May 20, 2020
Interview by Nagraj Gollapudi
You celebrated your birthday on Sunday. What does a lockdown birthday feel like?
(Laughs) They relaxed the curfew a little bit, so last Friday I went with Kumar Sangakkara to his house in Galle and celebrated the birthday with his family. After eight weeks in lockdown, in the Taj Samudra on my own, to be outside the hotel was like being released out of jail.
Grant Flower [Sri Lanka batting coach] is the only one of our staff with me, but he is in another hotel. It was pretty lonely. Though I did manage to escape curfew to go and see him.
Hope you didn’t shake hands with Kumar?
Actually, I shook hands with people when I was there and they were wishing me. And then we said, “Oh, we shouldn’t have done that.” But it’s amazing how your habits change. Grant and I kind of bumped elbows when he popped in for tea, though I just want to give my hand out and give a good hug. Everybody is a little apprehensive. We have just become accustomed to washing hands, using hand sanitiser, and wearing a mask when you go out – those are the norm now.
So you did not step outside the hotel for eight weeks?
I might have left the hotel about seven times in eight weeks. There’s a 750-metre track that goes around the hotel. I walked that a lot until I came across a snake and a monitor lizard. Then I decided that wasn’t such a good idea.
England left Sri Lanka in March days before the Test series was to start. Mentally, how challenging was it to accept no cricket was happening?
I remember when we flew back from Zimbabwe in January, our physio was handing out masks as we were going through Dubai airport. I actually didn’t put one on. I saw probably 60% of people in the airport with masks, but thought nothing was going to happen. Then we got into the West Indies tour [at home] and bubbling away in the background was this chatter always about coronavirus. Then England arrived and I was actually at the ground and we were watching the practice match when I got the call from the CEO to head to Sri Lanka Cricket’s headquarters. They said the tour is off. You sit back and think, “Wow, what now?”
I just see how badly the cricket world has been disrupted, but that’s just a microcosm of what’s happening in the real world. People are losing their lives, governments are at loggerheads. It’s almost surreal. The cricketing world is going to struggle financially. The world as we know is going to change.
“After eight weeks in lockdown, to be outside the hotel was like being released out of jail”
The range of emotions, particularly in lockdown, has been pretty traumatic. Some days you go to the gym, you think, “This is great”, you have a couple of good conversations with the players, and you get cracking into some work. Then next day, you wake up and it’s like, “Why am I getting out of bed?” There’s just nothing to do. It’s groundhog day.
It’s been interesting. I’ve found out a lot about myself.
What have you found out?
The little things in life have meant a hell of a lot more to me than I thought: the ability to go and have a beer with friends, the ability to get on a plane to go and see my family. My oldest daughter is in South Africa. She’s pregnant. My other two daughters are in Perth. I’m going to be a grandfather in August. When am I going to see my granddaughter? You are thinking, “Jeez, I hope we go to South Africa at the end of the year on that tour.” The little things that you take for granted, never ever take for granted again.
Do you think the players need a psychologist to talk to in these times?
The clarity the players need will come from medical protocol. Every one of the players is busting a gut to get back out and train and play. Once we get some assurances from the medical staff around the world that the biosecure environment is fine, and what the virus could do to you potentially if you got it, once the players understand, they’ll all be good.
Have you been setting homework assignments for the team? And has everyone been doing them?
(Chuckles) I did set a homework assignment. Basically a SWOT analysis of strengths and weaknesses. I break it up into three different headings: mental, technical and physical. With each player listing what they feel they need to improve and what they think they are good at.
How do you regain momentum now as a team?
I’ve asked myself that question a lot. I felt that as a team, we had picked momentum up. I felt the work ethic, preparation, had improved so much. There’s a great vibe around our training sessions, lot of laughter. It was a lot of fun. It was a really, really nice place to be.
It might take a little camp of four to five days away as a unit just to get back the camaraderie and the spirit we had built. The key is for players to enjoy the environment, to feel they are valued and that they can trust the system. Those are things you work damn hard for as a coach.
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What are you watching on Netflix or elsewhere?
I’ve loved watching The Last Dance. Michael Jordan has been great. I have watched The Test, All or Nothing: Manchester City and All or Nothing: All Blacks. I have watched a lot of sports movies based around teams.
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