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Interview by Sa'adi Thawfeeq
August 16, 2009
Paul Farbrace, Sri Lanka's assistance coach, will be leaving at the end of the New Zealand series to take up the post of head coach of Kent. When he left the county two years ago to undertake the Sri Lankan job, he was the county's second team coach and academy director. But the chance to become Kent's head coach was too much of a temptation to resist, he tells Cricinfo
What made you want to leave Sri Lanka cricket?
I wasn't really looking for anything. I had pretty much set my goal to stay till the end of the 2011 World Cup, but while I was in England for the World Twenty20, I was approached by Kent. Graham Ford, who was director cricket, was looking to going back to South Africa and they were keen for me to go back to Kent as head coach. The draw for me was being head coach rather than continuing to be an assistant. It wasn't a case of looking to get away. I was in no rush to get out of Sri Lanka. I thoroughly enjoyed the two years here, and I have indicated to the board that if in the future there is a chance to come back, I'd definitely take it. I just thought the time was right to have a crack at being head coach rather than being an assistant and see if I can do that job.
How would you describe your two years with the Sri Lanka team?
It's been a very good two years, the only disappointment being that in one-day cricket we haven't been successful as we would have liked to be. Test cricket's been very good and we only lost one series - the very first, in Australia. ODIs would be the area where we underperformed in the two years certainly, with the talent and ability that we have in the team. Everybody has taken a long hard look at it and now there are plans in place to try and improve and go forward. The lesson that everyone has learned is that you need to be well organised and well planned to win games. Ability alone doesn't help. You need to have a good plan and clear thinking. That is something we talked to a lot of players about in the last two years, and certainly in the last 12 months. We need to have clear plans as a coaching team, and that has a knock-on effect on the players and how they go about their game.
Would you agree that Sri Lanka's recent poor record in ODIs is due to their inconsistent batting?
One-day cricket is a case of constantly looking at strategies, plans, practices and making sure you are 100% ready for the ODI series. I don't think you can say it's the batting or the bowling that is not delivering. You win as a team and you lose as a team. The important focus has to be on the squad as a whole and not on isolated areas. There will be some areas within the team that will be isolated but it will be wrong for us to talk about those areas. They need to be dealt with within the team structure rather than in the open. The guys are very keen that all areas of the team are looked up properly.
What does Sri Lanka lack to become a top ODI side?
At times the plans could have been a bit better. There is also half an eye on the next World Cup, so the selectors have taken the opportunity to look at different players and different formations and see how they work. They are starting to narrow it down to a smaller pool of players which is good. Then it's a case of making sure the new guys that come into the squad have enough games in preparation for the next World Cup. If Angelo Mathews is going to be a success in the next World Cup, which everybody thinks he will be, then you must ensure he plays enough games between now and then and have perhaps 40 ODIs under his belt by the time the World Cup starts. That way his experienced would have improved and he will be in a much better position to put in a consistent performance.
Where would rate Sri Lanka with other cricket-playing nations?
Sri Lanka is right up there in terms of being as good a cricket team as any. In terms of pure ability there is an awful lot here and we have some world-class cricketers in the likes of Mahela [Jayawardene] and Sanga [Kumar Sangakkara]. Sunny [Sanath Jayasuriya] is still playing ODIs and his record is astonishing. Even Vaasy [Chaminda Vaas] is someone who has been one of the best in world cricket for a long period of time. Then we have the legend in Murali [Muttiah Muralitharan] with over 700 Test wickets and still desperate to win every game he plays. When you've got people like that around the team with three of them - Sanga, Mahela and Murali - playing in both forms of the game, their desire and passion to be successful comes through with the younger guys. That's where Sri Lankan cricket is looking good with a very good balance of young, senior, middle-of-the-road players in terms of age and experienced players. It's a good balance to the team. The real boost to Sri Lankan cricket is for a country that is talked as having slow pitches and pitches suiting spin to produce so many fast bowlers and to have them available at the moment is fantastic.
What is the role you've played in making Sri Lanka a successful team?
In any coaching set up you don't look at your contribution in a singular way but in a team way. You have a team of players on the field and also a team of support staff off the field who work closely together. The key is you work closely with all of the staff and your contribution is making sure the role you play is preparation. At this level it isn't so much technical, it's more the mental side of the game. Any international cricketer knows how they should be batting, bowling or wicket-keeping. Our job as coaches is to make sure they get the balance right technically, tactically and mentally. The key is to know when to speak to players and when to leave them, when to make a suggestion and when to tell them something. There is a big difference in coaching between telling and suggesting.
Critically how would you assess the Sri Lanka team?
If you've got competition in the team it means the team is going to play well. Individuals are going to play well and they will constantly challenge one another within the team environment and that's what you want. The biggest thing going forward is the players have to want to get better, want to improve and keep working at it. It's not a game where you can take the foot off the gas and relax, you've got to keep working as hard as you can and the great thing is there are great rewards now for players if they do perform on a consistent basis. The most important thing is that no player should settle for just being in the team. Once they get themselves into the team they should be inching to play in every single game, not settling for what they've got - happy but never satisfied. The players are excellent role models to look at. One of the things that Mahela and now Sanga as captain has done is to make sure the player understands the game. Once you understand your game you can improve on that. That's the big thing that has been installed in the players now. Don't settle for just being a good player but push yourself as hard as you can, improve your levels of fitness and improve your knowledge of your game, understand the game as quick as you can and get the best out of yourself.
The Sri Lankan board has been very supportive. The players cannot have any excuse for not being successful because there are so many people around the team to make sure they have everything they need. Cricket is a simple game that can be made to sound very complicated. The people who do the simple things well are the people who are most successful. Simple is repeatable and repeatable is successful.