CRICKET

‘I’ve specifically challenged the Test bowlers to be hot on their first 12 balls’

Chris Silverwood is no stranger to Sri Lanka’s foibles. After all, it was only a little over a year ago that he brought his England side to Lankan shores and swept the home team 2-0 in a Test series. But now, some 15 months later, he’s at the other end, charged with patching up the same weaknesses he had so brutally exploited.

Sure, in the intervening year, Silverwood’s predecessor Mickey Arthur improved the team’s fitness and fielding standards, while the likes of Dushmantha Chameera and Wanindu Hasaranga blossomed into two of the world’s leading bowlers. But the results remain as inconsistent as ever, much of which is down to an enduring inconsistency with the bat.

Unsurprisingly this was the first area of concern Silverwood identified while diagnosing Sri Lanka’s problems.

“We want more discipline in the batting, more patience in the batting and some intent to score as well,” said Silverwood, addressing the media for the first time since taking up the role of head coach.

“It’s all about scoring runs and that’s what we want the batting line-up to do. I’ll try and instill some confidence into the boys so they can go out there and construct their innings and score big runs, certainly in the first innings, and give us something to bowl at. It’s not rocket science.”

Not rocket science indeed, but certainly an issue many other coaches over the past decade (11 to be exact) have failed to do. But, as they say, identifying the problem is half the battle, and Silverwood has wasted little time in brainstorming fixes for Sri Lanka’s batting woes.

“I have spent the last couple of weeks just digging through stats, looking at how we can improve. One of them is the intent to score, we have to give the batters the confidence to go out there and not fear getting out. That’s not to say we have to be reckless, what I’m saying is we have to bring ‘smarts’ into that as well. But I do want them to be positive, I want them to be brave. If we go with that attitude, the dot-ball rates will come down and the strike-rates will go up, which can only be a good thing.

“I have encouraged the guys to be very specific when they train, think about who they’re going to come up against, and practise to suit those situations. Rather than just training on a broad scale, every time you come out of that net, you come out a better player than you went in. To do that, you have to consider what challenges you have in front of you, and then go experiment, find a way, make your strengths stronger, and obviously work on the things you might not be as strong at.”

Silverwood’s forte, though, is in his work with fast bowlers, having been one himself during his playing days. And despite having had scarcely two weeks to work with his players since taking up the role, he has already sought to stamp his mark on the team’s pace contingent.

“I’ve specifically challenged the Test bowlers to be hot on their first 12 balls, because as we all know the first 12 balls you can make a real impact on your spell as well as put pressure back on the batters.

“It’s about instilling the discipline that we can do good things for long periods of time and not getting bored of doing them. Hitting your lines and lengths, finding spots on any given pitch, and being able to live there, and then you bring in the skills like wobble seam, etc., and all our guys swing it too, which is great. So, it’s just about bringing all those skills together and being disciplined enough to live in one area, where you can wear the opposition down if need be.

“It’ll be a gradual process, but if you sow the seed and let it grow, over a period of time you will find that people can do it.”

Silverwood’s first challenge will be Sri Lanka’s tour of Bangladesh later this month, with the team due to fly out on May 8. The touring party, however, will not have the luxury of calling on Chameera, Lahiru Kumara or the recently retired Suranga Lakmal. This means Sri Lanka take with them a fairly inexperienced fast-bowling unit. Silverwood, though, sees the bright side.

“From my point of the view, the fact that they’re young means that they will take on information more quickly, and maybe try new things as well. The response has been excellent so far.”

Over the course of the briefing Silverwood, flanked by his assistant coach Naveed Nawaz and team manager Mahinda Halangode, also revealed he had spoken to several past national-team coaches prior to accepting the position, and so had a clear idea of what to expect from the job. He also acknowledged that communication would present a challenge, which Nawaz will no doubt play a pivotal role in helping overcome.

“Of course, one of the challenges for me will be communication. I have to make sure the plans that I’m trying to put in place I can get across to the boys properly. Obviously, Naveed has helped me with it brilliantly so far. Equally, I’ve got to be aware that the way I see things is not the way someone else sees it, so I have to be aware of how culture works as well, and I have good experience with that when I was working in Zimbabwe. All in all, what we’ve got here is very exciting.

“I want the Sri Lankan flair, I want the boys to express themselves; I don’t want them to be anybody else, I want them to be themselves and fly the flag for Sri Lanka.”

Nawaz, who had been considered for the role of head coach as well, will also oversee the team’s batting. The former Sri Lanka cricketer also elaborated on his role, speaking of his desire to get to know the players better over the coming weeks and months, so as to be able to help them reach their potential.

“Two-way clarity is important to minimise any grievances players might have. Also creating a platform to discuss players’ personal as well as tactical issues,” Nawaz said. “My role will be to act partly as a mentor, as a friend, and also at the same time drilling into them the tactical changes that they need to do to improve their game.

“It’s a great opportunity to work with somebody like Chris who has a wealth of experience. Obviously, I applied for the head coach’s role but I still take the assistant coach’s role as an opportunity. As long as both of us are on the same wavelength – to bring back Sri Lanka cricket its lost glory – it’s all that matters.”


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