Team Nepal has climbed to the ICC World Cricket League Division 3, after roaring performance at the Division 4 in Malaysia. Much has been said about the players who were a part of it and Nepal government has duly recognized their contribution, announcing an award of Rs. 300,000 for each member of the squad.
With the win, the team, which looked in tatters around a year ago – with string of bad performances in Asian Games in November, 2010, and ACC T20 at home grounds in December 2011 – has turned a corner. It climbed in the world rankings to 27th position, from 29th. So how was it possible for the same team – well, almost – to make such a turnaround?
The answer lies in what the team has been doing since that defeat.
Leo Tolstoy, in his book Anna Karenina says: ‘Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’. The basic thing about a happy family, and by extension, a happy team is: where every member enjoys the success of the other. And if players’ talks are anything to go by, Team Nepal, during the entire tournament and after, has been a happy family.
And the guardian of the team has been Pubudu Dassanayake. It has been under the watchful guidance of the diminutive former Test Cricketer from Sri Lanka – who took the charge of team a year ago – that the team has prospered. Perhaps it would be right to say that the outfit looked like a team, after a long time. A lot of credit for the turnaround should go to him for he has changed the way coaching has been done in Nepal so far. It has gone above teaching basic techniques to the players and throwing them on the pitch without preparing them mentally.
Rarely do you see coaches getting star status unless you are a Vince Lombardi (American Football) or Jose Mourinho. And getting that status takes a long time, many years of trying to understand players, forging them into a fighting unit and strategizing. If Dassanayake goes on the way he has been going, it would not be long since he becomes a household name in Nepal.
It is a known fact that Dassanayake represented Canada in the 2005 World Cup qualifier, and later became the head coach of Canadian national side, eventually securing them a place in the 2011 World Cup.
With Level III coaching qualifications from Australia, Dassanayake has worked on the mental aspect of the players. After the first time he watched the boys perform at SAARC U-25 championship in the Maldives in October last year, his reaction was, “The boys are talented, but the same can’t be said about their mental toughness.”
Ask him the biggest change in the team he finds a year since, he would tell you, ‘confidence of the players’. Somewhere the simple yet transformational power of modern day coaching seems to have worked. He cannot be termed as a laptop coach, like Bob Woolmer, or overtly strategic like John Buchanan, the most famous names in cricket coaching. Yet he is a mix of both modern and classic, focusing on technique as well as making long term strategies for the team and players. It is difficult to imagine if the Woolmers and Buchanans helped their cricket boards in planning the domestic cricket structure. Pubudu has had to do that, making plans and suggesting the Cricket Association of Nepal. He has had to work in the transitional time, as most CAN members have had little experience of running cricket.
Knowingly or unknowingly, he has been practicing Social psychology in sport, which involves social relationships, communication, team cohesion, motivation and motivational climate. Performance boils down to two parts, in modern day sport: Technical skills and psychological skills, also called mental toughness. And on such parameters, Dassanayake has been a performance coach to the core.
As Vince Lombardi once said – ‘Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence’ – the quiet confidence of Dassanayake has rubbed off on the boys he took charge of. Last year, when Team Nepal went to play, they looked as if they’re entering the ground to ‘survive’. Now, they look like going in there to play and to ‘win’.
Hopefully, the Cricket Association takes his strategies seriously.
(PS: This write-up appeared in Yours Truly’s column – OFFSIDE – in The Kathmandu Post, on 15th September, 2012)