Damith Samarakoon is a Sri Lankan cricket fanatic living in Sydney. He blogs regularly at www.theflyslip.net
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Breaking Bad spoilers ahead
In AMC's seminal drama Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston plays the role of Walter White - a cancer-diagnosed high-school chemistry teacher who decides to produce methamphetamine on the side to leave some money for his family before he moves on from life. He partners with Gustavo Fring, a drug distribution kingpin, who offers him a lab full of the best equipment to cook batch after batch of the perfect stimulant. White starts raking in money by the million. All he has to do is continue business as usual and he would become exceedingly rich. However, driven by his ego, greed, circumstance and the hunger for power, White systematically deep-dives into the life of a criminal. Always wanting and then craving for more.
There might be a somewhat tenuous parallel between this story, and Sri Lanka Cricket's approach towards Marvan Atapattu, who stepped in to coach the team ahead of the tour of England. Atapattu does not have the freedom to decide or think on his own. Instead, the SLC sees the coaching role as the good thing that inexorably needs to be made better, with the latest round of board meetings reconfirming the need to shove Atapattu aside for an exotic coach from foreign lands.
Atapattu remains one of the candidates in the running, but if the SLC thought that he was the right man for the job, there would not have been any need to go shopping for someone new. This comes on the back of Atapattu having overseen a hugely successful tour of England, including a historic Test series win, that was backed up with series wins in the Tests and ODIs against Pakistan at home. The only glitch was the loss to the mighty South Africans. So it's fair to say Marvan hasn't really done much wrong.
It also seems like the SLC have quietly forgotten Atapattu was thrust into the job in chaotic conditions when Paul Farbrace jumped ship ahead of the England tour. Through all that Sri Lanka have remained a cohesive unit, full of spirit and are playing some of their best cricket. How much of this can be directly attributed to Atapattu will always be unquantifiable. But he perhaps deserves some credit for keeping Sri Lanka in check and on course without any visible fault lines.
The need to change the head coach so late in the game ahead of the World Cup is baffling. With five months to go, 12 ODIs and 2 Tests if you count actual games, you wonder much of an impact a new coach can have, coming into a completely new set up, with its own unique culture. And dealing with SLC and its politics wears down the best of people.
Coaching is a job that requires quite a bit of time to knead into. Understanding players, and their unique demands, technically and emotionally, doesn't happen overnight. Given the short lead time to the World Cup, it's highly doubtful if any coach will be able to influence or improve what Sri Lanka already have in place. The personnel are taking shape, the team structure and strategies are being honed. If anything, now is a time for stability and consistency.
Perhaps Atapattu is seen a hanger-on from his previous post as the batting coach. He was consistently criticised for the lack of impact he seemed to have on the batsmen, particularly the younger members given that Sri Lanka were, and are, in a transitional phase. But then there is Angelo Mathews, who has travelled light years in his batting in the last couple of years. How much of that is down to Atapattu? It's safe to assume that he played a role in his transformation. As with all things related to the SLC, there is always an odour of politics in most decisions made. Perhaps, Atapattu is unfortunately positioned in the crossfire that has erupted between his brother-in-law Nishantha Ranatunga and the board's CEO.
When Darren Lehman stepped into the Australian job, he made an immediate impact because there was already a problem to be fixed. Sri Lanka don't really have that sort of gaping issue to be dealt with. The team will be better served by hiring a batting consultant to help them prepare for conditions in Australia. And it would be a much cheaper and less disruptive process to allow Marvan to lead Sri Lanka to the World Cup before considering a change, if by then, a change needs to be made at all. Atapattu may have his shortcomings as a head coach, but none that are apparent, at least not yet. Having worked under a couple of high-profile coaches already, and earned their praise along the way, he should be well aware of what the job entails. And if his Test career is anything to go by, he knows how to learn and improve in his own time.
In the end Walter White's attempt to chase the rainbow backfires. The money he made is stolen, his family is torn apart, he is left with nothing and is forced to rot in exile before losing his life. Removing Atapattu might not be as dramatic for Sri Lanka, but it's a good reminder to not be greedy when the status quo is your best course of action. What is often ignored in situations like this is that the anticipation of something better can easily overshadow any perceived value. Don't get greedy Sri Lanka.
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