Sri Lanka’s Head Coach Chandika Hathurusingha has an impressive CV having tasted success whatever the team he has been in charge of whether it be Sri Lanka ‘A’, New South Wales, Sydney Thunder or Bangladesh. Yet he put last wicket’s thrilling one wicket win in Durban over South Africa as his greatest moment as a coach.
Since taking over in January last year, Hathurusingha has put in lot of effort to turn the fortunes of a team that was struggling following some high profile retirements. Although he had received the fullest backing of Sri Lanka Cricket, October 26th political coup saw certain forces making life difficult for him.
He was in danger of losing his job after the defeats in Australia, but the win over a strong South African side has silenced his critics as people have started appreciating his contributions although he will love to have more freedom.
The Island caught up with Hathurusingha for an interview. Here are the excerpts.
The Island: What did the Durban win meant to you? It has been a tough few months for you.
Hathurusingha: The toughness was expected from the start. When you have tours to New Zealand, South Africa and Australia back to back after a series against England it is tough. I don’t think in our cricketing history we have played that many series back to back. That has been a challenge. People would have expected us to have a tough time in terms of results. The win is a massive boost for this side in terms of their confidence and resilience. When you play back to back tough series, they were leaning quickly. Durban was a result of what we learnt in Australia and New Zealand.
The Island: Is that the best win in your career?
Hathurusingha: Best so far. I am sure that game will go down in history as one of the best Test matches.
The Island: Everyone had given up hope when the ninth wicket felt. What was going through your mind?
Hathurusingha: I didn’t expect us to win at that stage. Not that I had given up. In that situation if you wanted someone to be out in the middle that has to be KJP. He is one guy who can hit a ball out of the ground anytime and bowler. I am a big believer in cricketing gods. If something were to happen cricketing gods will give some kind of sign and that overthrow gave me a faint of hope that result might go our way. Then the top edge for six confirmed that.
The Island: What are the signs the cricketing gods are giving Chandika Hathurusingha now?
Hathurusingha: Not much to be honest in terms of future. I am hoping cricketing gods will show me a few signs in near future! (Laughs).
The Island: Doing the job last three months has it been frustrating.
Hathurusingha: It has been difficult after the England series with all these distractions. Again this is a learning process for me and the team to understand different dynamics. It is not normal. I am getting lot of support from the cricketing fraternity. The result speaks volumes for these players.
The Island: Looking at that dressing room video, it looks as if you have got the full support of your players.
Hathurusingha: It is always nice to get appreciated. For a coach if you lose the dressing room you can’t do much. I don’t care what outsiders say. If we believe in something that we do in that dressing room that’s what matters and that shows in the middle.
The Island: What did you tell KJP when he came for the break?
Hathurusingha: It is not that I have told him something different. I try to tell players how good they are and what they are capable of doing. What to do in particular session and what the opposition will do and team needs of a player. I believe in his immense talent. This is not the first time KJP has done it. If you remember in Barbados after that freak accident he came back and batted and won the game for us.
The Island: The ODI squad has been announced. This is the last series before the World Cup. Quite a few new faces are out there. Is it the right time to do experimenting?
Hathurusingha: Your words that ‘this being the last series before the World Cup’ says a lot. They are still trying to find the combination and I am a bit concern to say the least.
The Island: Were you consulted before the selections.
Hathurusingha: It is a tough question, So I refrain from commenting on that.
The Island: Apart from England and Australia no team has won a Test series in South Africa. Is history in the making?
Hathurusingha: It’s a massive opportunity. The team deserves that. I hope we will have the right combination for this game. Tomorrow comes we are keen to make history. Not easy. Not many teams have done it. We have to do something exceptionally, well like last game. We can’t think too far ahead but to stay in the game till the last moment and take it session by session.
The Island: KJP is someone you have backed and now he has fired. Another guy who seems to be under tremendous amount of pressure is Kusal Mendis?
Hathurusingha: It is the responsibility of people who are holding positions to back these talents. That responsibility comes with your role. You don’t find those kinds of exceptional talents every day. It comes once in a generation sometimes. If you identify someone, you have to back them. If you take all these great players, they have needed some support at some point of their careers. I don’t understand why there’s this criticism for certain players. I wonder whether that is for the right reasons. Maybe a different agenda.
The Island: What do you guys need to do to win the series here?
Hathurusingha: In the last game, we won the toss and then bowled in the right areas at the start. Our bowlers set up the game and then our batters need to bat better than the last game. First innings sets games up. That is the only thing that we need to do well from the last game. Taking 20 wickets in a game has been a challenge for us. Vishwa’s effort and the effort of Lasith Embuldeniya were excellent.
The Island: Your thoughts on the talents we have seen like Lasith Embuldeniya, Oshada Fernando and Vishwa Fernando
Hathurusingha: Vishwa and Lasith have been identified for a while. They were in the system and they were very impressive in the last game. Vishwa has been unfortunate with injuries while Lasith was with High Performance Center and he had a very good domestic season and did well when he got an opportunity. Oshada too had a good domestic season. Early days for me to say a lot. But Lasith and Vishwa were outstanding.
The Island: Dinesh Chandimal was the man destined to take the team forward. Now he not only finds himself out of captaincy but out of the team as well.
Hathurusingha: He must be devastated. I don’t think anyone saw that coming. He was doing the right thing always. He was trying to put the team first even before I arrived. He has a big role to play in Sri Lankan cricket. I am sure he will come back.
(Source: The Island – By Rex Clementine in Port Elizabeth)