The Indian Premier League has often been blamed for the many ills in world cricket. For some reason, several global outlets have felt the overwhelming need to prefix it with ‘cash-rich’, which of course isn’t factually incorrect but which gives the impression that the IPL is all about only the money, and little else.
Aravinda de Silva, the former Sri Lankan captain and batting maestro, holds a different point of view. He attributes the emergence of a fresh crop of fearless, confident Indian cricketers to the IPL and to the exposure youngsters get from playing with the top players and learning from the top coaches.
De Silva, however, believes that there has to be an equitable distribution of money on a project by project basis by the International Cricket Council in a bid to make sure that more and more nations are equipped infrastructure-wise to groom young talent, and that cricket at the global level isn’t dominated merely by three or four nations.
The hero of Sri Lanka’s World Cup win in 1996 has been involved with Sri Lanka Cricket on and off, and while he is an active and successful businessman, he is as passionate about his country’s cricketing fortunes now as he was during his halcyon days. In this chat, he also reflects on the state of the sport in Sri Lanka, and the need for people in decision-making positions to be on the same wavelength if Sri Lanka are to climb from the abyss of despair they seem to have slipped into. Excerpts:
How do you look at this current Indian side?
They are a well-balanced side, moving with confidence starting from the captain. It was the same situation when Sunil (Gavaskar) and Kapil (Dev) won the World Cup and gave a boost to Indian cricket and from there, Sachin (Tendulkar) and (MS) Dhoni took the team to the next level. To be able to sustain that and performing well, this team has that confidence gained from those great players. One sad thing is that to develop and be a (top) cricketing nation, you need to be financially strong. That is the part where the ICC should step in and look at it seriously and make sure that some of these (monetary) distributions are done in a manner where countries get a certain standard. To lift the level of coaching, we need to improve standards. It is like education; in schools now, sport has changed into a business and commercial venture. You need to look at it that way from the grassroots level. Kids and parents make sacrifices and they want to see something, they want them to go all the way and we need to give them some facilities, facilities for the children who are talented. The ICC needs to monitor and support some of the ventures. They should act like the World Bank, be transparent in what they spend and fund projects that have a purpose. Funds should be given for improving cricket and it should be done in a more meaningful manner. The ICC came and did a presentation to the (Sri Lanka Cricket) board but this sort of vision was lacking. The board should take it up. If there are value-propositions from the cricket board, they (ICC) might support it.
Your take on this Indian batting unit and their consistency in Test cricket?
It’s a lot to do with confidence also because the IPL has obviously helped them to be playing against the best players in the world and that’s possible because they were able to bring in all these international players because of the monetary capability of the Indian cricket board. It’s a good thing for cricket and for the players to be able to have that opportunity, and for cricket in the future. But at the same time, they all bring in the best knowledge into one country because all the best coaches are available during the IPL. You get the best knowledge, the best competition, everything in one package. That enhances your talent from a very, very young age. People even from the grassroots level, when they are picking teams, selections, they have to be up to a certain level, so they work hard. That has given India that little edge over most of the subcontinental countries. Again, it is because of the financial capabilities you have. So I guess credit to them for doing it and coming up with a concept such as that. Fantastic. India has got the market for it and they have made use of it. Australia and England, they have kept up with that because their abilities of raising funds is also quite good. That’s why I say that the ICC is the one who needs to come in and try and bring closer the gap with the rest of the world, create something and think out of the box to get them also to that level. That needs to be done with transparency, not to just dole out funds.
Coming to Sri Lanka, there was a time when they were invincible at home but even that seems to have disappeared now. Is there a lack of interest among the youngsters, or lack of proper systems and structures?
The interest is there, there is no doubt about that. We are going through a rebuilding process but you can’t be saying that forever, you need to be up to it, sooner or later. Unlike earlier days, you do know where things have gone wrong and you need to set them right faster. The longer you wait, and more short-term processes you do, this wait will get longer. Short-term is good for a few months, one or two series, but not for the future. We need to seriously look at the team in the long-term and stick to that long-term and not keep chopping and changing.
There have been a lot of injuries, every team probably faces injuries nowadays, it is a common thing because of the amount of cricket they play and with the kind of training they are into. If you look at the Sri Lankan side, there were 14-15 injuries that affected the side recently and kept some of the main players out of the game. What you really need to understand is to study that and need to have a back-up plan. The second level of players, who need to step in, need to be identified and kept ready to go. For that, you need a proper under-19 and ‘A’ team structure so that these players have enough cricket to be able to get that exposure so that they can be tried out at this level. It is not happening now. If that happens, these issues will be sorted out.
You have been involved in an official capacity with Sri Lanka Cricket on and off…
On and off is correct, yes. I was involved with the selection thing, I resigned after the World Cup. And then I was involved a little bit to restructure the coaching. Again, I resigned a couple of months ago. But obviously, I am available anytime to help youngsters.
Your resignations, were they primarily due to time constraints?
Time was one of the factors and also I think the environment should be right to work with them and to make sure that they are on the same wavelength of thinking. That is important when you are working with certain people, for them also to understand what we are trying to achieve. If they are not on the same wavelength, it becomes difficult. You might have a common goal but sometimes how you approach that can be in different ways. Some might feel it is important to develop at the top, some might feel it is essential to build the culture from ground level. That’s my view. We need to change the culture from grassroots level and we need to focus on them and build it up. Short-term is what we focus on the top part. That is how I would plan. If the ideas are different, then it becomes an issue. Not only me but there are a lot of people in Sri Lanka who are knowledgeable. There should be a cohesive decision to make sure that you put all the ideas together and get the best out of them.
How painful is it for you to see Sri Lanka playing the way they are?
They changed the approach and batted differently in the second innings (of the second Test at the SSC ground). That aggression basically showed how successful you can be if you are aggressive and more positive. Losing matches is one thing but going down with a fight is another matter. I guess we can take some positives out of this game and with those positives, hopefully will be able to carry on for the next game.
They have the talent, no doubt. Obviously, if they don’t have belief in themselves and the team, I don’t think they should be there. The confidence and the self-belief needs to be built within the team, and not only by the players. The surroundings have to be right. Everyone who contributes towards the well-being of the team and their confidence has to align and work together as a team, and then back them at all times. If you do that, I am sure those guys will go out there and give their best. The support staff, the coaches, the selectors, the administration – everyone has to back them and have belief in them so that they have no doubts about their ability. If you have doubts and if the selectors have doubts when they pick someone, then it tends to get a bit shaky. You need to be a strong unit, work together and try and support each through these times and not chop and change. Drastic changes are not going to help, they are only going to shatter confidence.
From time to time, the bogey of corruption in cricket keeps raising its head.
It shouldn’t be there and it shouldn’t be tolerated. The authorities have taken necessary steps towards that, that’s a very good thing. For all these youngsters that are coming through, that should be part of the education for them because they need to understand if they are to reach certain heights, they need to go through these sessions because obviously, it is a culture you build. Players make mistakes on the field and every time you make a mistake, you are accused of various things after which they go into a negative mood. They will be worried the next time they go out to bat, to play a shot. ‘If I play a shot and then get out, people will say all sorts of things’. So they opt not to play any shots, and that’s not how it should be.
Sometimes, I feel for the Pakistanis because every time they lose a match, people come up with various things. I was so happy that they won the Champions Trophy. It gives a big boost to the country. All the countries must be supported to play at the same level so that you watch something competitive and that gives me more pleasure than watching a one-sided game. It’s always good to see competition because it is like watching Nadal and Federer playing each other, rather than watching one of them playing an unseeded player. From a spectator point of view, they would want to see Mumbai Indians and Royal Challengers Bangalore playing competitive cricket, that’s where the real fight is.