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Teamwork, key to Sri Lanka cricket teamís golden moment:

Our strategies worked - Coach Romesh Kaluwitharana

INCHEON, Oct. 4 - Eighteen years ago, he was a member of the Sri Lanka national team, led by Arjuna Ranatunga, which beat Australia in the final by seven wickets in Lahore to win the 1996 ICC Cricket World Cup.


Happy at victory... Sri Lanka cricketers in joyful mood after victory on Friday receive the cheers from the crowd

Almost two decades after that cherished moment in Sri Lanka cricket, he was instrumental in becoming a stakeholder of another memorable moment in his countryís sports history as the coach of the Asian Games gold medal-winning Sri Lanka team.

Thatís none other than that explosive opener who innovated the art of pinch hitting with fellow opener Sanath Jayasuriya at the 1996 World Cup, Romesh Kaluwitharana, affectionally known as ĎLittle Kaluí.

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Observer soon after Sri Lanka cricket teamís memorable performance at Yeonhui Cricket Grounds here in Incheon, South Korea, Kaluwitharana said right preparations and the team work helped them to win the gold medal, Sri Lankaís first in Asian Games after 12 years.

When Sri Lanka was experiencing a lean period for 12 years after Susanthika Jayasinghe and Damayanthi Darshaís athletic gold medals in Busan 2002 Games, it was the countryís menís cricket team which broke the hoodoo with captain Lahiru Thirimanne and his men striking the gold with a good all-round performance.

It was the first time that Sri Lanka had won a gold medal at an international multi-sport event, beating Afghanistan by 68 runs in the final of the 12-nation T20 menís cricket tournament of the 17th Asian Games on Friday.

Sri Lanka had a lead run at the 2006 Doha and 2010 Guangzhou Games before Lahiru Thrimanne and his men broke the hoodoo to give Sri Lanka its first-ever Asian Games gold medal in cricket. Thus, Sri Lanka cricket teams completed a grand double with the bronze medal won by the womenís team in T20 cricket.

Opener Upul Tharanga departed early for one run after Sri Lanka elected to bat first but they recovered quickly as skipper Thirimanne joined opener Dinesh Chandimal to share a valuable 72-run partnership for the second wicket off 54 balls. Thirimanne was the more aggressive of the two, hitting one six and seven fours during his 37-ball stay at the wicket to score 57 runs.

But the departure of Thirimanne and Chandimal in successive overs saw the Lankan team losing wickets at regular intervals to be bowled out for 133 runs in 19.1 overs.

Sri Lanka had a few anxious moments when they lost last eight wickets at regular intervals and then when the Afghan openers scored 20 runs off the first three overs. But those hiccups were short lived as Sri Lanka bowlers took total control after Isuru Udana delivered two stunning blows and they were bowled out for 65 runs in 17.4 overs.

It was a singular honour to the President of the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka and Vice President of the Olympic Council of Asia, Hemasiri Fernando who awarded the gold medals to the victorious Sri Lanka team.

Here are the excepts of the exclusive interview the Sunday Observer had with the man who made that successful recipe to taken Sri Lanka to golden heights Ė Romesh Kaluwitharana.

Q: How do you feel after the victory? Did you anticipate it when you were coming to South Korea?


Romesh Kaluwitharana Sri Lanka Coach

A: It feels great to take part in a multi-sport event of this magnitude. We played ten practice games before we arrived in South Korea and the boys were all keen to go for that elusive gold.

We were confident that we could make it but at the same time, we did not want to underestimate our opponents and take things lightly. Considering the strength of the team, we believed that we could make it but were not prepared to take any risks that would hamper our advancement towards the gold medal.

Q: How did the wicket play, did you like the surface?

A: The only doubt we had before arrival here was the type of the wicket that we were supposed to play. It was a newly laid wicket and even the balls that were used were not the type of cricket balls that we were familiar with.

The condition of the ball changes quickly due to the surface and we noticed that it is hard to score runs after the first ten overs. You would have experienced that in most of the matches and basically the first 10-12 overs were important when batting first.

But we managed to beat those overwhelming odds to achieve that goal.

Q: When Sri Lanka team was bowled out for 133 with five balls remaining how did you feel? Did you think it was a sufficient total to depend?

A: That was a decent total on that wicket and we had a well-knit bowling attack to defend that total. But at the same time, I felt we fell 10-15 runs short of what we could have achieved after the good start given by Lahiru Thirimanne and Dinesh Chandimal.


Lahiru Thirimanna - Captain of Sri Lanka team

But after their dismissal of Chandimal, we sent Dilhara Lokuhettige at No. 4 with an idea of consolidating in the next few overs but that didnít work. Nevertheless, we put a good total on the board that was more than enough at the end.

Q: Sri Lanka managed to enter the final on a toss of a coin after rain interrupted your semi-final against the defending champions Bangladesh. What do you think of that?

A: It was unfortunate that we had to advance to the final in such a way. But considering the manner in which we played and captured those early wickets in the Bangladesh innings before rain came down, we would have beaten then even if play had been possible.

We captured three early wickets and they were under pressure when the game was abandoned due to rain. Then we donít have any option but to play within the rules of the Asian Games.

Q: How was your opponent in the final Ė Afghanistan?

A: They bowled really well. They bowled to a good line and length without allowing us to score as we liked. They are an emerging team that needs encouragement. Bu we had all the ability and strength to beat them.

Q: What do you think about the cricket teamís participation of multi-sport Games of this magnitude which is something new for the boys?

A: This was a good experience for the team. Before coming here, they were told how it would be at Asian Games. Winning a gold medal for your country at Asian Games after 12 years is something great. After all, you play for your country and make it proud. You have the honour of representing your country.

Initially, Sri Lanka did not play in this type of games due to national commitments and also we were unaware of the scale these games are being held. When we were playing, we had problem of skipping the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Malaysia. But had we know the importance, we would have taken part to play at Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games. Things are different now.

Q: Were you happy with the composition of the team?

A: Yes, we had a well-balanced side. It was a blend of experience and youth. While the senior such as Thirimanne and Chandimal had led from front, the youngsters in the team too have done their part.

We are glad that the cricket team was able to give Sri Lanka a gold medal after 12 long years. We made our contribution towards the countryís success.

Q: Now you have been a part of two of the most memorable moments in Sri Lanka cricket, as a player in the 1996 World Cup-winning team and now as the coach of the gold medal-winning Sri Lanka cricket team for the Asian Games. How did your feel?

A: I am delighted, it is an honour. As I have said before, playing for the country and making Sri Lanka flag fluttering high is something that makes all of us feel proud of.

I am honoured to be a part of the celebrations and the boys richly deserved that.

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