Arjuna Ranatunga was a Colossus. The only captain to lift the World Cup for Sri Lanka, his reputation and aura grows every time the national side fails in the task to emulate the Class of ’96. Ranatunga was also more than just an astute captain, the original Captain Cool. If not for him Sri Lanka [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Arjuna still batting for SL


Arjuna Ranatunga was a Colossus. The only captain to lift the World Cup for Sri Lanka, his reputation and aura grows every time the national side fails in the task to emulate the Class of ’96.

Ranatunga was also more than just an astute captain, the original Captain Cool. If not for him Sri Lanka would never have in its proud possession the world’s highest wicket-taker in Tests.

Muttiah Muralitharan, I’m sure, must pray each and every morning giving a special word of thanks to Ranatunga for standing by him on that awful day at the Adelaide Oval during the 1998-99 tour – four years after he was first cited for throwing at the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne – when umpire Ross Emerson once again found the bowler at fault during a one-day international against England.
Ranatunga’s act of taking the team to the boundary line and almost abandoning the match might have earned him a fine and a suspended ban from the game, but what it did was provide Murali with the belief that his captain, the team and the country were behind him.

That brave act of support for a young bowler, he had by then only taken 200 test wickets, spoke volumes for Ranatunga’s courage. It also highlighted the moral compass by which Ranatunga lived his life by – one where he always went into bat for the unprivileged.
If not for that act of selflessness by Ranatunga, there is no question of Murali ever going on to break records and finish with 800 Test scalps. I bring this all up to underline Ranatunga’s idealistic view on life.

People might change with power, and politics does that to many an ordinary person, but as far as I can see, the politician Ranatunga and the cricketer Ranatunga are still the one and same person, a person who lives by a certain code and is unafraid to speak out when he feels that code is being broken by others.

I’m talking about his forthright views disclosed a fortnight ago in the media where he castigated Sri Lanka Cricket which he said was run by “puppets” and also took a swipe in the direction of “senior cricketers” for not protecting Test cricket.

Ranatunga’s gripe was on the dearth of Test cricket for Sri Lanka. In the past 12 months, we have seen nearly 12 Tests being cancelled including what would have been a humdinger of a three-match series against South Africa. Next year our visit to England, home of cucumber sandwiches and afternoon tea, has been curtailed to a two-Test affair.

Ranatunga is furious. Yes, every mis-step our administrators take, and there is plenty, gives him ammunition to fire a broadside. But his latest salvo is not without justification.

His argument is that it was with the greatest difficulty that Sri Lanka convinced those curmudgeons at Lords to give our poor island-nation is deserving share of Tests. And it all came about after he had led Sri Lanka to its first Test win over England at the Oval in 1998.
Who will ever forget that magnificent 10-wicket victory? England batting first posted a massive 445 in the process taking almost two days. Sri Lanka’s monumental reply of 591 was thanks to a smashing double ton by Sanath Jayasuriya (213) and Aravinda de Silva (152) with Ranatunga chipping in with a half-century.

The fact that we scored quickly put England under pressure in their second innings and Murali did the rest grabbing nine of the English wickets to fall – only skipper Alec Stewart escaped his web being run out – leaving Sri Lanka with just 36 runs to win. Jayasuriya and Atapattu did the needful.

But the real fun occurred afterwards. The story as recently in a newspaper said that Ranatunga embarrassed his hosts in the post-match press conference when one English journalist had the gumption to ask why the ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board) continued to give Sri Lanka just one-off Tests.Ranatunga replied: “England is afraid of losing 3-0 to Sri Lanka”. It was such pithy wit, which well and truly hit home for subsequently Sri Lanka’s tours of England in 2002, 2006 and 2011 were all three-Test series.
But all that good work has been undone now, and Ranatunga pins the blame on our senior cricketers’ cavalier approach pointing to the controversy last year when Sri Lanka only hosted a two-Test series instead of three so that a few players could play the full IPL in 2012.

Ranatunga is right when he points an accusing finger at SLC and charges them of taking “popular decisions to be in the good books of players”.

He goes on to say in the interesting interview: “You need money to live, but there’s no point in selling your soul for the sake of money. I am disgusted that those players who preach so eloquently on the value of Test cricket do nothing to protect Test cricket when they have an opportunity.”

No prizes for guessing who he is referring to. But the crux of the matter is that Ranatunga fought hard for the game on all fronts as a player. He protected Murali, and he fought for more Tests against England, the home of the game. And he continues to fight.

His biggest disappointment is that the next generation of cricketers will not get the chance to benefit from a three-Test tour to England. The senior cricketers have had their day in the sun and are now filling their boots as they face retirement – by playing in the IPL and other lucrative tournaments – but it is the younger lot, the likes of Thirimanne, Chandimal, Matthews etc, who face the music.

And to make it all worse, Sri Lanka’s loss will be India’s gain. Next summer India will play a five-Test series in England.

But who cares? Certainly not our board officials, nor apparently our senior cricketers. Only Ranatunga, who continues to carry the torch for the game at home.

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