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POSTED AT 09:20 AM 15-03-2019

Hathurusingha on the brink; Steve Rixon takes over part time

In this file photo taken on 26 November 2018, Sri Lanka’s cricket coach Chandika Hathurusingha and batting coach Thilan Samaraweera (R) - AFP) 

Sri Lanka Cricket CEO Ashley De Silva has headed to South Africa for crisis talks with Chandika Hathurusingha, with the under-fire national coach set to return to Sri Lanka following the ongoing ODI series. In his stead, fielding coach Steve Rixon will temporarily take over as head coach for the upcoming three-match T20I series.

An SLC release confirmed that Hathurusingha will return to Sri Lanka to “discuss the Sri Lanka team’s preparation for the upcoming ICC Cricket World Cup.”

While the move is a likely precursor to the Boardremoving Hathurusingha from the post permanently, it is understood that his contract, which runs until 2020, complicates matters, with a substantial sum allocated as compensation in the event of it being prematurely terminated. As such, de Silva and the board are expected to broach the possibility of Hathurusingha working for SLC in a limited capacity back in Sri Lanka in the short term.

“[The Board is] trying to give Hathuru a break to see how Rixon fares in the team,” an SLC official told DailyFT.

Since taking over at the start of 2018, Hathurusingha has overseen a fairly dismal string of results, winning just 16 of 49 international matches in charge. Though his predecessors had fared little better; Sri Lanka’s win rate in 2018 was only marginally better than it had been in 2017.

While the historic Test series win over South Africa did buy him a short reprieve, the ensuing succession of ODI defeats, in what is Sri Lanka’s final series before the World Cup, has seen apprehension grow over his long-term role.

The Board’s concerns however are thought to be only partially performance-related. According to the SLC source, Hathurusingha is said to have uneasy relations with some players and staff, while it was a prolonged spat with the new Selection Committee that culminated in him being removed from the role of selector-on-tour last month. 

Ahead of the South Africa tour Hathurusingha had voiced concerns over the wholesale changes being made to the limited overs squad just months out of a World Cup, one of which was the axing of Dinesh Chandimal - someone he had earmarked as central to his limited overs squad. Hathurusingha is also said to have been unhappy at Lasith Malinga’s installation as ODI captain, a player who had until then only been at the periphery of his plans.

“The Board is not happy, not only with his performance, but his attitude as well. This has been coming for a while to be honest,” added the SLC official.

These off-field issues are understood to have created an unhappy and unhealthy dressing room atmosphere during the recent ODIs.

In terms of preparation for the World Cup, this is far from ideal for Sri Lanka, with neither the selectors, the board, Hathurusingha nor the fans any closer to identifying a final squad. As a final throw of the dice SLC are expected to hold a provincial tournament next month, consisting of four teams comprising all the players vying for a World Cup spot.

“We want every player to play in each game to ensure they are fit enough to go for the World Cup. The teams will be captained by Dimuth Karunaratne, Angelo [Mathews], Upul Tharanga, and maybe [Lasith] Malinga or [Dinesh] Chandimal. They will have to prove themselves to be in contention for the World Cup,” the source confirmed.

Madushka Balasuriya