So the coach hunt is over, and jury has decided. Former Sri Lankan test player Chandika Hathurusingha has been chosen to lead Bangladesh for the next two years starting 1st July. Fans are divided. Many are disappointed Bangladesh couldn't sign a more high profile coach, while many are happy Bangladesh have abandoned their usual destination Australia to appoint a coach from the sub continent. The last three head coaches Stuart Law, Richard Pybus, and Shane Jurgensn all resigned before their contracts expired citing personal or family reasons or their differences with BCB. Maybe a sub continental coach would be able to adapt better to the culture and politics of Bangladesh. This is just of many reasons why Chandika Hathurusingha might be a good fit for Bangladesh. Here are more.
Capable yet underrated
Chandika Hathurusingha might not have the reputation of a Stuart Law or Pybus or Whatmore but the former Sri Lankan opener has quietly gathered a reputation as a very capable coach. Chandika started his coaching stint as head coach of the UAE in 2005, followed by a three year contract with Sri Lanka A. He was highly praised for the work he did with the emerging players, many of whom later broke into the national team. Captain Sangakkara and team mate Muralitharan requested his addition to the national team coaching staff based on great feedback from the A team players. Subsequently in 2009, he was appointed as assistant coach of the national team under Trevor Bayliss. Dubbed a "shadow coach", it was SLC's intention to groom him for a future head coach role.
Unfortunately he was suspended just a year and a half later on disciplinary grounds; which was then considered highly controversial and the onus rested entirely on the then SLC chief. A Sri Lankan newspaper described it as a "punishment bigger than the crime". But Sri Lanka's loss was the gain of others, and perhaps this was a turning point for the 45 year old coach. Immediately after this he became consultant coach for Canada in World Cup 2011. Subsequently he was appointed assistant coach of New South Wales, Australia's premier state team. After the sacking of NSW's head coach Anthony Stuart, Hathurusingha was made acting coach for a while. NSW then appointed Trevor Bayliss as new head coach, and once again Chandika got the opportunity to work with him as an assistant coach. Under the duo, NSW won last season's Sheffield Shield (first title since 2008) and made semifinals of the limited over Ryobi Cup. He was also named head coach of the Big Bash team Sydney Thunder, the weaker of the two Sydney based teams. His good work with the state and Big Bash team has seen him getting appointed to Australia A as an assistant coach under Troy Cooley.
In his famous letter written by Sangakkara to SLC where he requested for Chandika's re-appointment, the former captain mentioned a few things worth noting:
"It was a refreshing change to see a local coach whose technical and strategic knowledge was second to none of the foreign coaches I have worked with before."
"In the last year he has out-worked, out-thought and out-shone the foreign coaching staff within the system."
BCB has always had a fascination with Australian coaching personnel. The general consensus about sub continental coaches is they don't possess the same ability as an Australian or South African, and they would not act in the best interest of Bangladesh. His success in Australia contradicts such views. And the fact that he had a world class mentor like Trevor Bayliss on two occasions adds weight to his CV. If one judges him from his playing experience, ten years of coaching experience and the testimonial of Sangakkara, Hathurisngha definitely seems to be a very capable coach. Sydney Thunders have targeted Stephen Fleming or Gary Kirsten to replace Hathurusingha in Big Bash. Gives one the idea of respect they have for the Sri Lankan.
All cound coach
Bangladesh has worked with different types of coaches in the past. Jamie Siddons and Gordon Greenidge were technical coaches with great batting knowledge. Shane Jurgensen, Mohsin Kamal were bowling oriented coaches. Dav Whatmore and Eddie Barlow were more general coaches who looked to motivate and organize the team. After Shane Jurgensen's resignation the decision was to go for a more batting oriented coach. But in Hathurusingha, Bangladesh have a well versed all round coach.
A compact, steady opening batsman, Hathurusingha has over 10,000 first class runs under his belt and has played 26 tests. Sangakkara claimed his batting technique improved under Hathurusingha. Thilina Kandamby, Upul Tharanga, Tharanga Paranawithana, Angelo Matthews, Samaraweera are some others who improved great deal under him (More on this later) with the bat. Bangladesh's main strength is the teams batting. But since the departure of Jamie Siddons and Stuart Law, this has been slipping. Key players like Tamim and Nasir Hossain are struggling-a combination of technical glitches and low confidence. All of a sudden batsman who seemed to have the ability to become 35-40 average players are becoming 20-25. So to improve the teams batting, BCB has their man.
But that's not all! Here comes the bonus. Hathurusingha also has 425 first class wickets. Hathurusingha was not express, rather relied on guile, his ability to move the ball in the air and off the wicket. He was often utilized as a third seamer for Sri Lanka. Sangakkara claimed the bowlers also benefitted from his expertise. Chandika has also been working with several Australian spinners, and also brought four of them to Sri Lanka to gain experience. So one can expect Hathurusingha to contribute to both pacers and spinners. During the beginning of his stint, Jamie Siddons focused primarily on batting and the bowlers clearly lagged behind until the specialist coaches turned up. This should not be the case with the Sri Lankan coach. Expect him to contribute to all departments even without the help of specialist coaches.
The story doesn't end. So we know Chandika Hathurusingha has the technical knowledge on batting and bowling. But what other qualities does he bring to the table? Here is what Sangakkara had to say
"His greatest influence had been in the way he conditions the team mentally to be prepared to meet and win any and all challenges and his input concerning overall strategy. His approach is always positive and strong.
He accepts no softness or lack of commitment and discipline and he treats all players with an even and fair hand. This has earned him the fullest respect of all the players.
He is creative in his thinking and is always geared towards winning. This positive outlook has helped us view challenges as tests of skill to be enjoyed.
His calm aura of control has helped at all times to keep calm an excitable dressing room so that decisions are made rationally."
A level 3 coach (Highest qualification a cricket coach can obtain), Hathurusingha has also been employed by Cricket Australia to train and mentor hundreds of level 2 and 3 coaches.
The all-round capability of Hathurusingha provides Bangladesh a complete package. Tamim Iqbal will benefit from his batting knowledge, Al Amin Hossain can learn how to improve his swing and movement, Sohag Gazi will once again have a mentor. Even aspiring coaches can learn a thing or two from him. The entire team will be under the leadership of a knowledgeable task master who is likely to foster a culture of work ethic and improvement.
A change agent, a great eye
In the mid 2000's Thilan Samaraweera was an overly defensive player whose style was only suitable for test cricket. In 2006, after a poor England tour he was dropped from national team and asked to play for the A team which was then coached by Hathurusingha. In a short period of time, Samaraweera was transformed into a complete batsman who was willing score runs from ball one. 17 months later, Samaraweera found his place back in the national team thanks to his new approach. In 2009, he was the second batsman in the world to score 1000 test runs in a calendar year. His changed outlook also helped him break into the ODI team. Samaraweera has ended his career with a test average close to 50. None of this would have happened had it not been for Hathurusingha's intervention in 2006.
As a youngster Thilina Kandamby was tipped for big things. But Kandamby didn't believe in himself, lived a lifestyle unsuitable for cricket. He was inconsistent, reckless and all his talent seemed to be going to waste until he met Hathurusingha. First thing Chandika did was implemented a new fitness program, lifestyle guide for the burly left hander. Kandmby lost weight, gained more self belief thanks to his mentor; and slowly worked his way to becoming a consistent player in the domestic arena.
The Sri Lankan coach is reputed for getting under a players skin, talking to them, mentoring them one on one basis, making them believe in themselves and improve every day. In an interview with the newspaper The Nation he stated
"Each of the players has to be tackled differently. Some respond fast and grasp the points quickly others are slow and need to be told several times while there are others where you have to give it to them in writing. Its all about asking questions. When you explore options only you find out how much more you can learn and expand your game. You need to push them to the limit to find out what they have. There is always room for improvement. When I was A team coach it was all about continuous improvement. If it doesnt work out you can always come back to what you have. What I have given them is the confidence and the freedom to improve their game. That way they have grown in confidence. I can only give them options the rest is up to them."
Hathurusingha also has a great eye for talent. In 2007, three of his A team players he predicted to be future stars were Angelo Mathews, Tharanga Paranavitana and Suranga Lakmal. One of them is now the captain, one test team opener, and the other a promising pace bowler who improves every game. Some other players he had high hopes on were Kaushal Silva (Who recently made it to the test team), Isuru Udana and Welagedara.
Because of his ability to change outlook of players, and identify talent the Nation newspaper labeled Hathrusingha Sri Lanka's cricketing guru.
The cultural aspect
Anyone who has studied Geert Hofstedes cultural framework in Uni will be able to tell why an Australian or Englishman would not find it easy adapt to the culture of Bangladesh, the board and the players.
There are various aspects to be considered here.
Living in Bangladesh is not easy even for expatriate Bangladeshis. For an Australian coach and his family it can be a nightmare. Coaches who prefer to leave their family behind have to travel and be away from the job for lengthy periods. Bangladesh is a place many Sri Lankans call home these days. Thousands of students, apparel industry workers, mid level managers flock to Dhaka and Chittagong for better opportunities. Many end up enjoying their new home more than their motherland. For Hathurusingha, Bangladesh is unlikely to create much culture shock. Many other Sri Lankan coaches have also worked here serving their full term.
Then there is the aspect of working with BCB which is never easy, and a reason why many foreign coaches did not continue in the past. In fact all sports administration bodies in Bangladesh be it football, hockey fall out with coaching personnel because of a huge cultural gap. Such foreign coaches are simply not used to the bureaucracy, red tape, power games that are intertwined with their respective sport. But someone like Chandika Hathurusingha should be more familiar of the do's and don'ts with a sub continental cricket board; already having a bitter experience with SLC.
Most foreign coaches also struggle to comprehend to the attitude, discipline and work ethic of players. A youngster in New Zealand might be more receptive to batting tips, be willing practice harder or longer hours, spent time on own to learn a skill, read a book to learn about strategy or leadership. But in Bangladesh a coach will have to get used to the fact where the most talented player makes the same mistakes (Despite repeated warning) in three consecutive occasions, with no intention to listen or learn. Common sense would suggest a Sri Lankan would be more aware of these cultural differences than someone from Australia or South Africa.
Finally the players must also be able to understand and gel with the coach. A key concern is many players struggle to comprehend the ideas and wisdom of a foreign coach. This is why Saurav Ganguly was a fan favorite for the role. Besides English, Chandika Hathurusingha speaks a language (Sinhala), which has borrowed extensively from Sanskrit. An average Sri Lankan is able to pick out a few words from a typical Bengali communication. This could explain how a non English speaking Sri Lankan factory worker can easily slot oneself in the floor of an apparel company. Hathurusingha or any other Sri Lankan coach should not have much difficulty in getting a grip of the language and better understand the players. Experts say more than 90% of communication is non verbal; expect the Sri Lankan coaches to connect via non verbal communication from session one.
The Australia factor
BCB president Nazmul Hasan claimed Hathurusingha's coaching experience in Australia was a key factor in his appointment considering next year's World Cup will be held there. BCB chief is on the dot here. Why not hire an Australian who should know better than someone coaching there for only a couple of years? Sometimes an outsider has better and more relevant inside knowledge than an insider. Hathurusingha will know the common issues a sub continental player will face in Australia, and will thus be able to better prepare them.
Long term option
Bangladesh needs a long term coach, someone who can stick around for 4-5 years. Every time a coach resigns or is sacked, BCB spends ages looking for a replacement. A new coach needs to come in adjust, learn, familiarize with players. It's a whole new process which hurts the progress of the game, sometimes even sending it back. Provided there is good working relationship with BCB, Hathurusingha could be a coach for the long term. He has spent adequate time in each of his stints since the beginning of his coaching career. Administrators and fans might also have a worry-what if Sri Lanka tries to lure him back. Truth is at this given point SLC cannot match BCB in terms of finances. They have also chosen Atapattu. Tomorrow Sangakkara or Mahela might raise their hands and becoming a coaching candidate.
Having been a shadow coach, Hathurusingha might even be open to working with a local coach and ensure there is succession planning.
The Sri Lanka way
When Bangladesh started playing test cricket, Australia was the dominant force in world cricket, with quite a bit of gap from the next top teams. It was natural for any aspiring cricketing nation to see them as a model for development. Although Bangladesh has borrowed many ideas from down under, now a decade and a half later they are still nowhere in terms of a concrete sporting strategic direction. Replicating a sporting model based on Australia would never be easy considering the gaps that exist in infrastructure, facilities, domestic cricket, funds, coaching personnel/institutions and so on. So maybe it is time to question who we should look up to and learn from, taking our own context into consideration.
Sri Lanka's progress in world cricket is very impressive. They do not possess the infrastructure or cash of ECB or Cricket Australia. They don't have the talent base or sheer volume of cricketers that India and Pakistan enjoy. Financially and infrastructure wise, they are behind Bangladesh. They are never hot favorites in tournaments. Yet time and time again this tiny island nation keeps outperforming their more illustrious opposition in all formats of the game. How do they do it? In the movie The Patriot, Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) advised his young son on the secrets of shooting "Aim small, miss small." There is a lesson to be learned here. Sri Lanka does not possess a high performance academy like Australia's. They do not possess a high budget MRF type academy. But whatever they do, even if in small scale, they do it well. They focus scarce resources and time on the 20% which produces 80% of the outcome. Perhaps, appointment of Chandika Hathurusingha is a step in that direction.
The road ahead
BCB deserves a lot of credit for convincing Hathurusingha to leave his flourishing job in Australia. They deserve credit for willing to change from their conventional thinking. And unlike previous occasions the appointment has been done in a fairly quick time with little drama. Great work BCB. But the job is not done yet. The next part is the hardest, which is building a good relationship with the new coach.
BCB must be willing to listen to Hathurusingha, and make him a key agent in the development of the game in the country. Even the best and most knowledgeable coach of the world won't be able to achieve anything more than intermittent success unless, BCB is willing to cooperate and help him translate his ideas into action.
Fans must also be patient. Success won't be immediate. Players will need to adjust to the way of the coach, the coach needs time to get the best out of his players. Finally players must be open minded, and be willing to learn and work hard.
Exciting days ahead for Bangladeshi cricket!