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Arjuna should keeping firing away

Updated on: 30 November,2023 04:33 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Clayton Murzello |

As Sri Lanka’s 1996 World Cup-winning captain turns 60 tomorrow, it is hoped that he continues to be a non-fence sitter irrespective if people agree or cringe at the Colombo-based great’s observations

Arjuna should keeping firing away

Former captain Arjuna Ranatunga at the Ministry of Youth and Sports in Colombo on November 6 following Sri Lanka’s dismal performance at the World Cup. Pic/AFP

Clayton MurzelloIf ever Arjuna Ranatunga gets down to write his autobiography, he wouldn’t have to think too hard for a title. He would only have to look at his own personality and come up with something like, Shooting From the Lip or Pulling No Punches. And how about Least Bothered, something that he stressed recently in this newspaper when it came to talking about what administrators think about his views?

International cricket’s most outspoken World Cup-winning captain turns 60 tomorrow. It’s been an incredible life in which he took his country to the very top of one-day cricket in an era of sheer dominance.

Obviously, what stood out was the 1996 World Cup. When cricket enthusiasts recently expressed fear of the law of averages catching up with the Indian team at the recently concluded World Cup, pundits pointed to the fact that Australia, like India recently, won every game before the 2003 and 2007 final. Ditto West Indies in 1975 and 1979. But Ranatunga’s Sri Lankans did the same in 1996, steamrolling Australia, West Indies, Zimbabwe, India, Kenya, England and India again in the semi-finals before outwitting Mark Taylor’s Aussies in the final at Lahore.

Sri Lanka were nothing short of devastating under Ranatunga, who let loose on the world that dreaded opening pair of Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana. Ranatunga’s one-day career ended with the 1999 World Cup, where he failed to defend his crown. The following year witnessed the end of his Test career.

To us journalists, Ranatunga was always helpful when he was captain. Indeed, he was an interview-seeker’s delight; would invariably come up with quotes that would make headlines. Understandably, not all his utterances would go down well with the cricketing fraternity.

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However, his relations with the Sri Lankan media was not always great. He was particularly displeased when his team were criticised for their poor show in the 1999 World Cup. Ranatunga felt the expectations were unfair because the 1996 triumph came in the sub-continent, while the 1999 edition was held in England, where conditions were tough. Thus, he made no promises for 1999. “All I can say is that we will do our best. That is why I told journalists from home that they need not bother to talk to me as I have nothing to say to them,” Ranatunga told journalist Rajan Bala before the start of the tournament.

From my experience I can say Ranatunga was more than cooperative. On my first overseas tour—to Sri Lanka in 1998—he readily agreed to grant me an interview by the Taj Samudra poolside in Colombo, taking time off from playing with his kids. He spoke on the limitations of Sri Lankan cricket and how there were only 25 “good cricketers” in the country. He also revealed that he had a gut feeling that he wouldn’t be captain after the 1999 World Cup. He was right. We also spoke about Australia. He didn’t seem to like them very much and reiterated that Shane Warne was good without being great. “He [Warne] has a good record. But you cannot call him a great. I would say this is all hype,” he said.

He had an interesting point when it came to the Australians comparing India’s champion batsman Sachin Tendulkar to Sir Don Bradman: “When Warne was massacred by Sachin [earlier that year], they started comparing him with Don Bradman. With Tendulkar’s class, why didn’t they compare him to Bradman before the series? This is how Asian cricketers are treated.”

On the same tour, I was finding it difficult to get hold of him at the end of each Sri Lanka game. Security was too tight and there were no formal post-match press conferences. He suggested that I call him on the hotel intercom even if it meant late at night, for his match observations. He was true to his word. When the tournament moved to Galle, he suggested to have a meal or two at his favourite hotel there.

Ranatunga was unmovable when he was in charge and didn’t appear to give too much importance to his team coaches. He was delighted to have a Sri Lankan coach in 1998 [Roy Dias] after the exits of Dav Whatmore and Bruce Yardley. “I got along very well with both [Whatmore and Yardley]. Having a Sri Lankan coach is my personal opinion and you don’t always get what you want,” he said.

When I interviewed the late Yardley in Perth on India’s 1999-2000 tour of Australia, he revealed that Ranatunga didn’t have a winning attitude in Test match cricket, pointing to the 1997-98 three-Test series in India, where he was happy with drawn Tests. The former Australia off-spinner also said, “Players used to come to me and complain about him. They didn’t want to speak up as they were afraid of losing their places. Such was the scenario.”

Ranatunga knows his cricket history. And that includes Mumbai cricket’s legacy. In 2007, at the South Australia Premier’s invitation match held in Adelaide to celebrate two decades for the 1986 Chennai Tied Test, Ranatunga as captain, called on my colleague Ashwin Ferro (invited to report on the event) to bowl the first over against an Australian outfit. “Bombay, you bowl,” Ranatunga ordered. When my colleague asked him why did he choose him, the chunky former player replied: “Bombay… most Ranji Trophy titles na!”

Today, Ranatunga lost all his excess weight. He’d be proud of that. He’ll also think about how he made his debut in Sri Lanka’s inaugural Test in 1982 on the recommendation of no less a personality than Sir Garfield Sobers, who was involved with Sri Lankan cricket then. The selectors were divided on whether they should pick a teenager. Sobers sealed it and gave Sri Lankan cricket their greatest captain.

At 60, Ranatunga must keep airing those strong views. He will not please everyone and sometimes he will be wrong. That’s better than being a fence sitter or someone who is happy to go with the flow.

mid-day’s group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance.
He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

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