Graham Ford, the new Sri Lankan coach, acknowledged that he faced a huge rebuilding task after a string of retirements as he began his second stint in charge of the islanders.
The South African said he was honoured to return to Sri Lanka, whom he previously coached from 2012 to 2014, but urged fans to be patient after a recent slump saw the side tumble down the Test rankings.
“For a coach, it is really a special group of lads to work with,” Ford told reporters on Tuesday (February 2), a day after taking up his post. “At the same time, I am very aware what a huge challenge it is. I think Sri Lanka cricket finds itself in the very early stages of a very important rebuilding stage. A lot of hard work needs to be done.
“Everyone, the players, the selectors and the board must have patience,” added Ford, who quit last week as coach of English county side Surrey and has been handed a 45-month contract.
Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, Sri Lanka’s star batsmen for more than a decade, both retired from international cricket last year and other match-winners such as Rangana Herath, the spinner, and Tillakaratne Dilshan, the opener, are expected to follow suit later this year.
“I don’t want to discuss individual players in public,” said Ford when asked who could fill the vacuum. “I certainly learnt when I was here previously that there is an abundance of talent, a lot of wonderfully talented young players within the systems in Sri Lanka. But it is about identifying those who have got the mental toughness to go on to become successful players and consistent match-winners at international level.”
Ford, who is also a former coach of South Africa, ended his first spell in Sri Lanka in 2014 when his two-year contract expired. He replaces Jerome Jayaratne, who had been interim coach since Marvan Atapattu quit last August.
Sri Lanka’s formidable home record took a hit last year with series defeats against India and Pakistan. They then travelled to New Zealand where they were outplayed in all forms of the game in a tour soured by allegations of drinking parties and squabbling.
They are now down to seventh place in the Test rankings although they remain third in the Twenty20 team rankings, partly due to their triumph in the last World T20 trophy in 2014.
Thilanga Sumathipala, president of the national cricket board, said Sri Lanka should benefit from Ford’s spells with Surrey and with Kent a decade ago in the build-up to the 2019 ODI World Cup in England.
“Graham knows English conditions very well and he will be able to prepare our team to win the next World Cup in Britain,” said Sumathipala.
Ford’s first assignment will be in India next week when Sri Lanka play the first of three T20 Internationals designed as a warm-up for their defence of the world title.
Sumathipala confirmed that Dinesh Chandimal, the wicketkeeper-batsman, would skipper the side in India as Lasith Malinga, the regular T20 captain, recovers from an injury. Malinga was expected to return in time for the Asia Cup starting in Bangladesh at the end of the month, he said.