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Maturity of Mathews was high point

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Former Sri Lanka team manager Michael de Zoysa (left) with Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews. Former Sri Lanka team manager Michael de Zoysa (left) with Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews.

Michael de Zoysa recalls his two-year stint as team manager

One thing that stands out vividly in memory during his two-year stint as manager of the Sri Lanka cricket team for Michael de Zoysa is the maturing of Angelo Mathews as a man and a batsman and more importantly as a captain - able to take on the responsibility and show his class.

“That was one of the great highlights of that period. I always knew he was a good player,” De Zoysa whose contract as manager ended with the 2015 World Cup told The Nation. “I remember seeing him many years ago (2009) at the SSC against Pakistan when we were four down and having to defend the whole of the last day. He didn’t know me very well then or who I was but I remember telling him at the SSC lounge ‘you just stick there with Sangakkara and we’ll save this game’. The fellow batted the whole day for 60 odd with Sangakkara who got a hundred and we held on for a draw. After that I didn’t see much of him because he was playing abroad for most of the time and I didn’t get to know him at all.”

Sri Lanka set a target of 492 finished on 391-4 with Mathews contributing 64 in 190 minutes out of an unbroken partnership of 114 with Sangakkara (130 n.o.). That was Mathews’ maiden Test fifty.

Four years later when the Sri Lanka captaincy passed on to Mathews for the home series against Bangladesh, De Zoysa was appointed manager of the team.

“From the time he captained in the Bangladesh series through to the end of the 2015 World Cup it was marvelous to see a young man really filling the shoes he was intended to fill,” De Zoysa said. “To me he is easily the best batsman in the side outside of Sangakkara, a fine fielder, very useful bowler and his captaincy blossomed. With Mahela (Jayawardene) not there and once Sangakkara goes, he will have to do it on his own, then we will really see what he is really made of.”

De Zoysa was confident the absence of the two icons Jayawardene and Sangakkara would have any direct effect on Mathews’ game.

“There absence will not have any effect on him he is very capable of handling pressure,” said De Zoysa. “He is very cool. As I have seen him on the tour of England - it was the highlight of the two years - we won the ODIs and Test series, and we came through in tough conditions weather wise and all that. Form is a fickle thing if he keeps his form he will have no problems.”

De Zoysa is of the view that Sangakkara should be persuaded to extend his career for a couple more years. The legendary left-hander retired from one-day cricket at the end of the 2015 World Cup and is scheduled to step down from Test cricket during the series against India in August.

“He is in such form it would be a tragedy for him to stop now. He can probably surpasss (Sachin) Tendulkar’s number of Test centuries if he keeps going. He is already no. 2 to (Don) Bradman and he will probably retain that position in batting average terms. There is so much more he can offer for Sri Lanka,” said De Zoysa.

Looking at the future Sri Lankan team, De Zoysa said, “From the youngsters point of view (Lahiru) Thirimanne is definitely going to be one of the players of the future. I am very confident (Dinesh) Chandimal will do so too when he is more confident of a place in the side. He will flower in all forms of the game. Others who should come through are Dimuth Karunaratne (I hope they will persevere with him in one-day cricket but the selectors are also fickle you know, he’s got the potential for both games), Kaushal Silva has to be little bit more positive he has tremendous temperament and good technique.

“The batting is going to be fairly sound obviously you will miss Mahela no way you won’t miss a guy who has scored 18,000 runs, but someone has to step up. If you look at Thirimanne’s and Chandimal’s batting average in the number of matches they played probably they were as good if not better than Mahela was at that point in his career.

“There are a lot of young batsmen like Kithuruwan Vithanage and Ashan Priyanjan if they can handle pace they will come through, they are yet to be seen at the higher level consistently. Roshen Silva is another boy who has potential. There is plenty of talent in the batting, the worry is the bowling.

“We clearly saw with (Lasith) Malinga not up to his best the other fast bowlers are not right up there. We’ll struggle for sure because we haven’t got that destroyer. Suranga Lakmal has to stand up but whether these guys can keep fit for six Test matches we have coming up against Pakistan and India is questionable. (Shaminda) Eranga and (Dhammika) Prasad have a lot of potential so too does (Dushmantha) Chameera but we will have to see whether he is fit enough for Test cricket. Ten overs in ODI cricket is quite a different game against 20-25 overs in a Test match, we’ll have to wait and see.

“Let’s see what happens against Pakistan, Sangakkara is still there in the Tests, but the ODIs will be an eye-opener. There is no greater opportunity for the young guys than now. Dilshan is not going to go on forever he is still the best fielder in the side and the best opener we have. It’s a pity he retired from Test cricket, but if he played Test cricket he wouldn’t be so effective in one-dayers because his body would feel the strain.

“To me the disappointments are Kusal Janith and Thisara Perera. They have the potential to be destroyers but have yet to learn to play and plan an innings. They have yet to learn how to handle really good bowling. If they learn that they will become match-winners. Thisara as a bowler is disappointing he is never consistent, whether he ever will be I don’t know, but there is destroyer potential in the batting of those two which is yet to be realized.”

A devout Christian, De Zoysa, 68 the son of the late Lucien de Zoysa, Sri Lanka cricketer, play writer, author and radio commentator was in the midst of giving two years of his life to the church and spending time ‘doing God’s work’ when he was offered the Sri Lankan team manager’s post and had to break away from what he was doing.

“The offer came out of the blues. I thought well, I haven’t done this let’s see whether I can handle it,” said De Zoysa. “It is a pretty stressful and tiring job and two years is enough. Overall the manager’s job is to ensure dressing room moods, we never had any frictions. The great thing in those two years is that I never seen any friction with any player at all, that was the harmony created by the players themselves and I added to it.

“There were a couple of disciplinary issues on the tours of England and Bangladesh but it was handled by the coach, captain and me without any big fuss. The players concerned were reprimanded and they never ever stepped out of line again. On the whole the team played good cricket and we were very successful.”

De Zoysa married and with two daughters has been in the tea industry for 48 years since 1966. He is now retired but continues his long standing connections with SSC (member since 1975) as their ground secretary, curator and as a member of the club cricket committee.

‘Too much cricket made players stale’

Former Sri Lanka team manager Michael de Zoysa said that too much cricket played during the last ten months had made his players stale and led to a number of injuries.

“From the 2014 tour of England till the 2015 World Cup we played a little too much cricket and players became stale, that is why we had so many injuries,” said De Zoysa.

During that period Sri Lanka were involved in eight Tests, 39 ODIs and one T20Is and the travelling was extensive. Sri Lanka had the highest rate of injuries during the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand with five.

“We should have beaten South Africa if we held our catches fielding let us down both in the Test and ODI series, we beat Pakistan but got hammered in India, a tour we should never have gone.”
De Zoysa said he couldn’t put a finger on the number of catches dropped by Sri Lankan fieldsmen.

“Dropping catches is a matter of concentration and concentration errs when you are not fully fit. Maybe the fitness levels were not what they should have been and also the fact that there was so much cricket there was no time to raise fitness levels,” explained De Zoysa.

“Fitness had to drain and certain amount of fatigue because we travelled a lot. Our catching in New Zealand was appalling every time we dropped a catch one of their batsmen scored a hundred. We could have drawn the Test series 1-all and beaten New Zealand 4-2 in the ODIs instead of losing by that margin.

“Catching was our biggest problem. You blame the bowlers and you blame anybody but if we held our catches our bowling would have looked very good. We are struggling a bit for penetrative bowlers but if we had held our catches it would have been a different story,” he said. – [ST]


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