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January 22, 2014
Outgoing Sri Lanka coach Graham Ford has expressed optimism about Sri Lanka's future, after several key players contributed heavily in the Test series against Pakistan. Ford reserved highest praise for Kaushal Silva, who assumed the opening position Tillakaratne Dilshan left vacant, and also lauded the progress of the fast bowlers, who had been instrumental to the Test victory in Dubai.
Silva has been a middle-order batsman in domestic cricket, but hit 307 runs at 51.16 in his first series as Test opener. He had hit 27 first-class hundreds before being granted an extended run in the side.
"I am surprised that Silva hasn't opened more because his natural make-up is that of an opener," Ford said. "Everything he does, he just looks like a good Test match opener. I wasn't sure of his mental strength, but coming on tour, I really got to know him a little bit. He showed that he is very tough mentally, which is fantastic, and he's got a great technique for countering attacking bowling which is what you need in Test match cricket. With Dilshan retiring, it's fantastic that Sri Lanka had such an able replacement waiting in the wings."
Sri Lanka's fast bowling has perhaps been the most encouraging outcome of the series, as the three frontliners shared 29 wickets between them at an average of 29.72, on pitches that were largely unhelpful after the first four sessions. Shaminda Eranga and Suranga Lakmal also both bowled 130.3 overs each in the series - a remarkable achievement, considering Lakmal's history of injury in particular.
"The fast bowling is something the medical team has paid a lot of attention to, together with the fast bowling coaches. They've really tried to build up their work base and their strength, so that they are able to bowl much longer spells at full intensity and come back later and bowl with good pace. That's really pleasing to see, how they have come on.
"As I mentioned earlier on in the tour, it has been a disappointment that they missed out on so much Test cricket in the past year. They would probably have been further down the line if they had played a bit more. The [upcoming] series in England would be a fantastic challenge and these young bowlers are really starting to show what it takes to perform on a tour like that."
Ford had come aboard with Sri Lanka at a time of upheaval, in which both the previous coach and captain Tillakaratne Dilshan were sacked. He suggested the team found direction during his two years in charge, and had also drawn good results from a diverse group of cricketers.
"When I first took over it was tough times obviously - the coach changed quite suddenly, the captain had changed. We went to Australia for an ODI triangular against very tough opposition and we lost the first few games. At that stage it was quite hard to really understand just where we were going but very quickly the character and fight of the group and the players within the group started to show and as soon as you see that determination and that character, you know you've got something to work with.
"Together with some amazingly talented players it was very exciting. It has been a gradual process of the talent and the attitude of the group being slowly developed. The professionalism within the group, the communication, the work ethics, the understanding of taking on responsibility has all developed nicely. That's why I feel there are some exciting things around the corner."
"Some of the player management was important. Working with individuals and understanding what makes them tick, looking after them in such a way that you can get the best out of them. That was one of my main focuses. Sometimes people might not necessarily agree, but we do have players in various stages of their career and have slightly different requirements in terms of their preparations. That was something, together with Mahela Jayawardene, brought in pretty early in my time and seems to have worked quite well with the guys just making sure that each and every one of them prepares in the way they are best suited to."
Ford departs for a three-year term with Surrey, which he begins in February. He cited family reasons in his decision not to renew a second term with Sri Lanka, despite the board's request that he stay.
"One of the main reasons I'm going to coach county cricket is that it is a seasonal thing, in terms of being able to organise my life with my family. It's a lot easier than the hustle and bustle of international cricket; the schedules that are in place at the moment - you just don't have any time at all."
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