First Graeme Labrooy, who was seemingly Hathurusingha’s underling, was fired. Then, the incoming chief-selector went straight for Chandimal’s jugular as he took to task the Test skipper’s poor captaincy. No sooner than Samaraweera was axed and a new batting coach was appointed, Hathurusingha was evicted from the selection committee. Finally, Chandimal was dropped from the Test team and Dimuth Karunaratne was appointed as the captain.
Incrementally, the head coach had his small pack raided, and every member of his pack hunted down, reducing him to a lone wolf. It is not too difficult to see that there is an administrative upheaval against him. There is a coup waiting to unfold itself.
What has rallied the establishment against him? Is it the team’s performance? Or is there something else? Why do they want to do away with him and is it at the best interest of Sri Lanka cricket? And how justified is it?
For starters, there has been an agenda against him from the early part of last year. Cricketage.in, a muck-raking cricket website with an Indian top-level domain address, has been mudslinging Hathurusingha for a very long time. Their supposed access to inside information, they reporting on happening within Sri Lanka cricket more than they do on Indian cricket, and they constantly quoting unnamed officials from Sri Lanka cricket suggest that they are either being run or funded by a certain faction within Sri Lanka Cricket.
It should also be remembered, that it was this website that first started promulgating the fake news that Hathurusingha had charged a whopping 60,000 USD to submit an annual assessment report. However, the Sunday Times later reported that it wasn’t an additional charge and was only a part of the contract signed. Accordingly, Hathurusingha was entitled to a sum of 120,000 USD to be paid bi-annually in advance as strategic planning and consultancy fees. This along with other fees makes up a monthly salary of 41,666 USD which is only slightly more than the monthly salary of 40,000 USD he was being paid by the Bangladesh Cricket Board.
But hang on! This is nothing in comparison to the other hit-job pieces the website has run on the coach. They blamed Hathurusingha for Akila Dhananjaya getting banned for a suspect action, apparently, bowling doosras, which he hardly does. They accused him of having been short-listed for the post of the Windies’ head coach, which was denied by him later. Then they pointed finger at him and Samaraweera for forcing players to ‘train and prepare for hours’ and cited that as the reason for Kusal Mendis’ poor form. This despite the youngster openly crediting the duo for his success at the Test level. From questioning the coach’s religious beliefs to peddling conspiracy theories about there being an agenda against Buddhists, they have tried every dirty trick from their sewage pit. Heck, they even proudly reported that a hotel manager had asked Hathurusingha to first win a few matches for the team over an argument. The website has dedicated so much time and space for slandering the Sri Lankan coach, so much so that it seems like it is being run by his vengeful ex.
Why would there be a bureaucratic conspiracy against Hathurusingha? The answer to this question can be found within the calumnies written by Cricket Age themselves—that he wants to be in control, and he wants to appoint either his loyalists or Australians as his deputies at the expense of the local coaches.
To begin with, there is nothing wrong in a head coach wanting to be in control. A cricket team is not a country, and hence, separation of powers, and checks and balances are not needed. The head coach should be allowed to make all team-related decisions and having more than one person making decisions hampers efficiency.
Of course, if you have multiple qualified individuals on the same page with the same ideology, then decisions taken will be more robust and comprehensive. But that rarely happens. More often than not, people are not going to see eye to eye. A diverse set of individuals with differing views will end up pulling the team in multiple directions and as a result, the team will only end up meandering. When you have multiple people making decisions, what you get is not the best decision, but only a compromise. This will not only help prevent destructive decisions, but it will also prevent the best decision from being made. As far as a sports team is concerned, making the best decision is more important than not making a wrong decision.
Still, the head coach is accountable to the administrative body. If the administration feels that the head coach’s methods are perilous, then they can always replace the coach with another individual. This is a lot more effective way of handling a coach than appointing multiple personnel to limit each other’s power. So, Hathurusingha’s desire to have complete control over the team cannot be considered a crime.
It is not as if the people appointed to keep Hathurusingha in check are bright either. Ashantha de Mel, who was brought in as the chairman of the selection committee to reduce the head coach’s influence, took only a fortnight to backtrack on the comments he had made defending the inclusion of Mathews in the ODI side. “Well we know that he has passed his fitness tests. I have no concerns whatsoever. As far as his running between the wickets is concerned, you have to remember that there are two people running and both have to be alert and you cannot blame one guy alone. I am not prepared to buy that kind of story,” de Mel told the Island in December. In the first week of January, he was quoted by Daily News saying “He has to be fit. We can’t be molly-coddling players. If he can’t run and field it will be difficult for him to play one-day cricket… in the one-day game the ones and twos can be the difference between winning and losing a match. We have to really assess his fitness. Unless he is 100 percent fit I don’t think we can select him for one-day cricket.”
The staffs currently associated with Sri Lanka cricket have long been in the system and are a part of the reason for Sri Lanka’s lack of progress in world cricket. Not many of them are internationally sought and the ones who are sought out often leave the island leaving only the chaffs behind. Unlike these Sri Lankans, Hathurusingha is a highly-demanded coach internationally and is the only Sri Lankan to have coached a premiere T20 team. It is silly to have such sub-par professionals keeping a proven coach in check.
Set aside the local professionals’ ability. Even their honesty is dubious. Very recently an Al Jazeera documentary unmasked the real face of Dilhara Lokuhettige, a former international cricketer, along with that of Jeevantha Kulatunga, a former player and a coach. Sanath Jayasuriya’s stint as the chairman of selectors has come under scrutiny and he has already been charged by the ICC for not cooperating with investigations. Nuwan Zoysa, a former fast bowler and a current coach, has also been penalized on charges of corruption. The current chief-selector Ashantha de Mel was suspended from the post of chairman of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation in 2008 for his involvement in a hedging scam which resulted in massive financial losses for the country. If such individuals are the ones who are expected to dilute the control Hathurusingha, someone with an uncheckered past thus far, has over the team, then Sri Lanka’s future looks bleak.
The local coaches who neither have a good understanding of modern-day cricket nor act in the best interest of the team should not be entrusted with the responsibility of limiting the coach’s freedom. Lest we forget, Graham Ford resigned because Asanka Gurusingha interfered in his job. So, the head coach should be given the full freedom to implement his plans at all cost.
Hathurusinghe has also taken it upon himself to request the board to hire staffs equipped with modern coaching knowledge. “The real problem with Hathurusingha, is that he trusts more on his Australian Lesser known Coaches, than Sri Lanka Coach,” Cricket Age quoted an insider lamenting about Hathurusingha allegedly wanting Avishka Gunawardane to be replaced by Thilina Kandamby as the A team coach. In another article, Cricket Age cited Samaraweera being hired as the batting coach “a joke of the century”, even though he has been credited already by both Thisara Perera and Kusal Mendis for their transformation.
Thus, it can be seen that the incumbents feel threatened about their positions under Hathurusingha. Acquiring new skills and staying abreast the changes cricket is going through takes a lot of effort. If coaches from abroad are brought in, then they can’t compete and will end up losing the jobs. So, the only way of keeping their jobs while lounging is to protest the appointment of foreign coaches.
What we are essentially seeing is a mutiny by those who Hathurusingha estranged in the process of overhauling Sri Lanka cricket. They want to depose him so that they can perpetuate the status quo which ensures a steady income without the hassle of having to compete and constantly improve. What they want is an absolute monopoly in the labor market.
Hathurusingha, unlike most coaches we have had in the recent past, has undertaken an arduous task of building a cricket team while jostling with self-centered individuals who want to set their own limitations as the standard. While others have given up, he continues to defy bureaucratic collusion. If Hathurusingha is done away with, then Sri Lanka will be left with self-obsessed mercenaries who would continue to eat away at Sri Lanka cricket from the inside until the inevitable one day happens.