Sri Lanka legend Kumar Sangakkara is a former captain of the national team and is widely regarded as one of the greatest wicket-keeper batsmen of all-time, scoring 12,400 runs in his 134 Tests at an impressive average of 57.40. He also took 182 catches and 20 stumpings.
Sangakkara spoke exclusively to Sport360 in Dubai earlier this week and opened up about Sri Lanka’s poor performance in the recently completed Asia Cup, the Angelo Mathews saga and how sledging has got out of hand in the modern game.
Q: Sri Lanka performed very badly in the Asia Cup and were eliminated in the group stages after humbling losses to Afghanistan and Bangladesh. It’s just six months out from the World Cup, is it time to hit the panic button?
A: I empathise with the team. I’ve been there. I’ve lost to sides that we shouldn’t have lost to. And I understand exactly how they feel. But I’m very pragmatic about it, I’m realistic. They played very bad cricket.
They looked confused during the tournament, with an unsettled air around the team and that hasn’t helped them. That’s been the case for a while now.
So how do you fix the current situation?
Leave aside the emotion, be very rational and clinical in your decision making – you need to evaluate very quickly as to what’s going wrong. Whether it’s the strategy: if it’s the strategy then you need to select players who can execute that strategy.
Then you examine team culture, you examine consistency of selection and then you put those things right.
Clear, honest face-to-face one-on-one communication is essential to build trust and having a settled squad that have clear roles identified for them and are given a clear run. That will improve self-confidence of players and they will trust the system better, the performances will be more consistent and results will then come.
The issue is we’re only six months to the next World Cup. So we need to do these things quickly and I hope they get that done.
The situation with Angelo Mathews being dropped from the captaincy and being left out of the squad to play England has also caused issues. How do you address that?
I think this breakdown of communication needs to be sorted quickly.
It needs to be sorted through direct, honest and clear conversations between captain, the management and the player concerned. They need to make sure, also, that the public has the right idea of why this decision has been taken, especially at an emotional time.
What they have to be careful is that it’s not a knee-jerk reaction to the team’s performance at the Asia Cup, but it’s actually a worthwhile decision for the side. But I really think that with Chandika Hathurusingha’s strategy, Angelo will find himself back in the side very soon.
Angelo’s performances in the past suggest that he’s a player of great value to the side. I think it’s very important to get Angelo bowling again.
I think it does his confidence a lot of good. It does the Sri Lankan side a lot of good. And whoever is captain – whether it’s Angelo or Dinesh Chandimal – it gives them a lot of options to use a multi-skilled cricketer in different situations. All of that is going to be absolutely vital to their chances at the World Cup.
In stark contrast Bangladesh had a superb tournament, surprising Pakistan in the Super Four to reach the final where they were beaten on the last ball by heavyweights India. Have they now gone past Sri Lanka in the ODI pecking order?
I don’t think Bangladesh has risen above Sri Lanka in terms of ability, talent and quality – they’ve outperformed us in this particular tournament. Going back a few months (January) we beat Bangladesh in the final of the Tri-series one day tournament (in Bangladesh).
I think the difference between the two sides is that Bangladesh are settled. The core group of Bangladesh hardly ever changes: Mushfiqur Rahim, Mahmudullah, Shakib Al Hasan, Mustafizur Rahman and Mashrafe Mortaza.
They’ve been around for years, they never change their core, so it’s a consistent side knowing their roles performing day in day out, playing day in day out.
So it becomes easier to have consistent performances and more good days than bad.
As a senior player how do you now see your role in the game in relation to young players coming through?
To look after, to mentor, to really be an example on the field, but also talk about the core values of cricket. Because one of the things about cricket is it’s based on fair play, on team spirit, playing fair but playing hard, about integrity.
How to have a positive lifestyle on and off the field, there’s a lot of aspects and thoughts and ideas that will be exchanged.
Apart from all that – the grounding – (you need to) play good cricket on the field so these young players can see skill at its best.
There has been a lot of talk of late about indiscipline on the field giving cricket a bad name. Is the game getting too competitive?
It’s hard to define in professional sport whether competition is healthy or not. It just depends on how you as a player, play within the defined rules of the game, (together) with your personal belief system is in terms of your philosophy on the game and in life in general. So it’s a huge balancing act, and the pressures are immense, mistakes happen.
But you know there’s been a concerted effort by players around the world and franchise leagues have actually helped to have better understanding between countries, between players who actually are rivals elsewhere but are team-mates in tournaments like the IPL.
Does that help with better relations on the field of play?
It really helps to gives you a better balanced perspective on how to play this game, how to interact with people and how to be competitive on the field and display your skills.
To play as hard as you can to win for your country but at the same time have healthy relationships while doing it and friendships that are formed on the cricket field lasting for many years between players from different backgrounds and countries are inspirational.
Sportsmen and sportswomen are naturally competitive and that’s healthy for having a great show on that field.
Spectators enjoy watching a keenly contested competition and the players enjoy playing for something because everyone seems to keep score, but the spirit in which you do it is important.
It’s disappointing how sledging has got out of control in the game recently, for example how things boiled over in Durban earlier this year in the Test between South Africa and Australia. How do you bring that back under control?
I just think that you can’t define a line because it’s all relative. Being offensive or taking offense is a relative thing. Things that some people from a certain background or country don’t find offensive other people will.
So if you do go down the line of having a chat on the field and you open that door, you have to be mindful that you have to accept whatever comes back at you.
It could be something that you find offensive but you can’t say and talk on the field and sledge and then say ‘Well I draw the line here and what he said was unacceptable’. That to me is ridiculous.
I think if that is the case then don’t sledge at all.
So could a ‘zero tolerance’ policy to sledging be the answer?
Everyone talks about ‘banter’ and about ‘having a friendly chat’ and not being offensive and its ‘part of the game’…
I actually think that if you are to play by the rules that there should be a rule that actually says “No, the line is drawn at zero tolerance. Nothing offensive that can be said.”
It might make it a little bit duller in terms of playing the game but sometimes so be it. It’s not going to take anything away from your skill or the spectacle of the game.
Otherwise if that rule is not drawn and the rules are not set you will get instances where players have these instances where offense is taken, lines are crossed, miscommunication, misunderstandings, bad tempers, all of these will be seen (like in Durban).
You need to be mindful that if young kids are watching the game and if your own kids are watching the game and you want it to be something healthy that they see on the pictures you can make your own decisions.
But implementation of the rules and regulations should be the same across the board.
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