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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Mahela Jayawardene backs newly-led Sri Lanka cricket team to bounce back from poor 2017

Mahela Jayawardene has said Sri Lanka's worst days on the cricket pitch could be behind them now that they have sorted out their leadership and management positions for the national team.

In an exclusive interview with The National on Wednesday, the former Sri Lanka captain Jayawardene said he was pleased with the recent appointment of Chandika Hathurusinghe as coach, as well as the reinstatement of Angelo Mathews as the limited-overs captain.

Indeed, 2017 turned out to be one of Sri Lanka's least memorable years as they limped from one crisis to another both on and and off the pitch.

Apart from losing to lowly Zimbabwe in a one-day international series at home, they failed to make the semi-finals of the ICC Champions Trophy.

They then endured bilateral home series whitewashes against India in the Test, ODI and Twenty20 internationals, shortly before getting beaten in all three formats of the game in their return series.

Allegations of corruption from another former Sri Lanka captain, Arjuna Ranatunga, only served as a needless distraction for Sri Lanka Cricket even as it was busy dealing with its team's fading fortunes on the field.

Eventually an inquiry committee was set up to look into the problems, followed by mass resignations of the national selectors.

Except for their Test series victory over Pakistan in the UAE, it was a grim year for the men in blue.

But Jayawardene – a veteran of 149 Tests, 448 ODIs and 55 T20s – said he was cautiously optimistic about Sri Lanka's chances of rebounding from all the problems of the recent past, starting with the news that Hathurusinghe had come in place of the South African Nic Pothas.

Mahela Jayawardene hopes for some stability now that Angelo Mathews, right, and Chandika Hathurusinghe are in charge of Sri Lanka. Lakruwan Wanniarachchi / AFP
Mahela Jayawardene hopes for some stability now that Angelo Mathews, right, and Chandika Hathurusinghe are in charge of Sri Lanka. Lakruwan Wanniarachchi / AFP

“Chandika is a good choice,” Jayawardene said at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club on Wednesday. “For one, he’s a very good coach, and understands the game and the tactics to implement in a game. He’s [also] a Sri Lankan and understands the culture, and also knows the players pretty well from their younger days."

The 40-year-old former middle-order batsman hoped for a strong partnership between Hathurusinghe and Mathews. “He’s the most experienced player and has the qualities of a leader," Jayawardene said about Mathews.

But he also urged the 30-year-old all-rounder "to show that he can lead the team, rather than him going away with the decisions made by others".

“Hopefully, Chandika will enforce that on Angelo, and then he will lead as a leader,” he added.

Pleased though he was about the new management team, Jayawardene cautioned against expecting a turnaround overnight.

“That alone [sorting out the management-related issues] won’t be enough because everything else has to fall in to place, like the selections and to allow the coach to do his job without any interference, which is most important," he said. “Hopefully the youngsters in the team can now settle down and play some good cricket.”

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The cricketer-turned-entrepreneur had few kind words to say about the selectors.

“It’s been tough for the boys in the last two years but can’t blame them because the selection process has been pretty ordinary I have to say,” Jayawardene pointed out. “Having 42 cricketers in a 16-month period doesn’t provide any consistency to a team.

“If you trust your players, then you have to give them a longer period of time to perform. It’s actually learning on the job while playing in international cricket. It doesn’t provide any confidence to the players."

Jayawardene said there needed to be a roadmap as far selection was concerned.

"What they need to do is to select a core group of 15-20 players, and they should be the ones going for the next World Cup in 2019," the 2014 World Twenty20 winner said.