Sri Lanka need to persevere with young batsmen: Farveez Maharoof

Farveez Maharoof (above) feels that Sri Lankan youngsters will pick up from senior players like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene © Getty Images

By Saj Sadiq
 
Sri Lankan all-rounder Farveez Maharoof has played 22 Tests, 104 One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and seven Twenty20 Internationals (T20Is) since making his debut in 2004. 

A medium-pacer and hard-hitting lower order batsman, the 28-year-old has taken over 150 wickets and made over 1,500 runs in international cricket. Originally selected for the senior team after impressing as captain of the Sri Lanka Under-19s, he was until 2012 a regular member of the Sri Lanka 50-over squad. 

Maharoof has represented Sri Lanka in most of the major international one-day tournaments they have been involved in since his initial selection in 2004. He played in the 2004 Asia Cup and in subsequent editions of the tournament including 2010, where Sri Lanka reached the final as well as 2012. 

He was also part of the Sri Lanka squad that participated in the 2006 ICC Champions Trophy in which he recorded his best bowling figures of six for 14 as West Indies were bowled out for 80 in Mumbai. Maharoof also played in the 2007 ICC World Cup in the West Indies. 

His most recent away tour was the 2012 Commonwealth Bank Series in Australia, contested between Sri Lanka, India and Australia, in which Sri Lanka reached the final. 

Saj Sadiq of PakPassion.net spoke to the former Lancashire all-rounder to discuss the Sri Lankan cricket domestic structure, Sri Lanka’s ability to produce unorthodox cricketers, his career highs, his hopes of a return into the national fold and his thoughts on the current Sri Lankan team.

 Excerpts from an interview:
 
PakPassion.net (PP): You’ve played for Sri Lanka at all of the junior levels as well as the Sri Lanka ‘A’ side. How competitive is the cricket system in the country at all levels?

Farveez Maharoof (FM): The cricket system in Sri Lanka is pretty competitive. It starts from school, then moves to college cricket. In addition there are Under-15 tournaments and then you progress to the Under-17s and Under-19s, so the competition for places starts from an early age. Kids in school are taught to play cricket competitively — if you play well you get into the squad for your school and college. That’s how you start and gradually you progress, step-by-step, to the very highest level. First-Class cricket is also very competitive in Sri Lanka. I came through the system I’ve just described and I am happy where I am at the moment.

PP: You’ve obviously come through the Sri Lankan cricket system and were identified as a player with ability at an early age. How good is the scouting system with regards to finding players for the national team?

FM: It’s a good system; it’s a robust system and most players get picked up through the system. From secondary school you go onto college cricket and club cricket. Through club cricket you progress to the Sri Lanka ‘A’ development squads and then onto the national team — that’s the process at the moment and it works.

Last year we had a very competitive First Class season and lots of players benefited from the overhaul, resulting in a better chance to play for the Sri Lanka ‘A’ team. From there, whoever excels gets a chance to play for the national team. I’m pretty happy with the system the Sri Lankans have at the moment, as are the rest of the Sri Lankan cricketers.

PP: It seems that Sri Lanka produce more unorthodox cricketers, such as Ajantha Mendis and Lasith Malinga, than any other cricketing nation. Do you think this is down to the coaching system, which allows the players to express themselves, rather than restricting them? 

FM: It’s all about pure talent. The guys who come through the system just carry through their natural talent as they’ve been given the license to do things their own way. As a result, lots of players have unique actions and variations and they aren’t altered.

In a way, we are blessed to have such variation in our bowling. There are many mystery bowlers coming through which is mainly because of our coaching system as well as a flow of naturally talented cricketers. 

PP: You missed the semi-final and final of the 2007 ICC World Cup despite participating in quite a few of the earlier matches in the tournament. It must have been a big blow to miss the semi-final and final?

Farveez Maharoof : Yes. I started off playing the first round and I got injured before the match against India and missed two or three matches. I came back and did well again taking a four-wicket haul against Ireland before we sailed through to the final. 

There was a close tussle between Dilhara [Fernando] and myself for a spot, but Dilhara was bowling well at the time so he got the nod. That was a fluid stage of my career, because from my younger days I had a dream to start playing cricket for the national team and I used to hope that if I do play for the national team, I would play in a World Cup. Playing my first World Cup and being part of the squad that made it to the final was one of the highlights of my career.

PP: You played under Tom Moody when he was coach of Sri Lanka. What was it like playing under him?

FM: Tom was inspirational for me and his game was very similar to mine, so we spoke a lot and were close. I became more mature when playing under him and played some of the best cricket of my career under him. Tom was right behind me in every aspect of my cricket and I learnt a lot from Tom. 

Both of us worked together a lot on a one-on-one basis. Being an all-rounder himself, he helped me develop my game. I talked to him a lot about all aspects of the game and I really enjoyed my cricket under him and he helped me introduce a number of innovations to my game. I’m happy that I had the opportunity to work with Tom and I can say that I had a very good time working with him.

PP: What have been the most memorable performances of your career so far?

FM: My most memorable performances would be my six-wicket haul against the West Indies during the Champions Trophy in 2006. Then, I would say when I bowled 10 overs for nine runs and took three wickets against the West Indies in 2005. That was an unforgettable day. After that, I would say when I took the hat-trick against India in Dambulla in 2010. Those three performances stand out in my career.

PP: Not many bowlers have achieved the special feat of taking a hat-trick in international cricket. When you had taken those first two wickets against India, what was going through your mind before you ran into bowl that hat-trick delivery?

FM : When I took the two wickets in two deliveries, [on] the third ball Zaheer Khan was on strike. Mahela [Jayawardene] was the senior player on the team and he came up to me and asked, “What are you going to do?” I said: “I am going to try and bowl a yorker.” He said: “Don’t bowl a yorker because he [the batsman] is expecting it. Bowl a good length delivery and see how it goes.” I took his advice because Mahela had a lot of experience and I just bowled a length ball and Zaheer nicked it. It was one of those days that whatever I tried it turned out well.

PP: Your ODI bowling stats are very impressive — a good average, a good strike rate, and a good economy rate. However, you haven’t played since March 2012. Do you feel that you are still good enough to play international cricket?

FM : Yes, I still feel I am good enough. I am almost there, but just can’t make the breakthrough at the moment. I am working hard on my training and trying my best to keep myself fit so that whenever I get an opportunity, I can go out there and perform. 

Being off-season at the moment in Sri Lanka, not much has been happening in terms of cricket. However there is a provincial tournament happening next month so I am gearing up for that. I hope to do well in that and take it from there and use that to get a breakthrough back into the national team. 

I definitely feel that I am good enough to play international cricket. Being out of form and being injured meant I was out of the team. Ever since then, I’ve been struggling to get back in even though I’ve been performing consistently in the domestic competitions. There’s no space in the national team at the moment for me because the guys are doing well, but cricket is all about timing and my time is yet to come. If I get my chance again I will prove my worth.

PP: You had a spell at Lancashire in county cricket here in England. Do you think it improved you as a cricketer?

FM : Lancashire were really kind and I will always be grateful to them. When I was looking for an opportunity to refine my talent, they gave me an opportunity to come and play for them. When I went over to England I had a good season with Lancashire and managed to put in some outstanding performances for them. 

I feel I became a more natural cricketer once I finished my time there. Playing professional cricket for a county is not easy, especially a big county like Lancashire with lots of expectations. I’m pretty happy that I came through it very well and that I had a very good season with them. We were [2011] County champions — winning the league for the first time in 77 years and to be a part of that team was a highlight of my career. 

I became a more natural player by playing professionally for a county which has a lot of expectations and a lot of passion. I learned a lot from the experience and I had a good season with them and made some friends for life at Lancashire.

PP: Looking at the Sri Lankan team at the moment, there are some young batsmen coming through but the responsibility and emphasis still seems to be on Kumar Sangakarra and Mahela Jayawardene. Do you think some of the younger players need to take more of a responsibility in the batting department?

FM : Eventually the youngsters will pick it up from the senior guys. The youngsters are still learning the art of playing professional cricket and they are doing a pretty decent job. It’s just that they haven’t taken that experience to another level, but that’s what they’re on course to do. 

I’m pretty sure that in time, with the seniors around to guide them, the youngsters will learn from them and take the responsibility off the senior players. The young batsmen need to be persevered with and will mature and I’m sure they will step into the roles of the seniors in due course. The more you play, the more you mature. Playing alongside the senior players will only benefit the younger batsmen and in time they will carry the flag.

PP: The Sri Lankan Premier League (SLPL) has been cancelled. It must have been a disappointment for all of the Sri Lankan cricketers?

FM : Yes, it was one of the tournaments that we were looking forward to. It’s a major tournament for the guys who are trying to break into international cricket and trying to get noticed by the selectors. It’s very unfortunate that it got cancelled as lots of players were looking forward to it to perform well. Last year the tournament was very competitive and I hope that it makes a return in future. 

PP: Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi and West Indian cricketers aren’t really that well paid compared to their Indian, South African or Australian counterparts. Do you think there’s a danger that some of the cricketers from Sri Lanka might become freelance cricketers and play in T20 tournaments around the world, rather than international cricket?

FM: In Sri Lanka, that’s not the case. Everyone who’s in the Sri Lankan infrastructure is trying to break into the national team. I don’t believe in being a freelance cricketer and I don’t think there are too many in Sri Lanka who will disagree. You play the game because you love the game and you want to play for your country. You have to carry on playing and see how it goes. Playing for your country is the main attraction and is still more important than playing in some of the lucrative leagues around the world.

I don’t see anyone in Sri Lanka going down the freelance cricketer route. Almost everyone in Sri Lanka is a contracted player with the Sri Lankan cricket board. I don’t know about other countries, but I don’t see that happening in Sri Lanka because the cricket is competitive and everyone is trying to do well in all of the competitions they play and to try and press their claims for national selection.

PP: Angelo Mathews is now captain of the Sri Lanka one-day side. He looks a very talented cricketer. Can he handle that responsibility of captaining the one-day team?

FM: Angelo and I have played together from Under-17 levels. We have had a pretty good understanding. He has just started but he’s doing a very good job as captain. He’s got a lot of stars in the national team — both with the bat and the ball. I’m happy that he’s doing well. Whenever the captain does well, it’s good for the team and good for the country.
 
(Saj Sadiq is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net, from where the above article has been reproduced. He can be followed on Twitter at @Saj_PakPassion)