Mahela Jayawardene backs Sri Lanka to bounce back from poor 2017


Mahela Jayawardene has said Sri Lanka’s worst days on the cricket pitch could be behind them now that they have sorted out their leadership and management positions for the national team.

In an exclusive interview with The National on Wednesday, the former Sri Lanka captain Jayawardene said he was pleased with the recent appointment of Chandika Hathurusinghe as coach, as well as the reinstatement of Angelo Mathews as the limited-overs captain.

Indeed, 2017 turned out to be one of Sri Lanka’s least memorable years as they limped from one crisis to another both on and off the pitch.

Apart from losing to lowly Zimbabwe in a one-day international series at home, they failed to make the semi-finals of the ICC Champions Trophy.

They then endured bilateral home series whitewashes against India in the Test, ODI and Twenty20 internationals, shortly before getting beaten in all three formats of the game in their return series.

Allegations of corruption from another former Sri Lanka captain, Arjuna Ranatunga, only served as a needless distraction for Sri Lanka Cricket even as it was busy dealing with its team’s fading fortunes on the field.

Running between the wickets; A concern for Sri Lanka?

Eventually an inquiry committee was set up to look into the problems, followed by mass resignations of the national selectors.

Except for their Test series victory over Pakistan in the UAE, it was a grim year for the men in blue.

But Jayawardene – a veteran of 149 Tests, 448 ODIs and 55 T20s – said he was cautiously optimistic about Sri Lanka’s chances of rebounding from all the problems of the recent past, starting with the news that Hathurusinghe had come in place of the South African Nic Pothas.

“Chandika is a good choice,” Jayawardene said at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club on Wednesday. “For one, he’s a very good coach, and understands the game and the tactics to implement in a game. He’s [also] a Sri Lankan and understands the culture, and also knows the players pretty well from their younger days.”

A selection dilemma for the opening slot

The 40-year-old former middle-order batsman hoped for a strong partnership between Hathurusinghe and Mathews. “He’s the most experienced player and has the qualities of a leader,” Jayawardene said about Mathews.

But he also urged the 30-year-old all-rounder “to show that he can lead the team, rather than him going away with the decisions made by others”.

“Hopefully, Chandika will enforce that on Angelo, and then he will lead as a leader,” he added.

Pleased though he was about the new management team, Jayawardene cautioned against expecting a turnaround overnight.

“That alone [sorting out the management-related issues] won’t be enough because everything else has to fall in to place, like the selections and to allow the coach to do his job without any interference, which is most important,” he said. “Hopefully the youngsters in the team can now settle down and play some good cricket.”