'Sri Lanka can become hub for fast bowling'
Former Sri Lanka fast bowler Rumesh Ratnayake helped set up the Sri Lanka Fast Bowling Academy along with Western Australia coach Darryl Foster in 2000, and it is run today by another former fast bowler Anusha Samaranayake. But the man responsible for the country having an influx of quality fast-medium bowlers vying with each other for places in the national team is Champaka Ramanayake, the former Sri Lanka fast bowler. He was head of the Academy for seven years before he took up an appointment to become the national fast bowling coach of Bangladesh last year.
Q: Why was the Fast Bowling Academy formed?
CR: During our time there were very good fast bowlers but there was no one to guide us, so we used to send players for two weeks to the MRF Pace Academy in India. Within two weeks you can't really make a bowler for the future. Dennis Lillee and TA Sekhar used to give a lot of technical analysis but there was no one to follow that up. The idea came because of that.
Q: What was the role you played in the Academy?
CR: I was still playing first-class cricket and I was assisting Rumesh on a part-time basis. When Rumesh left in September 2001 to take up an appointment with the Asian Cricket Council, I took over as head coach. I am a qualified fast-bowling coach at MRF, Level 2 in Australia, and in England I have followed seminars and coaching courses. Apart from that, practically, I had played 20 years of first-class and international cricket. I introduced many things like an athletic coach to introduce running drills to make the bowlers run well. It was important for a bowler's run-up.
Q: You have been credited with discovering Lasith Malinga. Your thoughts on that?
CR: When he came to me he couldn't bowl a slower ball or reverse-swing, he had pace only. We had to develop his skills in those areas and let him bowl his natural way with a square-arm action which the batsmen find very difficult to pick. He can now bowl a beautiful slow ball, a yorker and get the ball to reverse-swing. The only thing I did to his bowling was the physical part so that he could play for a long period. We have to harness natural talent because he has been bowling that way for eight years or so. Over a period of time he has developed the skill to bowl like that. But if you find, that with such a technique he will get injured very often then you have to think about changing it.
The good thing about Sri Lanka is we rotate our bowlers and manage them well. All fast bowlers get injured, even those with good technique because their bodies are not designed for fast bowling. When you have a strenuous bowl, you tend to get injured but as long as you do your physical part there will be fewer injuries. Lasith has already played five years of international cricket and won a lot of games for us. If he plays for another five years he has done his duty.
Q: Do you attribute Sri Lanka's recent success at the international level to the emergence of fast bowlers?
CR: Yes. Today Sri Lanka is blessed with quality fast bowlers because of the Pace Academy. There is healthy competition among fast bowlers not only in the national team but even among the clubs. Murali [Muttiah Muralitharan] has been our match-winner for a long time. [Chaminda] Vaas also did the same like Murali and won many matches for us. Then came Malinga and now [Nuwan] Kulasekera and [Thilan] Thushara are bowling Sri Lanka to victory. In the eighties, our cricket was dominated by fast bowlers before Murali came. We couldn't win because we struggled a bit on flat wickets and outside our country. Today our fast bowlers are taking as many wickets as our spinners. We have also got some good leaders like [Kumar] Sangakkara and Mahela [Jayawardene] to guide them.
Q: Why do you think Sri Lanka is successful in continuing to produce a crop of fast bowlers?
CR: Sri Lanka can become the hub for fast bowling if we can improve our existing facilities. We are lucky because of the natural talent we have. Our natural talent comes from schools cricket, softball cricket and village cricket. Everywhere we play cricket that's where you develop your skills. Someone like Malinga developed from playing softball cricket. To bowl fast with a tennis ball you have to bowl round arm, you cannot bowl fast unless you chuck. Other countries don't play softball cricket like we do. We have a good system now where boys can develop through the Academy, the Development Squad, 'A' team and then National level.
Q: How well are Sri Lankan coaches recognised outside their own country?
CR: Bangladesh always talks highly of our cricket, schools and club system all the time. We have a great history and culture in cricket. They have a high respect for that. In England they have a very good county system but not a good school system. Bangladesh has a high regard for our coaching system. That's why they always go for coaches from Sri Lanka and not from India or Pakistan. Unfortunately Sri Lankan coaches don't get the same recognition from western countries who don't consider hiring a coach from Asia. They always go for one of their own. But it will change very soon because Asia is dominating cricket now.
Q: What about your future?
CR: My contract with Bangladesh is for two years. I have finished one-and-a-half years but I am still undecided whether to continue. They have shown interest in renewing my contract but I am thinking of coming back also because of my family. My children are schooling here and they are playing cricket also. If the SLC offers me a job I might consider coming back.