Calling a spade a spade

Published : Sep 23, 2010 00:00 IST



Arjuna Ranatunga has always been an outspoken personality. “When I was heading the Sri Lankan Board, a few of our illustrious cricketers had to choose between a tour of England and the IPL. They opted for the IPL. That day I lost my respect for these cricketers,” he tells S. Dinakar.

Arjuna Ranatunga was a smart and busy left-handed batsman who revelled in crisis. More importantly, he was a proactive captain who comprehended the varying shades of the game. The celebrated leader of men led Sri Lanka to a historic triumph in the 1996 World Cup.

In 93 Tests, Ranatunga made 5105 runs at an average of 35.69; he was a worthy fire-fighter in the middle-order. The southpaw who nudged, pushed and coaxed the ball into the vacant spaces also notched up 7456 runs in 269 ODIs at 35.84.

Ranatunga, now 46, is invariably in the thick of things. He has kept himself busy as a cricket administrator and a politician after bidding adieu to his playing days in 2000.

He shares his views with ‘Sportstar' in a hard-hitting interview.

Question: What is your impression on the state of the game these days?

Answer: Cricket is less of a game and more of a business today. It is very sad. When we played, it was more for the love of the game. We were very passionate about cricket. There was little money in the game those days. We stayed in ordinary hotels but never complained. There is great pride in playing for the country. It is an honour.

You appear a very disappointed man.

Yes, I am disappointed. When I was heading the Sri Lankan Board, a few of our illustrious cricketers had to choose between a tour of England and the IPL. They opted for the IPL. That day I lost my respect for these cricketers. These players were already very well off. How much money do you want to make? There can be nothing bigger than representing your country.

You see, the side I led to triumph in the 1996 World Cup was not the best Sri Lankan team by any means. But I can tell you that it was the most committed side. That was a bunch of guys who were desperate to win. There is no point in having big names if these men cannot deliver. The Sri Lankan team of '96 had men who were willing to die on the field.

Here I must add that I have great admiration for Australia's Michael Clarke. He put playing for the country ahead of all the money from Twenty20 cricket.

The game has become commercial. The youngsters are increasingly drawn towards Twenty20 cricket.

This is hurting the game. The mind-set of the young batsmen is being impacted in a negative manner. They are turning into flat track bullies. When the pitch seams, the conditions offer swing or the ball turns, they have nothing to offer. All they know is to whack the ball.

Before venturing into shots, you must develop a sound defence to succeed in any form of the game. Aravinda de Silva was among the finest attacking batsmen that I ever saw. Yet, he had a very, very tight defence.

And the bowlers, after being exposed to so much limited overs cricket, have lost the ability to think.

You are rated among the greatest captains in the game. Who are the present-day skippers who impress you? And who was the captain you looked up to in your playing days?

If you ask me about the present captains, my answer would be ‘none.' They are predictable, they just play the pattern. They do not make things happen. I would actually give Daniel Vettori a little more credit because he enabled a rather weak New Zealand side overachieve on occasions. Perhaps England's Andrew Strauss, tactically, is better than some of the hyped-up captains.

In my playing days, I was a great admirer of Imran Khan. He was a strong leader. I used to observe him very closely, pick up things from him. Pakistan was a different side when he was the captain. He was in complete control.

You are a great admirer of Test cricket. Do you feel we need to tinker with the rules since, some believe, the attendance for the longer version of the game is dropping?

No. Test cricket should be left untouched. It is real cricket, the true test of one's ability and character. Test cricket still has a huge following. A large number of people watch it on television.

What is hurting Test cricket, particularly in the sub-continent, is the nature of wickets. India and Sri Lanka recently played a Test at SSC where there was nothing for the bowlers. The runs and records on such dead tracks are meaningless. We should have pitches where there is a fair contest between bat and ball.

Are you in favour of split innings in ODIs?

No. It would make it more like a Twenty20 game with two parts. My only change to the ODI rules would be to have the batting Power Play taken before the 40th over. That would make it more interesting. Having it after the 40th over gives too much advantage to the batting side. All the Power Plays should be done with when the last 10 overs begin.

Muttiah Muralitharan reaching 800 Test wickets must have pleased you immensely. You played a big role in his rise as a spin wizard.

Actually, I am disappointed with Muralitharan. He should have prolonged his Test journey and cut short his ODI and Twenty20 career. You saw him in the Galle Test. He had a lot more Test wickets left in him.

Are you in favour of the Umpire Decision Referral System?

I am all for it. We should use it in both Test and ODI cricket. It will take blatant umpiring errors out of the game. These wrong decisions could greatly influence a match. If we have technology, we should use all of it.

You played in the era of the great fast bowlers. Now the fearsome fast bowler is a disappearing breed.

The kind of pitches we have today, 10 years from now, nobody would want to be a fast bowler. All of them would prefer to be batsmen.

Another reason is the number of ODI and Twenty20 matches crammed into the schedule. The fast bowlers are not getting enough rest, they are breaking down. You see, scoring runs in international cricket has become a lot easier. You had four hostile fast bowlers from the West Indies unleashing thunderbolts in my time. What do you have now? This gives you an indication.

Your thoughts on the scandal rocking Pakistan cricket?

The circumstantial evidence appears to be against the players. The ICC has suspended the three cricketers in question. My personal opinion is you need to wait until they are proven guilty. It is sad because, I felt Pakistan had the best chance among the sub-continental sides to win the World Cup. All the team needed was one experienced batsman in the middle-order.

How do you rate India's chances?

Sachin Tendulkar holds the key. The Indian board should take proper care of him before the World Cup. He is an inspirational player.

Don't you feel spot-fixing and match-fixing are related?

Yes. If you artificially affect the natural flow of the game, fix some moments of the match, it could eventually impact the result of the duel. One thing is linked to the other.

Is the ICC's anti-corruption unit doing its job?

The ICC needs to get to the root. There is little point in cutting a small piece of the tumour. Much bigger names could be involved.

Moneybags appear to be having a stranglehold on the game?

The game is played by the cricketers, run by the administrators but, this is important, controlled by ultra rich businessmen. We have to break this nexus.

Is the fabric of the game being destroyed gradually?

The main job of the administrators is to preserve a deeply-traditional game and its values. If a Board makes a profit of $1000 million a year but allows the game to disintegrate, then it is not performing its role. Cricket is not a product to be bought and sold. These are times when even pitches are prepared according to the demands of the television companies.

Do you suspect a possible administrator-bookie-player nexus?

I do not rule out the possibility of both the administrators and the cricketers being involved in fixing matches. In the current scenario, making quick and big money is the driving force for many.

There is also a compelling need to have a close look at suspicious matches from the past.

A cop will only check your wallet, he will not go beyond that. Ideally, you should get guys with a solid cricketing background. For instance, if a side needs 100 runs with six wickets left on a turning track in the last innings and the fielding captain bowls his two pacemen till 70 of those runs are scored, it is definitely fixing.

Now, the priorities of many cricketers seem to be different…

These are days players seek rest from international competitions involving their country, but the same cricketers are available for the Champions League and the IPL. The administrators should be blamed for this. Is playing for a club more important than representing your country?

The agents of some cricketers are coming under scrutiny too...

They have access to the cricketers and will do anything for money. I believe there is a strong link between some of the players' agents and corruption in cricket.

You have been critical of Twenty20 cricket.

Twenty20, with its loads of money, is cancer to the game. People may not realise it now, but in 10 years, it will destroy the game. Young cricketers, just 18 or 19, are shown vulgar amounts of money. Their minds get corrupted.

What is your take on the Suraj Randiv no-ball controversy?

Firstly, Sehwag's six should have counted since the ball was in play. We need to change the rules. Secondly, I would not have suspended Randiv in the middle of a competition. I would have strongly, but quietly reprimanded him after the series.

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