By Michael Roberts | June 15, 2015
Sri Lanka's poor showing in Australia and New Zealand earlier this year has led to questions on whether the time players spend with family while away on tour should be regulated. © Reuters
The previous administrations of Sri Lanka Cricket revealed considerable acumen in arranging a tour of New Zealand prior to the World Cup 2015. This meant that most of the Sri Lankan players were acclimatized to the conditions governing the Antipodes. There was a down side to this however. Coming on top of an arduous ODI series in India, the physical demands on the regular players were considerable — so that one can inquire whether a few of the injuries suffered in the Antipodes were a product of overstrain (a thought that is difficult to answer).
Players, coaches and supporting staff cannot think, talk and sleep cricket all the time. They cannot be expected to live in each other's pocket 24/7 … or even 15/7. Leisure and relaxation tailored to each man's suite of desires are essential. Familial and female companionship are requisites for those with partners and/or children.
The issue is the management of these two 'spaces'.
Sri Lanka in 2014/15 — perhaps typically — did not regulate the time allocated for the presence of wives, children and regular girl-friends. Talking to former team manager Michael de Zoysa indicated to me that the harum-scarum policy in this regard had an impact on interaction within the squads.
Though his wife was present throughout the tour, Angelo Matthews was exemplary in his obligations. However, other players who had their wives accompanying them throughout the tour tended to withdraw into the family domain when training sessions were over., Sangakkara and Jayewardene had booked apartments in Sydney or Melbourne so that they could hop across and relax with their families on occasions. Multi-millionaire cricketers have capacities that others lack. This space cannot be begrudged as long as it jells with team requirements.
This requirement is as vital for coaches and supporting staff, and could even be more rigorously demanded. Most of the supporting staff were single men or did not have their families with them. Atapattu's wife was present for only two weeks. However, Trevor Penney and Chaminda Vaas had wife and girl-friend respectively accompanying them throughout.
Guided in part by de Zoysa, I contend that careful man and family management is a requisite in this field. One must juggle both pursuits: team-bonding on the one hand and familial duties-cum-relaxation on the other. A balanced programme has to be worked out in consultation with the captain and players. This balance must apply to supporting staff as well: their commitment will be in question if their devotion to family and leisure is a predominant refrain throughout the tour.
A simple first step would be to debar the presence of girl-friends, wives and children at the outset of the tour: for a short specified period. Given a three-and-half month tour of the sort faced by many players this last Antipodean summer, one would have thought that a second period devoted to team bonding introduced at the start of the World Cup would have been as useful as vital. Where coaches, assistant staff and senior players withdraw into the bosoms of their families after training sessions, and do so continuously, there, at those moments, camaraderie declines.
Since drafting this article I have heard from Michael Tissera who was the manager on the tour of India and Australia in Tom Moody's spell as coach: "If it was a short tour, say a month, they were allowed after one week. On a longer tour after 3 weeks to a month" (email, 15 June 2015). He added that between them Moody, Penney (assistant coach) and Tommy Simsek (physio) "had regular meetings amongst themselves and planned out the days programme which included nets, training, pool, other games to get over the monotony of cricket only and also social evenings of quiz nights etc."
Young and raw players gain from having friends around them when negotiating foreign country. Invariably, similar tastes in palate mean that the Sri Lankan cricketers club together in finding restaurants. Yes, there must surely be different degrees of comradeship. Not everyone is machan to everyone. However, the allocation of a period devoted to team-bonding at the outset of a foreign tour means that the team captain and management can quietly and unostentatiously encourage specific senior players to mentor specific juniors — especially the raw rookies — in the manners of the land in which they are facing challenges on and off field. Such off-field interaction would, hopefully at the same time, be productive in imparting cricketing wisdom, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
Such time-management is common sense, a productive move. Sri Lanka Cricket should take note. Now and evermore.
1. TM Dilshan, Nuwan Kulasekera, Kaushal Silva, Thisara Perera, Dhammika Prasad, Sachitra Senanayake, Lahiru Thirimanne.
2. Piyal Wijetunga (spin bowling coach); Steven Mount (physiotherapist); Nuwan Senewiratne.(assistant fielding coach); Jeremy Snape (psychologist/motivater); Dharshan Weerasinghe (trainer); Rohan Priyadarshana (masseur); and Dulip Samaraweera (analyst) remained single. Fast bowling coach Rumesh Ratnayake's wife joined him at the quarter-final stage.
© Island Cricket