By Michael Roberts | June 13, 2015
Michael de Zoysa was team manager from 2013 to 2015. © AFP PHOTO
When composing my essay on Russel Arnold in April, I rang Michael de Zoysa in Sri Lanka in order to get some insights. In passing he indicated that he had just submitted his manager's report on the tour of New Zealand and Australia. When I met him for an extended chat in Colombo in late May, he indicated that the new interim committee at SLC had not sought him out to discuss this assessment or talk cricket. Neither, it seems, have our 'erstwhile' reporters.
de Zoysa is a straight talker and is prepared to level criticism at one's face. He does not wish his report to be buried. As it happens, I know him well. So I can affirm that, apart from considerable executive experience in the private sector, he brings to the cricketing table something I totally lack: the ability to read and decipher turf wickets. Succeeding the late Ranil Abeynaike, de Zoysa has overseen the management of the SSC grounds and its precious wickets for some time.
I stumbled on this facet, this asset, quite accidentally. It rose from my quirky opening gambit during our chat. Picking up on unconfirmed grapevine information from Adelaidian Aussie circles, I asked de Zoysa what the practice was in World Cup matches, with reference to the preparation of pitches and whether the ICC oversaw that task. The Aussie rumours intimated that the drop-in pitch for the World Cup final at the MCG was much bouncier and quicker than that used for the quarter-final between Bangladesh and India.
Drop-in pitches have to be transported and placed very late at night because of the giant transporters and their road requirements. In short, the implication was that the locals had tilted the arena in favour of the Aussies — not that the Kiwis were short of pace, but that their attacking batsmen were likely to be undone. This was, I repeat, unconfirmed gossip and a thought to be placed on hold in the air as "a possibility."
In response de Zoysa was explicit. The task of overseeing World Cup pitch preparation was in ICC hands; it was their domain. But when Country A tours Country B, pitch preparation is vested with home team B. However, touring team A has the right to examine a pitch some days before hand and demand alterations (within reason, of course). This is best done about four days before a match commences.
de Zoysa indicated that during Sri Lanka's last tour of England he had reviewed the venue before an ODI match and sent a formal letter to the ICC and England seeking shaving of the grass layer.
In the 'good old days,' managers of Sri Lanka teams had more clout than today. They chaired the selection committee on tour. As I had played cricket with such forceful and intelligent managers as Neil Chanmugam and Michael Tissera, I was occasionally privileged to overhear some selection talk in hotel rooms in Adelaide. But over the last 10 years or so, a selector has joined the tour and the manager has less clout. Doubtless this dimension varies with the individual, but it may be wise for SLC to have considered meetings with the manager they have chosen, with the captain and vice-captain present, so as to iron out responsibilities. Central to this review is the necessity of taking care to inspect the pitches that the team will be confronting on tour before any match, with the manager and assigned team member undertaking this duty at some point before match day. This is a necessary precaution.
As vital is attention to the development of team spirit and camaraderie by regulating the periods when wives and girl-friends can join the players. This is vital arena where the previous SLC board of 2014/15 failed to exercise regulatory power during the tour of New Zealand and Australia. The laissez faire policy meant that in the result several senior players and not-so-senior players, as well as some of the supporting staff, hardly interacted with the rest of the team outside training sessions. The issue is so important that it calls for a separate essay.
1. I expect that the coaches and captain have also filed reports and that some adverse comments re de Zoysa could feature in these remarks. The SLC board has to tread carefully, of course, and cannot release all confidential reports. However, they do need to discuss matters with all concerned in camera.
2. Journalists are expected to explore uncomfortable terrain. The specifics of selection during the two tours and the unusual appointment of Rumesh Ratnayake as Additional bowling Coach when Chaminda Vass was already onboard should have been issues they asked probed.
3. Michael de Zoysa was aware of the SLC constitution and was therefore part of the Selection Team on tour. However, I believe that in recent years, Managers have not been excluded from this process. I am subject to correction on this point.
4. Chanmugam and I played cricket together and against each other at the University of Ceylon in the late 1950s. When h was Manager of the sL team during a tour of Australia, I was chatting with him and Duleep Mendis (captain) when Roy Dias walked in. They began to address a selection issue so I got up. But they motioned me to stay. Friendship breeds trust.
5. Likewise I was chatting with Michael Tissera in his Hyatt hotel room in Adelaide once in early 2006 when he received a phone call from the Chairman Selectors (Kaluperuma?) in Colombo and proceeded to discuss a team issue (I cannot recall what, but it was a sensitive one) without being bothered by my presence.
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