COLOMBO: New Sri Lanka coach Graham Ford acknowledged Tuesday he faced a huge rebuilding task after a string of retirements as he began his second stint in charge of the islanders.
The South African said he was honoured to return to Sri Lanka, whom he previously coached from 2012 to 2014, but urged fans to be patient after a recent slump saw the side tumble down the Test rankings.
“For a coach, it is really a special group of lads to work with,” Ford told reporters, a day after taking up his post.
“At the same time, I am very aware what a huge challenge it is. I think Sri Lanka cricket finds itself in the very early stages of a very important rebuilding stage. A lot of hard work needs to be done.
“Everyone, the players, the selectors and the board must have patience,” added Ford, who has been handed a 45-month contract.
The 55-year-old, who quit last week as coach of English county side Surrey, is taking the reins at one of the most troubled periods for Sri Lankan cricket since it was awarded Test match status in 1981.
Batting stars Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara both retired from international cricket last year and other match-winners such as spinner Rangana Herath and the opener Tillakaratne Dilshan are expected to follow suit later this year.
“I don’t want to discuss individual players in public,” said Ford when asked who could fill the vacuum.
“I certainly learnt when I was here previously that there is an abundance of talent, a lot of wonderfully talented young players within the systems in Sri Lanka.
“But it is about identifying those who have got the mental toughness to go on to become successful players and consistent match winners at international level.”
Sri Lanka’s formidable home record took a hit last year with series defeats against the visiting Indian and Pakistan sides.
The islanders then travelled to New Zealand where they were outplayed in all forms of the game in a tour soured by allegations of drinking parties and squabbling.
Sri Lanka are now down to seventh place in the Test rankings although they do remain third in the table for the best international Twenty20 teams, partly due to their triumph in the last World T20 trophy in 2014.
– World Cup 2019 target –
Thilanga Sumathipala, president of the national cricket board, said Sri Lanka should benefit from Ford’s spells with Surrey and with Kent a decade ago in the build-up to the 2019 ODI World Cup in England.
“Graham knows English conditions very well and he will be able to prepare our team to win the next World Cup in Britain,” Sumathipala said.
Ford’s first assignment will be in India next week when Sri Lanka play the first of three T20s designed as a warm-up for their defence of the world title.
Sumathipala confirmed that wicketkeeper-batsman Dinesh Chandimal would skipper the side in India as regular T20 captain Lasith Malinga recovers from an injury. Malinga is expected to return in time for the Asia Cup starting in Bangladesh at the end of the month, Sumathipala added.
Ford, who is also a former coach of South Africa, ended his first spell in Sri Lanka in 2014 when his two-year contract expired.
He replaces Jerome Jayaratne, who had been interim coach since Marvan Atapattu quit last August.