Being one of the most formidable world-class Test cricketers with 34 hundred, seven double hundreds and a triple hundred under his belt, Mahela Jayawardena has soon evolved a coach in demand in the shorter formats of the game. He guided the English Hampshire team Southern Brave to the championship title in the inaugural ‘The Hundred’ tournament in England a few days ago and now in Dubai to defend another title for Mumbai Indians in the most coveted T20 Cricket tournament, the Indian Premier League. 

Jayawardena received many accolades for winning the first-ever ‘The Hundred’ as a coach and was the centre of media attention following the event. A respected cricketer for his records and now an esteemed coach for his performances, Mahela Jayawardena outright denied that he would not be willing to live out of a suitcase to pursue a career as a cricket coach as he wants to spend as much time as possible with his family, which has been the pillar of his success.

Following are excerpts:

By Leonard Ratnayake in England

Q: What exactly was 100 ball cricket and what makes it different to other formats of cricket?

A: ‘The Hundred’ drafted by the English Cricket Board (ECB) is somewhat similar to very popular T20 cricket. At the outset, it seems like it’s only 20 balls less, but there are a few changes to the rules and regulation, which add more burden to the fielding side with play-time restrictions. It is only five deliveries per over, which makes it 20 overs in total for a match, a bowler can continue to bowl 10 deliveries continuously in one end or from both, depending on the team’s play tactics and to manage their time. A new batsman in at the crease has always got to face the next ball after dismissal unless it was a runout, so there are no crossings during an out caught. 

These are a few good things that might come up to the other formats in the evolution of the game. It is a batter-friendly version of a game with a lot of pressure on the fielding side. Quick thinking with spot-on decisions like in a speed chess game. All in all, it is a good spectacle to match-make America’s baseball games.

 Q: It has been almost a month-long of entertaining cricket all throughout the UK. How was this experience for you this British summer?

A: It was really a worthy experience to be part of an inaugural tournament of this nature as a coach. As you would have seen, it was really entertaining, there was a good spectator attendance. ECB really gelled it well with the two teams each for eight franchises, both men’s and women’s teams playing at the same venue on the same day. It was more of a family day out for enjoyment. We noticed a lot of families with little children were participating and it was quite a unique experience.

Q: You were the coach of the winning team of the first-ever 100 ball cricket team, mentoring the Southern Brave team, how was the feeling?

A: I was delighted when our team Southern Brave were able to become the champions; we did not have much of a good start, but we sat down together and had a discussion where we got things wrong. It was a new game with some new regulations, it created a lot of pressure on the captain for quick and correct decisions. But in the end, we were able to correct our mistakes, and we are very pleased with the final result.

Q: Do you see an expansion of this format to other parts of the world?

A: It will be a tough call. It is quite unique to England. Certainly, it had given a big boost to the promotion of women’s cricket here in England. Already, the T20 format of cricket is rapidly expanding in the other parts of the world as far as the sport of cricket is concerned and the popularity of cricket is fast increasing. I think the concept of ‘The Hundred’ ball cricket should stay quite a while exclusive to England. ECB had thought well to use this format to promote women’s cricket throughout England. Let’s see how it would take it from thereon.

Q: You have been a world-class test player with many records to your belt. From ODIs to T20, and the 100 and also 10 over games. Where do you think cricket is heading?

A: I suppose that the game of cricket is promptly gaining popularity among the public through these shorter versions of the sport. It is a good enough spectacle to entertain the public like in soccer, American football and baseball. ICC is looking towards including cricket at the Olympics and actually these shorter formats would certainly help the purpose.

At the same time, if you take test cricket, it has evolved enormously too and does not lack any intensity either. If you had watched the test series between England v India, they were evenly contested matches and productive for a thrilling result, and so were the matches in the World Test Championship. Test cricket is not a dead rubber anymore. There is a point system to a World Championship and thus it is ensured that minimum tours are done among the cricket nations. All in all, it is the mother of all formats of cricket.

Q: You have been successful in many of your endeavours, personal and national. From a cricketer and now a coach in franchise cricket. Do you enjoy your role as a coach?

A: I certainly have started to enjoy my role as a coach now. I have played many years of cricket and it was within myself that I should engage myself in the game for this purpose only, I took over some assignments as a consultant and then now coaching in some franchise cricket teams. Yes, it really helps me to be involved in the game, more into the contest side of it and also gives me enough time to spend my time with the family back at home as these are short assignments.

Q: What is the secret of this successful coaching career?

A: Success in cricket comes from within a team. It is a lot of teamwork with individual contributions. For me as a coach, I can use my experience and knowledge to develop the skills of the players where it is needed but it is up to them to make use of the know-how or the expertise shared to improve their game. I think I have been lucky to work with a few committed bunches of cricketers who wanted to grow up to the next level and thereby, I have been able to create a winning mood in the camps where I was involved.

Q: You are more of a mentor in coaching who can talk to the mind and the feelings of the players. Your views on that?

A: Discussions, dialogues and long conversations are important as a coach with the players. You really have to make a good rapport with the players to become a good coach. When you talk, you share knowledge and experience, others share their problems and that helps to create a feeling and confidence among each other in a team. I would like to talk directly to the point and to the players themselves. I am lucky to have come across some great individuals who really want to improve their performances.

Q: In particular, was there anyone or a few people who influenced your successful career as a cricketer and now as a coach?

A: Oh, that’s a hard question to answer because I do not want to miss out on any names as there are many who have helped me in different stages of my cricketing career. From being a school cricketer to club cricket, then a national cricketer to finally an international cricketer, you certainly need assistance from many, whom I would be thankful to, but not missing out on anyone, I will keep it to the sacrifices made by my family for their belief and support right throughout.

Q: Sri Lanka Cricket is the foundation of your success for the person who you are today, but as a cricketing nation, we are struggling. What do you think is the way out or forward?

A: We must go back to the basics and start from there. Sure, the team is struggling at the moment, but they are getting better. We have to play a lot of competitive cricket, domestic and international. I have always been very vocal that our domestic structure should be changed to boost competitiveness and produce cricketers of higher standards. We have talented cricketers, but we need a good system to nurture them to demanding international standards.

Q: Being the Chairman of the National Sports Council, you are given the responsibility to uplift these standards and especially in cricket, when do you think we would be back to winning ways?

A: It’s not going to be soon, but we are not too far away either. There have been a lot of changes in the recent past for this direction. We have identified many areas that need attention and improvement. It is a young team again and they all are working on it as a team. There is assistance from many quarters towards this objective and I am sure, you will start seeing a difference before the end of the year. Any given day, our team can compete and beat against any opposition. I think they need to develop self-belief and make winning a habit.

-Daily FT