelight as he had even during his halcyon days as an outstanding cricketer for St. Anthony's College, Katugastota and Kandy CC, which earned him recognition as a member of the national squad in the early eighties.

Perera was destined for higher things with his batting and fielding talents but after a tour of Pakistan where he failed to find a place in the national side he fell victim to a well-devised plan to tour South Africa in late 1982 and paid the penalty by being banned for 25 years from all forms of cricket. Although the ban was lifted after eight years Perera, by then, was lost to the game.

Today the former rebel cricketer holds the rather envious position of coach of Sri Lanka women's team who leave on Monday for Jaipur, India to take part in the third Asia Cup.

Perera (50) has been on the job since taking over from Nihal Kodituwakku in December last year and saw Sri Lanka finish runner-up to India in the second Asia Cup tournament held in Pakistan.

"Last year we beat Pakistan and gave a good fight against India in the final. I think we can do better this year," said Perera. "India is the main obstacle. They have been in this game for about 30 years and have the experience compared to our 10 years.

"We are doing batting and fielding drills and physical training with a physio. I am happy with my girls the way they have prepared for the tournament. They have lot of potential. They are very disciplined and talented. I am sure they will do something good.

"At the moment we are getting all the facilities from Sri Lanka Cricket [SLC]. Women's cricket coming under the wing of the SLC has given us more opportunities to widen our scope. In the near future you can see a big improvement in our cricketing standards." Perera said that to raise the standard of women's cricket in this country they needed to play a lot of practice games at home and participate in local tournaments. What they lack is match practice.

"Some school have started tennis-ball cricket. Only a few schools play leather-ball cricket. If we are to start improving our cricket standards it must come from school level. With SLC coming in, I am sure those grey areas will be identified and addressed."

Before taking over the national women's team, Perera, an SLC-qualified Level I and II coach was a district coach handling Kandy CC and running a private coaching school in his hometown Kandy.

"Gwen Herath [president of the Women's Cricket Association of Sri Lanka] asked me whether I could come and help the girls and become coach of their national team. I took over in December last year."

Perera follows a long list of ex-Sri Lankan cricketers who have coached the women's national team since 1997. The former wicket-keeper/batsman Guy de Alwis did the job till 2002. Priyantha Munasinghe had a short stint in 2003 before another former Sri Lanka cricketer, Nihal Kodituwakku, was in charge from 2003 till 2005.

Herath has a high opinion of Perera. "The good thing about Bernard is that he handles the girls individually which most of the past coaches didn't do. He has got the team together and if he continues as coach I am certain we have a very good chance of qualifying for a semi-final place at the next World Cup."