Now pushing Bangladesh cricket to new heights, first Chandika Hathurusinghe helped UAE rise
DHAKA // At the indoor nets at Mirpur’s National Cricket Stadium, Bangladesh’s leading cricketers fine-tune their games, fiddle with batting equipment, fulfil media obligations, and wave to impassioned supporters.
Unnoticed, their bespectacled head coach nips under the adjacent stand to watch the match taking place in the main stadium.
Afghanistan are playing Hong Kong to try to earn a place in the final stages of the tournament. Chandika Hathurusinghe is looking for some pointers on players he has not seen before, but who might end up playing Bangladesh at next month’s World Twenty20.
Within the space of one delivery, he has assessed Hong Kong’s leading batsman has a low grip, and may be a powerful hitter but could struggle against more skillful bowlers.
A keen eye for detail is one of many reasons the fortunes of the Bangladesh national team have been in sharp ascent since he took charge two years ago.
First series wins against both India and Pakistan. Knocking England out of the World Cup. On Hathurusinghe’s watch, Bangladesh have become winners, rather than just competitors. That was his mission when he took the role.
“We had to change the mindset because back then people were happy to compete, they weren’t really ambitious to win,” he said. “That is what I felt.”
They needed ambition to match his own, ambitions that have taken him across the world to coach, since the point just over 10 years ago, when he ended his playing career and moved to Sharjah to take up a role with the UAE.
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He will be reacquainted with that side on Friday, when Bangladesh and the national team meet in the third match of the Asia Cup.
His insider knowledge of the underdogs will be minimal. Just six of the squad remain from 12 months ago, let alone a decade past, when he was in charge. There is the odd familiar face, though.
“There is an affiliation, and I am very happy to see these young guys doing well – like the captain Amjad Javed,” Hathurusinghe said of the UAE’s 35-year-old talisman.
“I still remember, when I was there, he was a spinner and a No 10 who just whacked the ball. I remember having a conversation with him, saying, ‘You are wasting your time bowling offies, you should be bowling quick.’ Now I see him opening the bowling.
“Those are the sort of things that give you satisfaction, when players have had a career change because of the input you have had.”
He might rue that advice this evening, when Amjad leads a revived side against a Bangladesh team who were soundly beaten by India in the opening match.
The UAE captain assumes a ready smile when he thinks about his time under Hathurusinghe’s tutelage.
“He made me into a fast bowler, and to this day I am still doing it,” Amjad said. “I would love to beat him, and love to have him congratulate me on that win.”
When Bangladesh played India on Wednesday’s opening night, the stands were rammed. There were 25,000 Bangladeshis going crazy for their team. The buzz was electric.
The contrast to Hathurusinghe’s first position in coaching is stark. Back then, he struggled to get the UAE’s best players to training, let alone anyone else to show an interest.
“We had to wait till they came off work to train,” he said of the part-time set up that existed back then.
“We had to train from 6pm to 11 at night, then the poor guys would have to go straight to work early the next morning.
“The fun side was the guys are really keen on cricket. They just wanted to do well, so whatever I was doing with them they were really embracing it.”
He embraced it, too, occasionally playing domestic matches himself. His commitments with Bangladesh mean he does not get the chance to play any more, but he did fulfill one long-held ambition recently by playing alongside his 16-year-old son, Cullen.
“That was one of my dreams,” said Hathurusinghe, whose two younger children, Saraya and Chaiek, also play.
“We both opened. It was grade cricket in Sydney, but down the order – fifth grade. He is enjoying cricket, but he is into his studies as well.”
After his successful eight-month stint in the UAE, Hathurusinghe returned to his native Sri Lanka and coached within the national set up.
That relationship soured, which is how he ended up in Sydney. He emigrated to Australia six years ago, and coached within the New South Wales state set up, as well as with Australia A.
Despite having an apartment in Dhaka, he spends his time in Australia when his Bangladesh commitments permit.
Maybe he has unfinished business with the land of his birth, and he would like to coach Sri Lanka – or even Australia – at some point in the future. But he says he is grateful for where he is in life now.
“It would be nice to coach one of those countries, but then it comes down to lifestyle as well,” he said.
“I moved my family to Australia six years ago. I have a young family growing up, and I need to spend more time with my kids. They are coming into their crucial age in school.
“I am enjoying this job. It is one of the best top 10 jobs in the world. With the success we have had, and the changes the board have implemented, it is all about job satisfaction at this stage.”
Seven degrees of separation
When Aaqib Javed became UAE coach in 2012, it had been just over six years since Chandika Hathurusinghe, his opposite number for Bangladesh at the Asia Cup, had filled the post.
It was the seventh change in that space of time, though.
Aaqib Javed (2012-to date)
The most successful UAE coach is overseeing his third major tournament.
Kabir Khan (2011-12)
Left one year in to a three-year term to return to his previous role with Afghanistan.
Colin Wells (2009-10)
Englishman became director of cricket at British School Al Khubairat in Abu Dhabi.
Vasbert Drakes (2008)
Discussed extending his three-month deal, but ended up returning to Barbados.
Kabir Khan (2007-08)
The former Pakistan bowler’s first stint in charge only lasted a few months.
Abey Kuruvilla (2007)
Another short-term appointment, the Indian bowler was a stopgap replacement.
Chandika Hathurusinghe (2006)
Showed promise in his stint with UAE that he is now fulfilling with Bangladesh.
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Updated: February 25, 2016 04:00 AM