Geoff Marsh has said he is looking forward to the challenge of helping rebuild Sri Lanka's side after the loss of several veterans over the past two years. Marsh, who has been named Sri Lanka's new coach, said he found it "quite exciting" to see the young talent on display during the recent Test series against Australia, when he was in the country watching his son Shaun play for Australia.
During that series, Sri Lanka's highest run scorer was the 24-year-old vice-captain Angelo Mathews, while fast bowler Shaminda Eranga made an impressive debut in the final Test at the SSC. Despite Sri Lanka losing the series 1-0 and slipping to fifth in the ICC Test rankings, Marsh said he was encouraged by what he saw after the loss in the series opener in Galle.
"I think Sri Lanka is in exactly the same position as Australian cricket is," Marsh told ESPNcricinfo. "In the last couple of years it's lost a lot of really good, experienced players, with Jayasuriya, Murali, they've lost Malinga to Test cricket, Vaas. In a country like Sri Lanka that's a pretty big loss.
"But they've still got some world-class players in Jayawardene and Sangakkara in their side, and they've got some good young players, Mathews and co. They have two good spinners. I think they're in exactly the same position as Australia, looking to rebuild a little bit from losing those players.
"My goal for the next 12 months is to bring them on and improve on their performance against Australia. That first Test match, the wicket wasn't a good cricket wicket so it was hard to judge where they were at. But after that I thought they were pretty competitive. We just need to grow on that and consistently improve in all areas."
Marsh arrives in Sri Lanka on September 27 to start his two-year contract, and it will be the beginning of a busy period for the side, as they prepare to head to the UAE to take on Pakistan, followed by a tour of South Africa. He said while it would be a challenge to get up to speed before the Pakistan series, he was happy to put his faith in his support staff.
"I'm going in with the same support team that they've had there. They've had things pretty well organised," Marsh said. "What I bring is a lot of hard work, and working on the basic skills of the game, and good communication with the players and making sure they understand their roles. Basically I'll be giving the player every opportunity I can to help him perform out in the middle."
The job will be Marsh's first international appointment since he resigned as Zimbabwe's coach in 2004, a stint that followed his successful period as coach of Australia. He said international coaching had not been on his radar over the past few years, but the encouraging words of the former Sri Lanka coach Tom Moody, as well as Tony Greig, helped him make his decision.
"It really started in the IPL last year," he said. "I got back into coaching there and I really enjoyed that. I hadn't thought about going back into international coaching, I had a contract with Pune Warriors, but when this came up I spoke to people like Tony Greig and Tom Moody and co, they spend a lot of time in Sri Lanka. We talked about Sri Lankan cricket and where it's been and where it should head. The challenge was there and I decided that was the way I wanted to go."
One of Marsh's most personal challenges will come in the new year, when Sri Lanka head to Australia to take part in the one-day tri-series, along with India. That means Marsh will almost certainly be coaching against his son Shaun, who is likely to be part of Australia's ODI side. However, Marsh said he and his son were used to working against each other, after he coached Pune and Shaun played for Kings XI Punjab during IPL 2011.
"Last time I coached against my son, he scored the most runs in the series and then played in the next Test series and scored a Test hundred on debut," Marsh said. "Shaun was the one who really pushed me to get back into it. He thought I would really enjoy cricket in Sri Lanka and that challenge. That's no problem for us. We've spoken about that. It's always good sitting around the kitchen table over a meal, talking about coaching against him. That's certainly not a problem."
Marsh is the latest in a long line of Australian coaches in charge of the Sri Lanka side, following Dav Whatmore, John Dyson, Moody and Trevor Bayliss.