Sri Lanka's fielding woes are deep-rooted, and will only be fully solved through long-term emphasis on fielding in junior and emerging cricket, coach Graham Ford has said.
Once considered the best fielding side in Asia, Sri Lanka's fielding standards have declined substantially through the last few years, across all formats. A lack of catching ability behind the wicket has been repeatedly exposed on the most recent tours of South Africa, England and New Zealand, and while Sri Lanka won the T20 series in Australia in February, several catches had been spilt through that series as well. Ground fielding standards have also deteriorated.
"I think fielding, for quite a long time, has been a problem for Sri Lanka," Ford said. "They've tried various coaches at the national team level. The board's realised that you're not just going to solve the problem by having a coach at the top, because the players coming through to the top are way off the required standard. No coach is going to turn someone into a star fielder if he hasn't been coached for quite some time. It's the old story of you can't teach an old dog new tricks.
"You can't just get a group of players and put them together with Jonty Rhodes and think that tomorrow they're going to go out and field well. It is going to take some time."
Though Sri Lanka's domestic cricket structure is ill-resourced and ill-equipped to invest meaningfully into fielding training, Sri Lanka Cricket has begun to emphasise fielding to the teams the board directly manages, Ford said. The top fielding coach in SLC's employ - Nick Pothas - was recently deployed with Sri Lanka's Under-19 side, for example, and the A team has had more attention from top coaches in the past few months as well.
"I think the board should be commended on really looking and they're trying to get a fielding program working with the Under-19s, the emerging players, and the A team players, so that by the time they get to the national level, they're ready and fully content to field there," Ford said.
"Hopefully that project is pursued with determination and patience, and in time, I think Sri Lanka can become the best fielding nation in the world. I believe the Under-19 team at the moment is fielding pretty well. It's just about getting those basics right at a young age. For some time now, we've had high quality fielding coaches working with the national team, but it's almost too late."
The board has also recently strengthened its cohort of trainers and fitness coaches, which Ford said would have a positive effect on fielding.
"Athletic ability, speed and ability is also important, so it's not just the fielding coach - the conditioning coaches also need to be involved. I think with that project put in place, there will in time be a result. Credit to the board that they've looked into this and decided they will have a proper fix and a long-term fix."