T20, only reason for Indian cricket’s decline

Arjuna Ranatunga... outspoken as always.-V. SREENIVASA MURTHY

“It is the Board which has made the Indian team ill-prepared for Tests with its promotion of T20 cricket,” Arjuna Ranatunga tells Ashwin Achal.

Amidst all the action and excitement at the Central College Ground, the venue for the SBI T20 World Cup for the Blind, former Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga spoke to Sportstar about the ill-effects of Twenty20 cricket, India’s recent poor run in Tests and much more.

Ranatunga was in Bangalore to show his support for cricket for the blind, opting to take a break from his busy schedule as a Member of the Sri Lankan Parliament. In a hard-hitting interview, the 1996 World Cup-winning captain does justice to the straight-talking approach which symbolised his cricket career.

Question: Tell us about your association with cricket for the blind.

Answer: The tournament organisers, Samarthanam, came to Sri Lanka and invited me to come for the opening ceremony, but I was stuck with the parliamentary budget. I decided to come for the last two days, and I’m very happy to see Sri Lanka in the semifinals.

What can be done to ensure better facilities and rewards for blind cricketers?

All the teams should be part of their respective boards. We have a duty to the blind cricketers as well. It is a huge thing for young blind cricketers around the world to have an opportunity to play for their countries. I hear that the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) gives massive support to its blind cricketers. Well, the PCB is not the richest body around; I guess the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) can buy the entire world of cricket (the BCCI does not officially recognise the Indian blind team). Sri Lankan Cricket (SLC) gets into unwanted controversies, they should focus on activities like this instead.

What do you think are the reasons for the BCCI and the SLC hesitating to take blind cricketers under their wing?

Well, it’s all about money, right? Everyone wants money — the players, the boards. I’m so glad that I played cricket in a different era. We were concerned only about winning and representing the country. It was a very principled era, but things are different now.

I was very hurt when I heard the comments made by Sunil Gavaskar after the third Test between India and England (India lost by seven wickets). Gavaskar said that some Indian cricketers were laughing after the defeat. In Sri Lanka, we take Gavaskar’s words very seriously. I just cannot understand how cricketers can laugh after losing. In my days, when the team loses, we stayed in our room for a couple of days. We didn’t want to face our public; we knew we had let them down.

The Indian Test batting line-up has struggled in the past few months. What do you think are the reasons for this?

You know, when we played in India during my time, bowling India out twice was like a dream. When you have batsmen like Gavaskar, (Dilip) Vengsarkar, (Mohammad) Azharuddin, and later on when Sachin (Tendulkar), (Sourav) Ganguly, (Rahul) Dravid and (V. V. S.) Laxman arrived, you never even thought of getting the team out twice. Drawing a series in India and going back home felt like a victory. Now, India struggles to bat for two days.

I think Twenty20 cricket is having a bad effect. The skill levels are declining. India hardly has a proper batsman with technique. It is exactly the same thing back home in Sri Lanka.

What can be done to reverse this trend?

If you take England, they haven’t stopped Twenty20, but they promote the longer versions as well. This doesn’t happen in our part of the world.

The SLC have cancelled 11 Tests scheduled for the next three years to promote T20 and private leagues. The players won’t protest because they want the money. You take (Kumar) Sangakkara or (Mahela) Jayawardene, their cricket days are almost over. But what about younger guys like (Angelo) Mathews, (Lahiru) Thirimanne and (Dinesh) Chandimal, who are just starting their careers?

The move to cancel the Tests sets a dangerous precedent…

Well, our Board is not professional. There are no past cricketers in the SLC. These are businessmen who run cricket, so I’m not surprised. Look at countries like Australia and England, they build good cricketers. If you go to a county game in England, you will still see packed stands.

Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni is not to be blamed for the debacle against England, says Ranatunga.-K.R. DEEPAK

In Sri Lanka, the players don’t listen to us. The present cricketers think they are the best. Well, good luck to them. Sangakkara and Jayawardene have played more than 100 Tests, so for them to lose 10 Tests is not a big thing. At one point, we had a really tough time playing Tests in Sri Lanka when we had the terrorism problem. There was a period of five years when only five Tests were played in the country. Many teams refused to come to Sri Lanka. Now, we can have all the Tests we want, but we prefer not to play.

Give us your views on Indian captain M.S. Dhoni insisting on turning tracks in India.

As far as I’m concerned, all teams need to have a home advantage. If you are comfortable on turning tracks, I see no problem in asking for it. But the captain should assess if he has enough ammunition to get the job done.

Dhoni is under fire after the recent Test losses. Do you think he needs to step down?

You can’t blame only Dhoni; the entire team should be blamed. A couple of years ago, he was a hero with two World Cup victories as captain, and now he is a villain. This is a trend I have seen for many top cricketers in India. It’s sad, that in our part of the world, it is always the captain who takes the blame. And when you win, the entire team gets credit. It’s not a good attitude, and I’m sure Dhoni is well aware of all this.

Dhoni may be going through a bad run, but you need to address the main issue. Why can’t India bat for two days? Where is the defence technique? It comes down to the Board promoting Twenty20. In those days, when we played against Gavaskar, Vengsarkar, Dravid etc, nothing could break their defence. Now, once in three or four overs, the bowlers will get a chance. These are the areas that the BCCI needs to address. The biggest fungus is T20 cricket, and this must be removed.

Some cricketers look like real butchers. In a couple of years, if this trend is not addressed, Indian cricket will get into a major mess. By the way, Sri Lankan cricket is already a mess.

Please comment on the performance of the Indian spinners in the England Test series.

There isn’t a single Indian spinner who can turn the ball. I think this is because the IPL makes you bowl flat. In those days, it was a nightmare to play Maninder Singh and Shivlal Yadav on turning tracks in India. We were lucky that we did not have to play B. S. Chandrasekhar, (Bishan Singh) Bedi and (E. A. S.) Prasanna, but we still struggled.

Who is to blame for India’s recent decline in Test cricket?

The important thing is to address the core issues. The BCCI, media and the public should not blame (Gautam) Gambhir, Dhoni or Sachin. The Board should get the blame, not the cricketers. It is the Board which has made the Indian team ill-prepared for Tests with its promotion of T20 cricket.

If you look at it, proper cricketers don’t benefit from the IPL. Commentators, committee members are ex-cricketers who get massive amounts of money too, so they won’t criticise the format.

Think of it this way: if the proceeds from the IPL for the next four years goes to a cause, say a heart foundation or anything else, not even one per cent of these cricketers and everybody else involved will be interested in taking part in the IPL.

The IPL allots a spot for one Under-19 cricketer in each IPL team. How can you expose a promising young cricketer to T20? Sri Lanka is doing the same thing. Now, we have under-15 and under-19 T20 tournaments at the school level. Where does the SLC stand on this issue? Can you build fine technical cricketers like (Sidath) Wettimuny or Roy Dias if you force school kids to play T20s? Only strong butchers will emerge. It’s the same problem with India. For me, Test cricket is an education, while T20 is entertainment. A father and mother can choose to either entertain their children every day, or educate them every day.(Laughs).

What about Sachin? What is your opinion on when he should retire?

For me, Sachin has more years of cricket in him. He must be compared to others in the team; don’t compare him to the old Sachin of 10 years ago. Everyone wants Sachin to average 70; it doesn’t work like that. He no doubt has problems, but try to see if there is someone who can replace him.

Sachin still looks good. It is up to him to decide on his retirement. A lot of people are trying to predict the timing, but he should be left alone. Wait and see, he will perform.