When world record holding off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan was struggling for wickets some time back he received a piece of valuable advice from the captain of his club, Chandika Hathurusinghe.
Hathurusinghe (fondly known as Hathuru) showed his Tamil Union team-mate the importance of varying his line of attack. The veteran spinner started coming round the wicket to right-handed batsmen and his move soon paid off.
Former Sri Lanka all-rounder Hathurusinghe then as the ‘A’ team coach was instrumental in shaping up the cricket careers of many youngsters.
Last year the present interim committee running the affairs of Sri Lanka Cricket (formerly Sri Lanka Cricket Board) assumed duty. And it drafted Hathurusinghe to the National side as ‘shadow coach’.
Just talk to the experienced middle order batsman Thilan Samaraweera, Thilina Kandamby, another middle order bat, or young all-rounder Angelo Mathews. While talking about their cricketing lives they all will tell you how Hathurusinghe has helped them to be good batsmen. A small technical adjustment here and a change in the way of thinking there have done wonders for them. All courtesy of Hathurusinghe.
As ‘shadow coach’ Hathurusinghe was placed under head coach Australian Trevor Bayliss and assistant coach Englishman Paul Farbrace (now Australian Stuart Law). His elevation to the position had two reasons. The first was to add to that foreign coaching staff a Sri Lankan who would know the conditions and players better. The second and long-term objective was to groom Hathurusinghe as the assistant coach, who might one day take over the duties as the head coach.
Now, appointing of foreign coaches has been the norm rather than the exception in Sri Lanka for some time. The idea was to do away with prejudice and favouritism that might have come along with a local coach. However there have been clamours from different quarters for home-grown coaches.
Some time back former fast bowler Rumesh Ratnayake was appointed the assistant coach. But he didn’t accept the job as he preferred to work for the Asian Cricket Council. Hathurusinghe in the meantime retired from first class cricket and focused on a coaching career. He soon emerged as a talented and respected coach.
The forty-one-year-old up until last month was doing fine in his role as shadow coach for Kumar Sangakkara led team. But his decision to come home during Sri Lanka’s tour of Zimbabwe last month seems to be a costly one.
He came home as he was scheduled to fly to Australia to follow Level Three (High Performance) coaching program. But the interim committee running cricket is getting ready to ban Hathurusinghe from all coaching assignments for two years. His offence—disobeying the interim committee.
The interim committee chairman, former spinner, DS de Silva maintains that Hathurusinghe came home mid-tour when he had been given clear instructions to stay with the squad if Sri Lanka reached the final.
For the record, Sri Lanka under Tillakaratne Dilshan beat Zimbabwe in the final in the tournament which also involved India. Both Sri Lanka and India had rested senior players for the tour.
However it was reported that Hathurusinghe had got oral permission from interim committee secretary Nishantha Ranatunga to come home.
DS de Silva told a newspaper that Sri Lanka Cricket would not pay for Hathurusinghe’s coaching program in Australia.
Hathurusinghe will come back to Sri Lanka after following the program successfully. But where will he work?
Now grooming a local coach to be the assistant coach of the National team is a great thing. But can an interim committee, appointed by the sports minister and without any mandate from clubs, decide to ban such a person for two long years, for disobeying it?
Has Sri Lanka got any other coach to step into the role of the shadow coach, and eventually become the assistant coach?
It is also reported that assistant coach Stuart Law had some differences with Hathurusinghe. If it was the reason for sacking Hathurusinghe, the interim committee would have done better by holding an inquiry.
From what transpires it is clear that Hathurusinghe has not been given a chance to explain his side of the story.
The sports minister who appointed the interim committee should definitely intervene in the matter.
Hathurusinghe would have been the ideal person to be with the players as Sri Lanka prepares to host two World Cups in succession—50 over World Cup in 2011 and Twenty20 World Cup in 2012.