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June 23, 2007
Trevor Penney, Sri Lanka's stand-in coach, believes his side are as tough as Australia, and can compete with them in all aspects of the game.
Speaking ahead of the three-Test series against Bangladesh, Penney said: "[Adam] Gilchrist was the difference at the World Cup. Otherwise, I think we are pretty much level with Australia with our fielding, our bowling and our batting. We've got some great talent.
"The Australians are brought up tough. They are a tough team. The thing is that we are tough now. That's the line we've got to keep working on, practising hard and playing tough as we proved in England last year, in New Zealand and in the World Cup."
Penney says Sri Lanka's improvement over the past two years has been noted by Sandy Gordon, the sports psychologist who has often been consulted since June 2005. Gordon was called in for the forthcoming series, too.
"He was very pleased with the guys, the way they have matured mentally," said Penney. "I think that's important. We've had him about six times. He was complimentary about everybody. He thinks there is a massive lift in the mental side of the game."
Penney then talked about the passion he himself brought to the practices. "When you play all the time you need someone to lift you up a lot. When I am training them or practising with them I am keener than they are so I am passionate about every single thing. Fielding certainly comes out the way, the way they are fielding these days."
This is his first full series as coach of a national team, after taking over from Tom Moody who has gone to coach Western Australia. Penney, though, has had experience working under Moody for Sri Lanka.
"Tom allowed me a free rein to do a lot of the coaching because often he will be either talking to reporters, attending selection meetings... We both understood each other really well."
Penney believes that trust is a big part of Moody's legacy. "The players knew they could trust Tom wholly. He would never lie to them. He was always straight up front yet he did it in a pleasant way. He tells you straight, but in the next breath he will be helping you as well. I've learnt a lot from him.
"Some people want to stay on the fence. They don't want to say something to a guy even if he is a senior player. It's been important for us because we had a lot of senior players who had to be dealt with around the bush. Tom just went in straight and levelled the playing field so that all players are actually equal in our team now.
"What's nice about this team is that they stepped up a standard now and they all expect it from each other."
Penney said playing away from home had improved the team's mental toughness. "It has been a big plus point for Sri Lanka. They are ready to take up the challenge. Mahela [Jayawardene] as captain has been wonderful. He is so strong and he's got the team right where he wants them."