Mendis spe­cial po­tent even in Oman

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - SPORTS -

Six years af­ter for­mer Sri Lanka skip­per Duleep Mendis un­der­took to lift the stan­dard of cricket in Oman, a team pre­dom­i­nantly con­sist­ing of work­ing ex­pa­tri­ates, are now on the verge of gain­ing ODI sta­tus.

This will be a huge mile­stone for a coun­try whose crick­eters are not even semi- pro­fes­sional. Mendis be­lieves, come April, his charges could cre­ate his­tory by fin­ish­ing among the top four in the WCL Di­vi­sion II Cham­pi­onships in Namibia to earn lim­ited- over sta­tus.

Mendis is cur­rently in Sri Lanka with the Oman na­tional team. They are among four other teams, in­clud­ing Sri Lanka, com­pet­ing in group A play­ing in the Asian Cricket Coun­cil Emerg­ing Teams Cup tour­na­ment.

“To get the ODI sta­tus from nowhere is a huge thing and I am sure ev­ery­thing will change af­ter that," Mendis said. "Al­ready, their com­pa­nies are of­fer­ing them a lot of en­cour­age­ment. They are giv­ing them leave be­cause they see the na­tional team do­ing well. And if we can get ODI sta­tus next year, that will be a land­mark for cricket in Oman. It is what Oman cricket needs at this time”.

Oman, who won the Di­vi­sion III ti­tles few days back, only need to fin­ish among the top four teams in the Di­vi­sion II Cham­pi­onship to earn ODI sta­tus. Dur­ing the Di­vi­sion III tour­na­ment played re­cently in Oman- where USA , Sin­ga­pore, Uganda, Kenya, Den­mark and Oman com­peted--they beat all the sides to be­come the cham­pi­ons.

“If we can fin­ish the Di­vi­sion II among the top two coun­tries, we get to play in the in­tercon­ti­nen­tal and three- day matches," Mendis said. "This is a big leap be­cause the sys­tems will have to change. Once you start play­ing in the in­tercon­ti­nen­tal cup and so on, you will have at least 205 days of cricket out of 365 days. That is a big com­mit­ment."

"But the mo­ment you go to the up­per league, sys­tems will have to change," he re­it­er­ated. "I don’t think the com­pa­nies would like to al­low their play­ers to play 205 days of cricket a year. This is where Oman Cricket will have to in­tro­duce pro­fes­sional con­tracts to these play­ers. Of course, we have con­tracted them at present for small amounts . But they still have to work to earn their bread and but­ter."

How did Oman make such im­pact within a short pe­riod of time? He made the player be­lieve in them­selves, Mendis said, while also help­ing them with im­proved in­fra­struc­ture and fa­cil­i­ties, set­ting stan­dards in coach­ing and um­pir­ing.

“Oman is pas­sion­ate about foot­ball," he ob­served. "Cricket is mostly played by ex­pa­tri­ates from In­dia, Bangladesh, Pak­istan and Sri Lanka. When I first saw them, I could see the cricket in their blood. They had the tech­niques but were low on confi- dence. What I did was to help build their con­fi­dence. They soon started pro­duc­ing re­sults."

“These play­ers are in Oman for work," he re­lated. "So com­ing off early for prac­tices is out of the way. But when the team started to pro­duce re­sults, their em­ploy­ers were very sup­port­ive. Now we have early morn­ing and early af­ter­noon prac­tices."

Mendis thinks one of his big­gest achieve­ments in Oman is the im­prove­ment of crick­et­ing in­fra­struc­ture. They now have two green grass grounds and a state-of-the-art in­door train­ing fa­cil­ity, a vi­tal ad­di­tion in the quest to achieve ex­cel­lence.

“When I started, they didn’t have any green pitches there," he said, adding that the two new grounds are sim­i­lar to SSC. "Then, we have a fully-equipped in­door train­ing fa­cil­ity with two fast wick­ets, three nor­mal wick­ets and two slow wicket."

Un­like in Sri Lanka, where there is a strong school struc­ture, cricket is hardly played in Omani schools, ex­cept in those run by ex­pa­tri­ates.

“This is one of the big­gest prob­lems we are fac­ing," Mendis ad­mit­ted. "Even those who play cricket in schools go for higher ed­u­ca­tion to other coun­tries. So we don’t pro­duce that many crick­eters."

In to­tal, there are 95 teams play­ing in dif­fer­ent do­mes­tic cricket tour­na­ments with five in the Premier Tour­na­ment and 10 in Di­vi­sion I, the two top tour­na­ments in the coun­try. While they play 50- over cricket on grass tracks, other teams play 20 over games on as­tro-turfs.

Mendis started off on a con­sul­tancy af­ter fin­ish­ing his ten­ure with Sri Lanka Cricket. He first signed a twoyear con­tract with the Board and con­tin­ues to work as their Chief Di­rec­tor Coach­ing, help­ing Oman re­al­ize their dream. He said they had pro­fes­sional coaches spe­cial­ized in dif­fer­ent ar­eas and train­ers on short­term con­tracts in the past but are now think­ing of en­list­ing a pro­fes­sional coach­ing set- up on full- time ba­sis.

“Along the way I re­al­ized that there were cer­tain things lack­ing," he re­flected. "Un­til Alex Koun­touris came in be­fore the World Cup in 1996 in Sri Lanka, we did not know what was needed for phys­i­cal train­ing. Alex in­tro­duced cer­tain things which were very use­ful in de­vel­op­ing cricket."

"The same things were lack­ing in the ( Omani) ODI team," he pointed out. "So we in­tro­duced those el­e­ments and now it’s a dif­fer­ent side al­to­gether. I got Ruwan Kal­page as Field­ing and Spin Coach on short­term ba­sis. Also we had Rumesh Rat­nayake as Fast Bowl­ing Coach be­fore he joined Sri Lanka Cricket. We also have a South African qual­i­fied trainer work­ing with us on short-term ba­sis ini­tially. But we’ve come to a stage where we need to set­tle down with them for a long-term."

Duleep Mendis is an as­set to those who know his true value

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