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April 28, 1999


The Rediff Interview/Roy Dias

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'Batsmen who go for the bowling will fail badly'

 Roy Dias
Roy Luke Dias came, to Indian fans, as a revelation when we saw him for the first time in course of the 1975-'76 tour. A country that prided itself on the stylist, G R Vishwanath, suddenly found itself confronting an equally artistic batsman, a fluent strokeplayer whose style at the crease was matched by his electric fielding in the covers.

Now Sri Lanka's national coach, Dias is seen as having a key role to play, and a hard act to follow. It will be recalled that Dav Whatmore, the Lankan's then coach, was largely credited with inspiring the 1996 Cup win by the islanders. Dias now goes to England as coach of the defending champions, and the cricket-mad country will accept no less than a successful title defence. However, Dias has under him a team that has aged -- and not well, at that -- since that inspiring run in 1996. A team, further, struggling for morale following a string of recent defeats, coupled with turmoil within the cricket establishment.

How Dias goes about overcoming these negatives will be the key to the team's prospects in England. The Lankan coach, here, in conversation with Faisal Shariff:

What according to you are the reasons for the slump in Sri Lanka''s fortunes in recent times? This is the first time that the defending champions are looking so vulnerable?

 Asanka Gurusinghe
When we won the World Cup in '96 we were the underdogs. Agewise, the players were three years younger. Also, every other side has done their homework and have planned out the dismissals of some of our top batsmen. Their were a few injury problems to our key players, so it has been a conglomeration of a lot of problems. When we played last time round, there was nothing to lose -- now there is, there is also a reputation to salvage, a title to defend. I guess that puts enormous pressure on our boys. Not to forget the expectations back home.
We miss a batsman of the caliber of Asanka Gurusinghe. I think he was the unsung hero of Sri Lanka's success in the '96 World Cup -- a batsman who could bat for 40 overs and keep rotating the strike.

Don't you think Marvan Atapattu has filled the void pretty well?

 Marvan Atapattu
Yes, to some extent I think he has filled the void, but Asnaka was experienced and a seasoned campaigner. Of course, Atapattu has proved his class with a superlative 130 at the Lords. He is the best that we have, but he is not in the same class as Asanka Gurusinghe. He will have to bat for 40 overs to see Sri Lanka defend their crown in England.

Sri Lanka aimed at looking to be the best Test-playing nation by the year 2000. How far has the team progressed towards this goal?
It might sound strange but you see we have achieved it to some extent. We played seven Tests last year, lost one to New Zealand, then won three in a row. We came back from one down to win the Test series against New Zealand 2-1. Then we defeated England on their home soil. I think we did pretty well there. Yes, it would be far-fetched to say that we have achieved our goal of being the best Test-playing nation, but we can say with pride that we are getting there.

Who are the young players that you see carrying Sri Lankan cricket to promised heights?

 Mahela Jayawardene
Sri Lanka has always had a history of finding world class players in pairs. Duleep Mendis and me; Aravinda and Ranatunga; and now i see Marvan Atapattu and Mahela Jayawardene as the future propects to carry Sri Lankan cricket forward.

I have learnt from experience that we must not do what the Windies did. They did not give breaks to their players, to search for young talent. That is why, when they lost players of the class of Richards, Greenidge and Haynes, they becane an ordinary side. We have been blooding young players, and I think Jayawardene is an exciting prospect for Sri Lanka. he has tasted early success and has scored hundreds and double hundreds with considerable consistency.

You have played a lot of your cricket in England. What do you think is the key to success in those parts? Do you, as coach of Sri Lanka think that the team needs to rethink its strategy?

In England you need to have technique. I reckon slam bang cricket is going to suffer in England. Players who try to get after the bowlers will fail badly. We might see an odd innings or a huge tall score, but on the whole it will be a game for the purists with the right technique. We must keep early wickets. Between the 15th and the 40th over, its a matter of scoring around 4 an over. Any side that achieves this will reckon that they have done brilliantly. the key will be the last 10 overs.
Clive Lloyd once said that if you have wickets intact you can go out there and get 100 runs in the last ten. I think even getting 60 in the last 10 overs would be good, I think that would be the best strategy.

One of Sri Lanka's strong assets in the 1996 World Cup was its fielding. Why have those standards deteriorated?

The catches that are coming our way are just not sticking to hand. You know. luck plays a very important part in fielding. Sometimes the easiest of chances are floored and the toughest of catches stick in the hand. The boys are working real hard at their fielding and I think the results are showing.

Do you think that Jayasuriya and Murali will be the same force they were before their respective injuries? Don't you think that the lay-off will affect their game, since they will be short on match practice?

 Sanath Jayasuriya
As far as I know, Jaya and Murali have been playing club cricket. Jaya has been playing with the 'A' side and is feeling pretty good right now. Also we will be playing 6 warm-up games leading to the World Cup, so that should be enough for them to get back. Also, the injures to them were minor ones.

What are the steps being taken by the Sri Lankan board to tap talent?

The developmental programme has been given highest priority by the Sri Lankan board. They were thinking of a national cricket academy, but unfortunately the cricket foundation did not get going. But all efforts are being made to tap talent early. Children between the age group of 8-13 are being picked up and trained. There are quite a few coaching schools in Colombo. I have been running an academy for the past 10 years. One of the players from my camp. Daniel, made it to the U-19 team which toured India this year. He is technically a very correct batsman. I teach cricket the way I played it myself. Basics like playing in the 'V' with a straight bat are one of the few things which I strongly advocate. I think Sri Lankan, or for that matter the sub-continental, cricketers are natural players. One must never try to change their style of play.

Why is Vaas not as effective as before? You think he is missing a partner at the other end? Don't you think that you are still thin on the pace bowling front?

Vaas has been through a couple of injuries of late. Yeah, he does miss support at the other end. Sri Lanka has never had a history of producing fast bowlers. I wish we had a strike bowler like Shoaib Akhtar or Allan Donald. I think we are pretty okay in the bowling department. We have Vaas, Upasantha, and Wickremasinghe accompanied by Murali and Jayasuriya. Upul Chandana and Aravinda D'Silva are good bowlers as well.

Don't you think you have overloaded your team with spinners who might not be so helpful in the cold conditions in England? You are carrying Kalpage, Upul Chandana, Jayasuriya alongwith Aravinda and Murali...

I think Aravinda D'Silva and Jayasuriya are thinking bowlers who have enormous amount of experience. If they can bowl 6-7 overs each, then I think we will be comfortably placed. We have a particular game plan and we don't want to talk about it as yet. Once we get to England, you will learn about it. All the bowlers that you mentioned above are all-rounders and therein lies the key. Vaas is a hitter and can get quick runs for us.So can the others.

Who do you think will win the World Cup?

Without doubt it will be Sri Lanka. If the guys believe in themselves and stick to their job, they are a very difficult bunch to beat. If the Sri Lankan team peaks at the right time I think there is little doubt that the Cup will be back in our hands.

And who would you pick as the dark horse of the tournament?

I think New Zealand has a very good side and they might spring quite a few telling surprises this summer.

Which has been your greatest cricketing moment?

Our first Test victory against India (Dias scored an unbeaten 60 in that game to make the win possible). That feeling was something I have never felt ever in my entire career.That Test match in 1982 was one of the earlist Tests we played. The fact that we won a Test so early on was a very satisfying feeling.

Is there too much cricket being played today?

I suppose so, the players feel the strain and we can see it in their performances. During our days we hardly got to play 2-3 Tests a year. I played for 8 years and have only twenty Tests to my name, today the players play that many in less than two years.

Do you think that you did full justice to your talent? How do you look back on your own career at the top?

I played cricket for a few years for my country and enjoyed it thoroughly. I am sure I could have gone on for a while. After playing the Reliance World Cup game in Pune in 1987, I never played again. It did hurt a lot, but I guess I was not the only one who met with this fate. Far more talented players have had to bear the brunt of selectorial practices.
But now I have got this job and I am very happy to be a part of the team again, though in the capacity of a coach.

Your best innings?

The one I played In Chepauk in 1982. The best time of my career was when I scored a thousand runs in 11 Tests. We almost won that Test match. Duleep scored a hundred in each innings and I got a fifty in each innings.

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