Former Sri Lankan middle-order batsman Thilan Samaraweera started working as the Bangladesh batting consultant from the Afghanistan series in October this year. The 40-year old witnessed the new-look Bangladesh first-hand as they made history by beating England by 108 runs to win the second and final Test against England and level the series. Having initially signed a temporary contract spanning seven weeks, Samaraweera is potentially on the verge of extending his contract till the 2017 Champions Trophy. Dhaka Tribune
caught up with him for an interview where he talked about the Tigers' recent successes, and the reasons behind it.
Here are the excerpts:
How has your experience been so far?
Honestly, loved it. This is my first time I'm coaching an international team. I think I have really enjoyed because I feel they changed a lot to the time I played against them. I have really enjoyed these 40, 45 or 50 days, especially with the coaching staff. This was an awesome experience. It was a learning experience.
Which part have you enjoyed the most?
I'm a big fan of Test cricket, honestly. These two Test matches against England have been really exciting. Anyone know in the second Test after (giving) 270-280 (target), we were in a good position but after tea time 100 for no loss. We were a little bit concerned. And then we know one wicket will create everything, and that happened first ball after tea. The first Test I really enjoyed but this is the first time so much stress. I spoke to Graham Ford four-five years back about coaching. Now I realise how hard it is. When you're playing, you control your game. Now you control another level, the players' mindset. I think this is really exciting. Honestly, very tensed for me. Because honestly I have to get used to these things for the first time in the international environment. I think Test matches and so far six one-days, very close. Especially against Afghanistan. That happened because of I think we come from 10 months lay-off. I'm a little disappointed with England one-day series because I thought we should win. First game we should win, and the series, but unfortunately we didn't. We believe we can win a Test match. I think in the end we did that very easily.
How challenging it is to prepare your charges for a wicket like this where there is a lot of turn?
Firstly, I didn't know which kind of things (are) coming. I'm a big believer Test cricket is all about taking 20 wickets. That's what it is all about. Not scoring 600 runs and all. At the end of the day you have to take 20 wickets. Ten days before Test series we know what kind of pitch is coming. We trained like that. At the end of the day, in these kind of wickets, not blocking everything. You have to score runs. That's the key. Because I don't think these pitches are 350-400 pitches. Probably, 275-300 is a very huge score in the first innings. I think I'm a little bit disappointed. 170/1 to 220 all out. I think we should score 350 at that stage.
When do you think it all started to change?
I'll tell you and not because I'm here. When Chandika (Hathurusingha) signed with Bangladesh cricket, I think that is the key point I feel. I played against him, first-class cricket, then I captained under him. For about two and a half years he was batting coach of Sri Lanka. I know what he can do and what capabilities he has. I thought Bangladesh cricket would be in the right way with him because of his knowledge and experience. I think that's a big change. Good thing is players also adapted with him. I think they are fitter than before. And their work ethics are great.
Were there any player you worked closely with in this period?
I worked with everyone. One thing was key in this Test series. I was pleased with how our two openers set up the innings I think every time. I go back to the first game in Chittagong. They put 45 runs. That's the key. All the dressing room and the middle-order batters believe we can chase 280 in the second innings in Chittagong. How they approached that inning. These are very difficult pitches honestly, especially with the new ball when a spinner is bowling. When they were batting I thought this is a different pitch with those two openers batting. They gave a lot of confidence to the team.
What was your reaction after watching Shakib al Hasan and Mahmudullah getting out the way they did?
Hopefully they will learn from experience. Test cricket is all about percentage game I feel. You have to minimise the risks at certain stages. Hopefully they will learn from these incidents.
Did you to speak to them?
I'm a big believer in talking individually. I'm not a big group person. I spoke to them individually, honestly.
Can you elaborate?
That is very hard to say. I'm a very calm person. This is my nature. I had a chat with them. Told them this is the situation and all. We'll see in future (whether) they will not do the mistakes.
What were your exact words?
This is a personal thing, inside thing (laughs, one among many).
You said you were impressed with Tamim Iqbal and the way he approached that inning. What is your impression about him?
I think Tamim is close to Chandika. He works with Chandika a lot. I think Tamim is all about his mindset. He has such wonderful ability. I think he can go next five years and touch a lot of big things. I had a chat with Imrul [Kayes] and Chandika also had a chat with Imrul. We gave them the plans because in those pitches you can't put doubts, you don't know which one is turning and which one is not. We gave the plans.
What is your take on Imrul?
He is one of the talented players, what I saw in the last seven weeks. Hopefully we'll learn and big challenges are coming. We are not playing in home for seven months. They have to adapt to those conditions. That is the key. I told him (Imrul) after the (England) series about the New Zealand series.
You say you like Test cricket most but many are saying its a dying art?
Everyone is saying Test cricket is dying and all but when you have people like Ben Stokes, [Kagiso] Rabada of South Africa, I don't think Test cricket will die. Because they are superstars in Test cricket. People coming (to the ground) to see those people. They have energy in the field, they have energy in the bowling and batting. I think those kind of stuff. I think Test cricket tests your mental ability and the skill, each hour and every session.
How hard do you think it is for Test specialists like Mominul Haque to come back to five-dayers after a long gap?
That's honestly very hard. When I was playing and got four months (gap), it was very hard, especially in the first inning of the first Test. Whatever you train and whatever you do, when you come to the game, you are under pressure. That's a different pressure. Importantly, you have to stick to the routines to get your body right for the game.
What do Test specialists do during breaks like these?
You can't help because first-class cricket is the only option for me.
Have you made adjustments to any player, technically?
I think not too many. Small, small things. But it made big impact going forward.
In the limited-over formats, it is said Bangladesh don't have any big-hitters? What are your thoughts on this?
Our top seven, they are all big hitters. They can all hit sixes. Only matter is our tail-enders. They are there to bowl, honestly. I think we have hitters, honestly. All top seven can hit sixes. And good thing is, healthy thing is Soumya Sarkar is on the bench. That's a very good healthy matter to the selectors and the head coach. Because I think he's averaging something 47 in the last few years. I think that's another very good matter. Hopefully few youngsters will come up from domestic cricket. That is also very good.
You say tail-enders are there to bowl whereas the English lower order batsmen regularly chip in with contributions. How do you see it?
That comes from the domestic structure. You can't do anything. [Chris] Woakes has six-seven hundreds. Adil Rashid has hundreds. In first-class cricket, everything matters. That's why I think we, and Sri Lankan cricket, need (strong) first-class cricket because that's when you know what to do in different scenarios. They can do it international level. For example, we are sometimes emotional with DRS (Decision Review System). Because we are not used to DRS. But in England, they play Ashes, they play long series. They know what to take and what not to take (reviews). That comes from experience and playing more cricket.
Do you think the Bangladesh batsmen have mental blocks while converting an innings to a big score?
Every time before lunch and close of play I was nervous. But I didn't worry because it was a mental thing, not technical. Those things we can talk about. I think in Test cricket it is all about present, not past or future. The (previous) ball is always important, not the close of play. I think the present is always important. Different people have different routines. What I try to do is think about the present moment. This is what I talk to them about.
What do you think Soumya's deficiency is, mental or technical?
I can't say its mental or technical, that's not good for him, but good thing is when you fail, you learn. That helps to better your cricket. He's a little bit under pressure because he doesn't have runs and all. I believe for me, he will be alright after BPL (Bangladesh Premier League), because T20 cricket is about free mindset and all. When you hit three-four shots in the middle it will come back. We tried so many things. We'll wait before next season starts.
How do you feel Shakib is batting at the moment?
Hopefully he'll get better in New Zealand. I think he's not struggling, he's just not scoring big runs.