Nic Pothas did not hold back the criticism in the wake of Sri Lanka’s nine-wicket loss to India at the Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium on Sunday (August 20).
The interim coach, who took over from Graham Ford less than two months ago, was already frustrated with “too many cooks” and felt that the team’s abysmal performances were a result of outsiders meddling in team matters.
“If we were left alone and you could work with this group of players, you could get some stability and consistency over a period of six months,” the former South African wicketkeeper lashed out. “You’d see massive improvements. These are seriously gifted players. You give them a little bit of time – you give them a little bit of love, a little bit of care, and build-up that confidence, you’ll see results quick.”
Since Pothas has taken over, Sri Lanka lost to Zimbabwe in a One-Day International series at home and subsequently suffered a 3-0 loss in the three-match Test series against India. There was a hope that Sri Lanka would be able to hold their own in the ODIs against India, but the first game didn’t offer confidence.
Asked to bat on a flat surface, Sri Lanka, despite a morale-boosting start, were bowled out for 216 before India chased the score down in 28.5 overs with Shikhar Dhawan smashing an unbeaten 132 and Virat Kohli contributing with an unconquered 82.
“It swings between hurt and embarrassment,” rued an emotional Pothas, when asked how it felt to lose by such margins. “Emotionally you get angry. You get frustrated. Am I angry with the players? Absolutely not. The players work as hard as anyone can ask of them. They’ve been superb. The support staff has been out of this world. They work endless hours with planning and helping the boys. You can’t fault anyone within that changing room. Yes, we didn’t play our best cricket today. That’s pretty obvious. You do get angry. To say ‘too many cooks’ is probably accurate.”
While Pothas criticised external elements for ruining the atmosphere in the side, he wasn’t in a mood to let the team off the hook for their choices on the field against India either. The Indian bowlers weren’t at their best on the day, but they consolidated during the middle overs by changing up their lines and lengths. Had Sri Lanka’s middle-order played through the phase with more caution, a 300-plus score was very much within reach. Instead, a bulk of their batsmen threw their bats around and ended up handing India the game on the platter.
“We were 139 for 1. Then we lost 77 for 9. To lose nine wickets in 19 overs is, in anyone’s language, unacceptable,” he said.
“We probably didn’t read the situation well enough. Yes, there were some execution issues as well. What we always try to drive home in the changing room is if you make the right decision but don’t execute, we’re more than happy with that situation. Today we were a little bit more on the wrong side of decision making, unfortunately.”
Selection policies aside, injuries have left Sri Lanka high and dry since the time India arrived on their shores. As many as seven Sri Lankan players have been out of service from the time of the Champions Trophy 2017. Some made it back in time for the Zimbabwe tour but many remain unavailable still. Pothas, however, insisted that the injury rate in the side isn’t as bad as it’s made out to be.
“If you look around the world at sports teams, and you look at the percentage of players that is acceptable to become injured, we are well within those limits,” he explained. “So yes it’s frustrating when you see players get injured. Some of them are injuries that you cannot control. Asela Gunaratne’s thumb you cannot control. And fast bowlers do get injured. They work hard. What they do is tough. But if you look at our percentage of injuries we have for the size of the group of players that we are trying to service, we are much better than the percentage.”