He has some fond and bitter memories

Published : Oct 20, 2001 00:00 IST


THEY called him Captain Cool, a players' man, ready to back them in all circumstances. He was responsible for playing a leading role in the rise of Sri Lanka as a cricket nation. The World Cup triumph in 1996 was a tribute to Arjuna Ranatunga's strong belief in his team.

It was a pity that he did not receive a decent farewell from the very people who basked in the glory earned by the efforts of Ranatunga and his men. His last Test appearance was in the home series against South Africa in August 2000. His scoring sequence was 13, 54, 88, 14 and 28 not out. Unconquered in what became his last Test innings.

His last appearance in a one-day international for Sri Lanka was also eventful - a knock of 50 against Kenya at Southampton on May 30 1999.

Ranatunga has some very fond and bitter memories of his cricket. He shares them with The Sportstar in an interview in New Delhi.

Question: How would you rate Sri Lanka's recent triumph against India ?

Answer: They have done fairly well and mainly because Murali has been bowling so well. But if Sri Lanka has to win matches consistently then Murali has to fire from the top.

What is Sri Lanka's strength compared to the time you led the side?

When I led the side the bowling resources were meagre. It was Murali alone for us but that too only later. But now we have a lethal attack. Nuwan (Zoysa) can be a matchwinner. Dilhara (Fernando) can also be a matchwinner. He is as quick as anyone else.

This team's base was laid by you. How do you look at this current bunch?

Yes, it was some effort to groom these players. Russel (Arnold) has been there for a long time and we played him sparingly. But things have changed now. You can't put somebody into the deep sea just because he is young and good. It's sad to see people getting chances so easily, you get a hundred in a three-day match and qualify to play a Test match. When I was captain I saw to it that such cricketers played long before they entered the Test arena. Take Mahela's (Jayawardena) case, he was groomed properly and is showing excellent results now. This grooming process takes time but some of the selectors don't understand this. They are impatient and succumb to pressure, especially from the media.

You were always considered a players' captain. Is that how you would want others also to be?

As a captain your first duty is to look after the players. The players should feel confident that the captain will back them in bad days as well as good days. This way you also ensure that you get full support of the team.

What made you back Muralitharan?

I always knew he was a match-winner and that is why I pushed him hard despite some selectors objecting. He was young they said but I thought he was a great competitor. He had plenty of talent and was worth the risk. I could see the talent oozing. I am good at judging the quality of a player.

Most of the players you backed are doing well now. Have they lived up to your expectations?

I am happy about it. Lot of people criticised me for backing these players when I was the captain and the same people are talking big of these players. I am having the last laugh.

How did you become a good captain?

I worked hard. I never got full support from the Board. I was always a marked man because I used to fight for the players. There was a big barrier between the players and the Board and I tried to bridge the gap but the Board never liked it.

How did the Board treat the players?

Not good at all. I worked hard on this aspect. After the 1996 World Cup triumph I was lucky that my brother (Dhammika) was the chief executive and we could discuss a few things with the Board. We could have a few things organised.

Why did you have so many problems with the Board?

I always thought the Board had a grudge against me and Aravinda (de Silva). Even Roshan (Mahanama) and Hashan (Tillekeratne). The officials were unhappy to see us playing cricket for so long.

What was the possible reason for them being unhappy ?

That's because we never suppported this politics in Sri Lankan cricket. They expected us to be servile, call them 'sir' and put our heads down. I always said why should we. I believe in respecting elders but that respect has to be earned. You can't buy that. Then they could not succeed in getting their candidates into the team. I was very strict when it came to picking the National team.

Why do you think the Board treated you badly towards the end of your career?

I was disappointed with the Board and would not like to talk about that episode. I was not happy with the Board and the way they treated me. I always wanted the team to do well. We had a bad World Cup in 1999 but we still had the public support. I fought for the players and that's why I was dropped.

Did not the media help you in your fight?.

No. Not really. Not everyone was in the same boat. There were some media guys depending on some of the business people and some of the Board people, so they had to back them. I won't blame them at all. A very strong media person once came to me and said that I was the only Sri Lankan cricketer who did not look after the media guys. I asked him what did he mean by looking after. I had lot of time for the media but towards the latter part of my career they started reporting all wrong things and I stayed away from the media.

Why is it that heroes are not treated properly in Sri Lanka?

It is not the public. The public always supports the heroes. The problem comes from these petty administrators. Even some of the past players are guilty of this.

How would you like the Board to be?

Like a railway track - the tracks run for thousands of miles and never collide with each other. The Board should realise it is surviving because of the players. The Board should remember this - it will not survive if the players don't do well.

Why is there so much politics in Sri Lankan cricket?

Everyone wants to get into the cricket Board except the players. Tomorrow if I contest for the president's post I won't become one. Not even Sanath Jayasuriya if he steps down from the captaincy today and wants to become the president of the Board. He will lose.


Because we can't afford to buy votes. That's the kind of set up we have in Sri Lankan cricket.

What steps are being taken in Sri Lanka for spreading the game?

I have always been a firm believer of promoting outstation clubs. In the present set up it's difficult to come into the Board and do nice things.

But quite a few players are coming from outside Colombo. Is it not a good sign?

That's the only way for Sri Lanka to improve. Earlier people never agreed that talent could come from outside Colombo until I started picking boys from outstation clubs. There are still some areas that are neglected.

What do you think of the Sri Lankan cricket structure today?

I don't think we will last long the way we are going. We are not concentrating on outstation talent. Recently I was asked to give my suggestions and I have done that. I would like the Board to concentrate mainly on provincial cricket than club cricket. Provinces should get prominence. We should do what suits us and not ape the Australians or the South Africans. We have to do things according to our culture and the facilities available to us.

How come the Sri Lankans seem to benefit more from the MRF Pace Foundation than the Indians?

I will tell you the difference. We pick a fast bowler and then send him to MRF foundation for improving his technique. India is not doing that and not getting the maximum from its past cricketers. They should on their own be recommending fast bowlers. I am sure you can see them on the streets. I saw Dilhara in similar conditions and called him to my club immediately. MRF is doing a great job. It has helped Sri Lankan cricket a lot. Lillee and (T. A) Sekhar have done a brilliant job. The key lies in identifying youngsters who can bowl fast. I am sure there will be untapped youngsters and they would be faster than even those playing for India today.

What are the changes that you have noticed in the Sri Lankan team after you quit the game?

I am very happy the players are getting good money today. Sanath and Murali are getting twice the amount, Aravinda and I got. It's a very good sign and I feel very happy for them. This is what we used to fight for. There was a time when I had to fight for hundred dollars.

What other changes?

Times have changed. We are also staying in the same hotel as the visiting teams. In the past only our officials would stay in those hotels and the players in three-star hotels. During matches our parents or family members would not get lunch at the ground but this rule did not apply to the Board members and their families. Even their servants would eat in the VVIP rooms. I am not saying they should not but unfortunately the players were denied the same facilities. I fought and changed all that.

Today, do you see a role for yourself in Sri Lankan cricket?

I would like to do things properly. But there's a problem with the selectors. Most of them don't watch cricket and that's not what I believe in. Murali and Sanath keep in touch with me and if I see anything wrong I call the player and tell him. We have a great rapport but I still feel they (Board) did not treat me well. I am not happy about it.

Can you step in to remove these shortcomings ?

The Board is in the hands of politicians. I have a doubt whether I can enter this race. I don't have money to buy votes. I believe in hard work, straight talk. I would like the same in return but the officials are interested in glamour, to stand on the podium suited and booted. They treat the players like servants. I will not allow all this and by doing that I will be unpopular in the Board. That's the reason why I prefer to stay away. You won't believe that after I retired I did not go to the Board's office for nearly one year. I kept a low profile, spent more time with my family.

How has life been after cricket?

I wanted to stay away from cricket but it did not happen. Cricketers kept coming to me. So I just couldn't stay away. But I am happy to spend more time with my family. I can watch my son and daughter grow. I take them to school and pick them back whenever I can. It's been great. My son is leading my old school (Ananda College) team in the under-13 category. He is an opening bat and a 'keeper and unfortunately a right-hander. I never wanted him to play cricket but he picked it naturally. I have my own insurance group (P & A Insurance). I am busy with it. I am a happy man.

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