Pubudu Dassanayake is on cloud nine. “I wouldn’t even say cloud nine… More like cloud ten… “says a joyful
Dassanyake, who was happy to see his native Sri Lanka (SL) win the recently
concluded Asia Cup.
Dassanayake is now also very excited to be back in charge of the Canadian
National cricket team that will be travelling to Malaysia this coming December
for the third and final round of the International Cricket Conference’s (ICC)
2023 World Cup Challenge League A Qualification.
“I started playing cricket at age nine and played through all of the available
age groups at D.S.Senanayake College,” begins Dassanayake, now back as
Cricket Canada’s Head Coach for a second term. A celebrated wicketkeeper,
Dassanayake made his first-class cricket debut in 1988, at the age of
19 and continued to play at that level until 2001.
Dassanayake subsequently made his international debut in August 1993
against South Africa. He represented Sri Lanka in eleven Tests and sixteen
One Day International (ODI) matches, leaving impressive footprints worth
following. In 1994 Dassanayake played his last Test match against Zimbabwe
and his final ODI against New Zealand. In his domestic career, which
continued until the 2000–01 season, Dassanayake played mostly for the
Bloomfield Cricket & Athletic and Colombo Cricket clubs.
“I am blessed to be part of a group who
made history in SL cricket.” states a
proud Dassanayake and rightfully
so. For a country that boasts of such a rich cricketing history, having
produced countless great players, it is little wonder that Dassanayake
would have been initiated into cricket as early as age nine .
“As a kid, I started playing cricket because of my brother. Since then,
my sole ambition was to play for my country.”
Dassanayake was well supported in his mission by his parents,
schoolteachers, and coaches
“My mother let me do what I liked. Many times, after my schoolteachers
had complained to her about my studies, My mom would just smile at
me.” Said an emotional Dassanayake.
In 2001, Dassanayake was invited by the Toronto’s Centurion’s
Cricket Club to actively play during its Domestic Season.
“I was delighted with the offer but never thought of settling in Canada,
“smiles the Coach.
It was Dassanayake’s wife who took a liking to the country. So, in
2004, Dassanayake moved with his family permanently to Toronto.
“Canada gave me the opportunities. What made me be here today
was the open welcoming arms of many Canadians.”
“An immigrant’s life is not easy, but I was able to stay in the game by
playing and coaching. The struggle helped me see what I was made of;
it was the best opportunity to achieve what I never thought I could.”
Dassanayake brought four championships in his five-year tenure with
the Centurions Cricket Club. In Toronto, Dassanayake started over
again “Cricket is my life, and when I retired from first-class cricket,
it was emotional after playing thirteen years for the same club in Sri
Lanka.” Eventually, in 2005 Dassanayake was chosen to represent
Canada for the ICC World Cup Qualifier in Ireland and helped them
qualify for the 2007 World Cup.
Every new beginning comes from something having ended. In 2006
Pubudu Dassanayake retired from representing Canada in international
cricket. Just a year later, in 2007, he was appointed as Cricket
Canada’s Head Coach on a four-year contract that was scheduled
to last until the end of the 2011 World Cup. Canada’s subsequent
Dassanayake coached participation in the 2011 World Cup now still
stands as its last appearance at the 50-over ICC showpiece event.
At its conclusion Dassanayake accepted Nepal’s issued invitation to
become its National Head Coach for the first time in 2011. He held
the position until 2015, during which time he led
Nepal to its first ever T20I World Cup appearance
‘After I moved to Canada, I dedicated my life
to Associate cricket, “says Dassanayake. As an
international Coach Dassanayake learnt how
cricket is played at the Associate Level and
mastered the art of uplifting its members. “When
I took over the Canadian team in 2007, more than
half of the team had retired after the WC that
year. I had to rebuild the team from scratch. But
there was enough talent, and I was able to build
the team around great players like John Davison,
Ian Bilcliff and Ashish Bagai”.
In 2020, Dassanayake took over the New Jersey
based, Minor Leagues active Somerset Cavaliers
Cricket Club, as its Head Coach. “The experience
was rewarding as I understood how cricket works
in North America. I had to go through many
things, and I got great support from the ICC
staff. The result was my building a great
team with great characters.”
“I want Canada to be a top
cricket-playing nation. My immediate target is to
regain its ODI status and get into ICC
T20 WC in 2024,” shares the Coach.”
For his renewed mission, Dassanayake now feels blessed to have full support from the Cricket
Canada Board. “I can count on my senior men to stand up when the pressure is on.” As Head
Coach Dassanayake plans to expose the National team to intensive practice within the next
twelve months. “We must build a good pathway to improve our best young talent. We will keep
them in good programs in the future to get them ready to play at the next level. I hope to put
systems that will teach kids how to win games back in place.”
With ODI as his top priority, Dassanayake intends to also develop the Canadian domestic
cricket structure to survive and sustain in world cricket. “We run a tight ship, as a relatively small
country in terms of its numbers of people actively playing cricket. Within North America, eighty
percent of the cricket that is actively being played is by weekend social cricketers. That culture
needs to be changed. Elite Canadian players are willing to spend time developing their games to
play at the highest level. Once Canada has the ODI status, we must convert our top players into
becoming full time professional cricketers.”
“Sports is a big industry in this part of the world. We are working on merging cricket with other
top sports in Canada. It will take some time but it is very possible for it to be done, all that’s
required is having the right mindset. Once your mindset changes, everything on the outside will
change along with it,” Dassanayake is convinced. “Players cannot continue to be making the
same mistakes, taking indefinite breaks and not maintaining absolute fitness. It may be tough for
some but also good for player development in the coming years. All this cannot be achieved
overnight At least six to eight months will be required!”
Character development is another secret key to winning matches, opines Dassanayake. He
recalls his unorthodox and fearless 56 runs 6th wicket partnership with Aravind Da Silva to
win an international match for Sri Lanka. Soon, the Coach plans to introduce a training system
to build character while his cricketer charges play every ball with perfection, sincerity and love
without being perturbed by the blame or praise of others.
Dassanayake is also looking to shake off the rust of Canada’s long Northern winter and regain
his team’s imperious form. ”Players need to know what to do during the winter. A player cannot
work on his weak areas by playing indoor cricket,” asserts the Coach. As such Dassanayake
already has a well-planned winter session in line for his Canadian cricketers to still be actively
playing as of the beginning of this October.
Injuries are common in cricket. Players must, therefore, be conditioned, nurtured,
and protected from injury through strength conditioning and limiting workloads,
feels the Coach. He plans to address clubs and leagues to encourage local
players aspire to get to the top. This will help Dassanayake to create a larger
pool of players an objective toward the achievement of which he also plans
on seeking the assistance of the relevant authorities within Canada’s top clubs.
Sports can also be a good medium for national pride and unity, feels Dassanayake. Parents,
schools, clubs and the society on the whole will also need to come forward to encourage and
promote active involvement and participation in cricket.
Only then will this Godfather of Associate cricket nations be able to sleep better and plan more.