Willis lays out ambition to aid Sri Lanka's next generation

Simon Willis wants young Sri Lanka cricketers to be better prepared for the step up to international cricket © Getty Images

Sri Lanka’s new high performance manager Simon Willis, has said he aims to bridge the gap in standards between Sri Lanka’s domestic system and the international game.

High-profile players and some administrators have repeatedly drawn attention to the ailing health of Sri Lanka’s first-class system. Though an overhaul of the Premier League tournaments is beyond Willis’ purview, he has outlined a vision to create a well-defined “player pathway” from grassroots cricket to the international level, and to create more cohesion within the system.

“We’ve got to work together so that when players get picked, it doesn’t get two or three years to get established in international level,” Willis said. “We have to ensure that everything we do underneath – whether that’s A team, Under-23 or Under-19 – is preparing them for transition to an international environment.

“That might not be just cricket skills. It might be travelling overseas. People might struggle being away from home for a long period of time. We need to prepare them for that. It might be playing in different conditions – like what we’ve seen in England with a swinging ball.”

Sri Lanka have struggled in all formats over the past 18 months, making little impact in major limited-overs tournaments, and having lost 10 of their 14 Tests since December 2014. Much of that has been put down to difficulty in replacing retiring stars.

“The first thing is to provide an oversupply,” Willis said. “We need more players than just one or two. We need to create competition. We want players banging down the door to get into international teams – both men and women.

“But they should be capable of winning matches on consistent basis. Not just once a week or in two or three years. We see two of the greats who recently finished their careers – Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene – they were capable of winning matches in all formats, consistently. That’s the challenge we’ve got in our player pathway.”

Willis said he would also aim to link Sri Lanka’s national team management more effectively with the domestic system. A breakdown in the relationship between the board, selectors and the team had led to the overnight sacking of a selection committee in March, on the eve of the team’s departure for the World T20.

“From my understanding, there’s been a small disconnect between the national team and what’s going on underneath,” Willis said. “I see myself as the glue that links those things two together.

“Graham Ford – the head coach of the national team – will tell us his needs, as well as Angelo Mathews, who is the present captain. Us as a team will be trying to identify players and develop them in certain ways and provide them with opportunity overseas or in this country, to develop international players that the national team requires.”

Willis – who has a Level 3 certificate for coach education – has also been hired to up-skill Sri Lanka’s coaches. He said he hoped to work with local coaches to put in place a central database containing in-depth information on key players, and he also spoke about tapping into knowledge already contained in the system.

“For me, it’s really important all Sri Lankan coaches are seen on the grounds. Whether that’ll be a provincial game or in a club game, we need to be out there watching players and communicating with coaches further down the chain. This is a part in the education process. It’s a two-way process. Not just top-down, we need to learn from those people who are specialising down the grass root level, because we can learn lessons along the way.”

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando

ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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