What has been the best part of being Sri Lanka’s first Test captain?

Bandula Warnapura and Keith Fletcher go out to toss, Sri Lanka v England, Inaugural Test, Colombo, February 17, 1982

That is something no one can ever take away from me. I played in the era before we got ICC status. I’ve been playing since 1974 and we only got Test Status in 1981. Now I am working as an administrator when we’re established as a Test-playing country ensuring that today’s players do not face the drawbacks or lack of benefits we faced and fought for during our time. I belong to these two eras and now, with the ACC, I am seeing other countries go through the same stages Sri Lanka went through. The advantage I have is that I have experience dealing with that same process.

We have to be patient with these countries and work them slowly towards world status. I have seen some countries that do not have the infrastructure but play good cricket. We need to work with them and help them to achieve their development. Some countries have the required infrastructure but it is sad to note, do not play good cricket.

What do you mean by the ‘development of infrastructure’?

Based on the number of students and clubs playing, we need to have a certain criteria for providing facilities. For instance, If there are 150 kids playing, how many side-pitches/ centre pitches/coaches/grounds for matches/umpires and equipment we’ve got to have.  Once a study is done and a correct number is in our hands we can develop the infrastructure so that there are sufficient facilities for all the players.

Then there is the game development part. Once the game is developing, the qualities of the facilities need to increase and improve. It goes hand in hand and in the game development you need improvement in the coaches, trainers, physios etc. It is a combination of these two that will get you to the top. You’ve got to have some basics first but as I have mentioned earlier, I have seen countries that have the facilities but their cricket is not on par and some countries play good cricket but don’t have the facilities. This is what we have to sort out if cricket in Asia is to advance.

What do you plan for junior cricket?

When we talk about junior cricket – the most important thing about it is that the child should enjoy playing cricket. Like I said earlier, the enjoyment levels must be much higher than compared to other sports. That is what the coaches and administrators need to realize. An Under-13 boy would not be as excited telling his parents about forward and backward defensive strokes as much as the number of 6s and 4s he hit and this is the kind of atmosphere he would like to be in at the training session the next day. It is not the technique which will convert them into cricketers who are interested in the game but rather how much they enjoy the game.

This is why cricket should be held in a healthy, friendly and enjoyable mode at that young age. In between all this we can teach them the basics that they need to know. We must not tie them up with the basic technical things from the start; they need to learn all that while enjoying themselves.

How important is school cricket in the development of the game?

It is very important. School cricket has to be carried out by the youth development program or the Ministry of Education or Sports in the country and we need to work hand in hand to move forward. If we are helping in some way; be it financially, facilities-wise or providing coaches, we have to have access to these schools and colleges. So it is important to have the blessings of these departments.

We started very young playing with a tennis ball or a tape-ball. I don’t think it is necessary to start early with a leather ball. Children below 12 should enjoy the game and gradually we should bring in the technical side with a leather ball into it and when they’re 13 or 14 we move into competitions. This would mean more time spent off studies hence there has to be a balance. We also need to get permission from the parents because if they are not willing to let their children play, then all our hard work is of no use.

What about women’s cricket?

Bangladesh, Winners of the Inaugural ACC Women’s Tournament 2007

Yes there are plans. Since the ICC has taken a decision that women’s cricket has to be a part of all countries associations, the ACC has to follow up with that. Loads of encouragement has been given and we are happy that India has taken the lead on this. Now it is for other teams to improve and follow because there is a Woman’s World Cup and Twenty20 tournament on the calendar.

In Asian countries we tend to have a problem in our culture i.e. normally women tend to give up all sports once they get married. Therefore the amount that we invest might go to waste. We’re trying to work out a solution and now are happy to note that countries like Iran and China are very keen in developing too. Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh women’s teams are playing seriously and it is gathering momentum since the controlling bodies are now showing more support.

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