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Can Mickey Arthur and revamped coaching structure lift Sri Lanka out of chaos?

In his first press conference, the new head coach singled out Kusal Mendis and Lahiru Kumara as potential world-class talents

Madushka Balasuriya
Mickey Arthur addresses a press conference with SLC president Shammi Silva  •  AFP

Mickey Arthur addresses a press conference with SLC president Shammi Silva  •  AFP

Discipline, hard work, developing young talent, creating a unique brand of cricket. Mickey Arthur struck all the right notes in his first media conference as Sri Lanka head coach, but his optimism could turn out to be more than the usual new-coach bluster if SLC's rejigged national coaching structure works out as expected.
While all the spotlight was understandably on Arthur - arguably the biggest name to take over the national team reins in its history - a slew of other appointments made alongside points to more concerted long-term planning. While ESPNcricinfo had previously revealed the appointments of Grant Flower, David Saker and Shane McDermott as batting, bowling and fielding coach respectively, it can now be confirmed that Flower will also take over as head coach of the Sri Lanka A team.
SLC has also appointed Tim McCaskill to the newly created post of head of national cricket development, with SLC's former chief operations officer Jerome Jayaratne taking over as chief cricket operations officer.
The posts of Jayaratne and McCaskill will be complementary. McCaskill will overlook the development of Sri Lanka's youth, provincial, district, and women's teams, while Jayaratne will be tasked with overseeing the development of the national, emerging, and A teams - all of whom will have access to Flower, Saker and McDermott's expertise.
The idea behind the restructuring is to ensure that players at all age levels are developed in a holistic manner so that the transition to the international stage is as smooth as possible. For Arthur, who was so effusive in his enthusiasm for developing young talent, the plans SLC had put in place did play a key role in his decision to take up the role.
"Everything that I've seen so far has been very, very good. It's been outstanding," Arthur said. "It's a whole new structure and a very unique structure - I think it's pretty unique in world cricket. It's why I prefer coaching internationally to coaching the T20 leagues, because you set up a programme for players 12 months of the year, instead of just walking into a T20 league, work there for a month, and you move on to the next gig.
"The thing that really attracted me was that I looked at the talent that was available and that's the key motivating factor. It's coming to watch these young players and help these young players fulfil their potential. And it was great to be at training this morning, because the amount of talent that we have here is great."
Among the players available to Arthur will be Kusal Mendis and Lahiru Kumara, two men that he singled out as potentially world-class talents. Kumara has impressed with his express pace over the last year but is still raw, while Mendis more often than not has flattered to deceive, showing glimpses of his potential but frequently allowing outside criticism - mainly from social media - to affect his form. Arthur knows that his biggest task will be to make sure the players perform at the highest level more consistently.
"In the past, I knew that if I performed the role to the best of my ability we'll have longevity here, and we'll have some success," Arthur said. "And the success will be seeing Kusal Mendis become one of the best players in the world, it'll be seeing Kumara become one of the best bowlers in the world. If I can get those players believing in themselves and getting better and better, that's all I'm worried about because ultimately it's going to lead to wins, lead to good performances.
"The secret is hard work, there's nothing else. When we go out on the training ground, we work hard, we train to get better. I always say the intensity that you train with is what you take into a game. Intensity is not a light switch, you can't switch it on and off, you have to be at that level all the time."
While Arthur's first task will be a return to Pakistan, the home of his previous employers, later this month, one eye will undoubtedly remain on the T20 World Cup in Australia next year. Arthur explained that his goal in the build-up to the tournament would be to identify and build an "effective" brand of cricket over the course of the next eight months.
"I think it's a very important time for us, we've got about eight months. And you can't just a month before the event try and put a team together, so after that little T20 tour of India in early January it's going to be a very important time for us. We've got to get a brand that we want to play, we've got to get a brand that we think is going to be successful in Australia, and then we've got to put the players around that brand and make sure we can then give them clarity, and give them opportunities, and stick with those players, give them consistency in terms of their selection.
"And hopefully we can go there and do particularly well. But that'll be an eight-month phase in order to try and get us to where we need to be."
Arthur also opened up on his time working with Australia, where his tenure ended abruptly after two years following a blow-out with several players in what has since come to be known as "Homeworkgate".
"That was an interesting time. I felt at that time that was what Australian cricket needed," Arthur said. "It needed just to be pulled together just a little bit. And yeah, I took the can for it. But when people call it Homeworkgate, there's a stigma to that that I don't like very much. Because it wasn't that. I'm not a guy that sets homework.
"What it was, was them understanding what they needed to do to be professional cricketers. And understanding the sacrifice and the work ethic and the disciplines that go into being professional cricketers. And those are things that I never compromise on; you can never compromise on discipline, values, standards. And I was disappointed at that point in time because I felt the standards weren't where they needed to be, and it almost needed a jolt to try and get it right.
"Now if I sit back and think about it, it was far too drastic a move, but I felt it was the sane move. But if you ask me now would I do it again, I wouldn't do it exactly that way but it needed that jolt at that time."
Following on from his Australian sojourn Arthur took over the Pakistan head coach role, and enjoyed three immensely successful years, which were soured by a poor run in his final few months in the job. Prior to taking over at Australia, Arthur had been head coach of South Africa for five years. Now a decade on from his first international coaching role, Arthur feels he's at the peak of his powers, and is confident of taking Sri Lanka where they need to go.
"I sit here being the best coach I can possibly be now," Arthur said. "When I coached South Africa I was very young, we were a very young side sort of finding our way in the game, I had five very good years there. I had two years of Australia, first year was very good, second year wasn't that great. And then I had three wonderful years with Pakistan. I loved every minute of working with those players, because very much like Sri Lankan players, they were very humble boys, they had great values, and to see them develop and fulfil their potential was fantastic.
"The one thing I've learnt though is to just to have a look, understand the culture first and foremost, and then once you understand the culture and the environment, is then to get it going in the direction you want."
SLC has developed a reputation for parting ways with coaches at the first sign of trouble, and not without reason; Arthur is the 11th head-coach appointment since 2011. No matter how well-laid its plans may be, therefore, the challenge for SLC will lie in sticking to them.