The Hathurusingha effect
In the past two months or so if the once vulnerable Sri Lanka middle-order batting has shown some form of consistency in one-day internationals it is due to the presence of batsmen like Thilan Samaraweera, Thilina Kandamby and Angelo Mathews. What is common with all three players is that they have at some point of their career come up against Chandika Hathurusingha, the former A team coach and presently shadow coach of the national team. What Hathurusingha has done to change the outlook of these players and make them permanent fixtures in the one-day team is simply amazing.
Take the case of Samaraweera, who was initially an overly defensive player and rated as a batsman good enough only to play Test cricket. A poor tour of England in 2006 saw him dropped from the Test side. In order to regain his form he was made captain of the Sri Lanka A team that toured England in 2007 and it was then that he met Hathurusingha, who was the coach. What Hathurusingha did to Samaraweera is now history.
He transformed Samaraweera from an introvert into an extrovert and opened up new avenues in his batting that had been unexplored for so many years. When he returned to the Sri Lankan team 17 months later against Australia at Brisbane in 2007, everyone saw a new-look Samaraweera who was prepared to score runs from ball one. His new approach not only saw Samaraweera accumulate a mountain of runs - he is only the second batsman for 2009 to score 1000 runs in Tests in a calendar year - but has eventually led to him finding a place in the one-day side. It is something that was unimaginable three years ago.
Samaraweera soon established himself in the one-day side by scoring his maiden century in this format of the game last month. It is not so much his personal contributions that mattered but his ability to build partnerships which has brought about a great degree of solidity to the Sri Lanka one-day middle order. He bats at no. 5.
The case of Kandamby is different. He was a batsman who didn't believe in his own batting ability. He would go about using up 30 balls to score 15 runs and after four ODI appearances for his country in 2004 he was virtually lost to international cricket. Even in domestic cricket Kandamby would make a good 90 and then throw his wicket away. The change about him came after he left Bloomfield and joined SSC in 2007.
Kandamby scored heavily that season and helped SSC win the Premier League championship. His own personal contribution to that victory was 822 runs at 68.5, with three centuries, including a career best 202. Kandamby then came under Hathurusingha when he was picked to lead Sri Lanka A in the 2007 tour of South Africa.
One of the first things that Hathurusingha did was to get Kandamby to lose weight and change his style of living. "The lifestyle that Kandamby was enjoying at that time was not suitable for cricket," said Hathurusingha. "We gave him a fitness guide to make sure he lost weight and was light on his feet.
"Kandamby never believed in himself. He never believed how good he was. I knew he had the potential to make it. The few changes I made to him are that I got him thinking about cricket and his lifestyle. He's got a good cricket brain and he could one day captain his country."
Since his return to the Sri Lanka team against Zimbabwe in 2008, Kandamby has been in outstanding form; he now enjoys a one-day career batting average of 37 and a strike rate of 70. In his last 17 ODIs since his return, Kandamby has scored five half-centuries, which include two unbeaten knocks in the nineties against India where he ran out of partners before he could complete his century. Some international scribes have started comparing him with Arjuna Ranatunga, whose rotund physique he resembles. He is also a left-hand batsman like Ranatunga and bats at No.6.
"The advantage I have with these players is I have played with them and know them very well," said Hathurusingha . "Each of the players has to be tackled differently. Some respond fast and grasp the points quickly others are slow and need to be told several times while there are others where you have to give it to them in writing.
"It's all about asking questions. When you explore options only you find out how much more you can learn and expand your game. You need to push them to the limit to find out what they have. There is always room for improvement.
"When I was A team coach it was all about continuous improvement. If it doesn't work out you can always come back to what you have. What I have given them is the confidence and the freedom to improve their game. That way they have grown in confidence. I can only give them options the rest is up to them."
Mathews is one of three players who Hathurusingha predicted as possessing the potential to make it to the national side after the A tour to South Africa in 2007. The other two were Tharanga Paranavitana and Suranga Lakmal. Two months later Mathews was making his ODI debut in Zimbabwe where he quickly displayed his potential as a brilliant allrounder. Mathews has not looked back since scoring a fifty in this third ODI, and has fulfilled the role of allrounder in all three formats in a matter of ten months. So much so that he has managed to keep Farveez Maharoof out of the reckoning.
"Mathews is an intelligent cricketer who knows how to adapt to certain situations without being told. He is a self-learner and doesn't rely on anyone. You don't have to push him. He is very good at building on whatever information he is given and improving on it," said Hathurusingha. "I found about Mathews' potential during the tour to South Africa where he scored an undefeated 99 when we were chasing 250 to win. He showed a lot of maturity with that knock. I made it a point to make that innings a good example for every player to learn from."
Hathurusingha recalled an incident involving a selector on tour in South Africa where he was questioned why he batted Mathews at No.4 when he was being groomed as an allrounder. Hathurusingha's reply was Mathews had to first get selected to the national team and to do that he must have enough runs behind him; that is why he batted him at No.4. Now Mathews bats at No.7 for his country.
According to Hathurusingha, wicketkeeper-batsman Kaushal Silva is waiting on the sidelines to make it to the national team along with fast bowlers Isuru Udana, Suranga Lakmal and Chanaka Welagedara. "It is only the presence of the best wicketkeeper in the world today, Prasanna Jayawardene, that is keeping Kaushal from making it to the Test side. But he is a cricketer who can adapt to any format of the game if the opportunity arises."