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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Charith Senanayake interview: Sri Lanka Cricket's problems are myriad

The former Test opener resigned as team manager following the first Test defeat to England in Galle. Here, he tells how a drain of talent, outside interference in the cricket board as well as poor planning have all contributed to the team's current crisis

Charith Senanayake, centre, resigned as Sri Lanka manager following the first Test loss to England in Galle in November. AFP
Charith Senanayake, centre, resigned as Sri Lanka manager following the first Test loss to England in Galle in November. AFP

To say Sri Lanka cricket is at the lowest point would be something of an understatement.

Clean swept by England 3-0 in the recent Test series was just the third time Sri Lanka had suffered that ignominy on home soil. It followed a 3-1 loss in the five-match ODI series as well as the lone Twenty20 International.

The England humiliation is just the latest in a series of setbacks that has left cricket on the island nation in crisis. Sri Lanka failed to reach the Super Four stage in the Asia Cup in the UAE following defeats to Bangladesh and Afghanistan and last year they suffered a first Test defeat to Bangladesh and were also embarrassed by Zimbabwe in an ODI series.

Sri Lanka’s plight is not just confined to results on the pitch. Off-field issues have contributed to the current malaise too.

In the last three years, the team has gone through five captains and as many head coaches; there have been four batting coaches, five selection committees and the board has changed three times. The Sri Lanka Cricket board is currently suspended and cricket is temporarily run by the Ministry of Sports until elections are held in December. That too is now in doubt with the ongoing political drama in the country.

When results are this bad heads usually roll. The first to fall on his sword was Charith Senanayake, who resigned as team manager following the 211-run defeat to England in the first Test in Galle earlier this month.

“England were coming off a [home] series win against India despite different conditions. They are a top team who deserves all the credit," Senanayake told The National.

“We could have done better perhaps, yes, had we capitalised on certain situations, thought better, reacted quickly on [our] feet and played fearless cricket with confidence.”

Another area of concern seems to be a drought of emerging talent to fill the huge voids left by Muttiah Muralitharan, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, while veteran spinner Rangana Herath, 40, retired from international career after the first Test.

Senanayake said a lack of planning by the SLC, as well as unwelcome outside interference in its governance, were all factors in Sri Lanka's current predicament.

“The cricketing structures must ensure proper progression of players from school to clubs and then to national level,” said the former Sri Lanka international. “[We need] Proper management in place with right the people managing without outside influences.

“Of course when things go wrong, usually heads roll. It’s a common scenario in this part of the world, without identifying the core issues. Changing pillows for a headache is not the solution in my view.”

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Senanayake’s resignation after the first Test came as something of a shock. Working alongside coach Chandika Hathurusinghe, who opened the batting alongside Senanayake when the latter made his Test debut against New Zealand in 1991, seemed to offer, from the outside at least, stability.

However, after learning during the match that he would not be in the touring party for Sri Lanka's upcoming tours Senanayake said his position became untenable.

“During the first Test in Galle, I got to know, through the media, that I was taken out of the forthcoming tours to New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and the West Indies,” he said.

“When asked for reasons from SLC, I was informed that due to lapses in communication with support staff my stay with the team was detrimental. That’s the reason I decided to leave after the first Test, hoping nothing but the best for the team.

“In my view, the team, institution and country is bigger than any individual’s personal glory or interest.

“What I thought about my relationship with Hathu, perhaps I was wrong. In hindsight, maybe I should never have accepted the offer initially.”

Senanayake hasn’t given up hopes of a return under a different management, though. His most recent stint was his fourth time working for the SLC.

“Cricket is my passion and I am not there for any other benefit, being the lowest paid member of the staff,” he said.

“If called to serve under a different management, I definitely will. To be fair, SLC too have invested heavily in me, and it is my duty to give it back and share my experience.”

Sri Lanka's next tour is to New Zealand for two Tests which starts from December 15 followed by three ODIs and a one-off T20.