The sundayreader.lk sports news team correspondent Samantha Hewabandula contacted the Head Coach of the Sri Lanka U19 team Mr. Avishaka Gunawardena where he aired his views on the way the team performed and the future for Sri Lanka Cricket ;
Q. We never expected Sri Lanka U 19 Team to perform so well during the world cup but they did raise a few eyebrows. What changes did you do as coach?
A. Well, there was no such requirement to do a change as we had only 4 months to prepare for the World Cup, the Team had not had the opportunity to play school cricket for almost 2 years and what they did with preparations for only 4 months, is commendable. It’s not easy to get into a quarter final in a World Cup and I guess we achieved that after about 6 years so we can be happy.
Q. You mentioned that there had not been a cricket tournament for almost 2 years. Situation being so, how did you manage to choose the players for this tour?
A. When I took over, the schools have played a provincial tournament and they had chosen 26 players based on performance of the said Provincial tournament.
Q. We have had players from main districts in and around the south of Sri Lanka but have not seen anyone from the north and the east of Sri Lanka. Why can’t we pick some good players from that area.
A. Schools in the North and the east of Sri Lanka, to my knowledge play Div 1 level cricket and have not graduated to that Level yet so it’s hard to pick. Having said that I am sure we will have some in the future with the development of cricket in that area.
Q. Do you think we have players who can be considered for the senior Sri Lanka team from this lot of U 19 youngsters?
A. Given about two to three years I am sure we will have a few players reaching the top. In my view it’s important that they are given a chance at the right time without being in any hurry. Ex… In our team there is a player who came from Ratgama who is only 16 yrs and he can play for another world cup and we thought he is too young to play a world cup now but we took him on tour looking at playing him in the future.
Q. you mentioned that most players have come from Matara, Galle Kandy, Kurunegala so do you think that such areas have been given with proper facilities?
A. looking at history. we can see a cricket belt which consist of areas such as Matara, Galle, Colombo, Negambo, Gampaha, Kurunegala and Kandy. Outside the belt you see only a few players. To have more coming from other areas we need to find the less privileged and support such schools.
Q. As the coach and having seen our talent and what our boys can do, what did you see we were lacking, if at all?
A. During the world cup I was able to understand that players from England, India and Pakistan have had higher kevel of cricketing exposure playing at county and at 1st class levels. This we did not have and as such we could sometimes see a distinct difference between such players with higher experience and our school level players for obvious reasons.
English players play for county, India and Pakistan boys too I understand have played at higher levels.
So when we have a youngster performing, we sometimes have a tendency to rush things and in my view we should give them experience at the right time and it should be a gradual process so that we get the maximum out of the youngsters at higher levels.
Q. Is there anything specific that you did as a coach for the team to perform well during the World Cup?
A. Well, out of the 20 matches we played, we won 15 games overcoming some of the good sides in the world. The main reason that I saw was the team spirit and togetherness on and off the field. They were always together and worked as one team. In my view this was the main contributing factor for our achievement as a team.
Q. Is there anything that you saw as the main reason for their team effort?
A. well, I believe as the head coach I also had a set of other coaches and segments including the team manager with whom I had to work. At all times we show cased good discipline as a team of Coaches and administrators and I am sure that really motivated the team and for them to understand the essence of acting as a Team. The other thing is, it’s very important that players place a lot of trust on the Management and Coaches without hiding things and having confidence in us. This also helped the players to be very open and we were also able to assist them whenever they needed our assistance and guidance.
Q. Is it true that you are going to be appointed as Coach for the Sri Lanka ‘A’ team?
A. If I am told to do anything for Sri Lanka Cricket I am happy to do that. I think Sri Lanka Cricket has come to a road to success and we need to have patience and look to the future positively. As I can see it is going to be bright for Sri Lanka. Average age in the main Sri Lanka team is 24/25 years so it’s a very young team. As a result of their age factor and with experience, we are confident that Sri Lanka Cricket will get to that place we have enjoyed some years back. We can see it happening and I am sure you too can see that happen taking to consideration what has taken place with performance.
Q. I understand that Sri Lanka Cricket has taken a stance to retire players after reaching 27yers of age. What do you think of this?
A. it may not apply to everyone as we should not let good players out just because they reach 27 yrs but it’s good to have fitness standards so that we have fit players given the intensity of the game now. However, if there is a good player I am sure the administrators will have a dialog and sort things and take the best decision on behalf of Sri Lanka Cricket. Having said that with the way we are playing now, reaching the old glory is a matter of time and we need to have patience till then.