Sri Lanka’s most successful but controversial skipper Arjuna Ranatunga bowed out of international cricket in Colombo on August 10, 2000, at his home ground, the Singhalese Sports Club ground, amid a tearful farewell. The gates were thrown open shortly before tea on the fifth and final day of the third Test against South Africa by the Sri Lanka Cricket Board to give the public free entrance to show their appreciation for this great cricketer.
Fans came in numbers to give Arjuna Ranatunga a final salute which was fitting for the contribution he had made to Sri Lankan cricket. Arjuna Ranatunga did not fail them, scoring an undefeated 28 with six fours to see Sri Lanka through safely to a draw. In the presentation ceremony after the match, Arjuna Ranatunga was at a loss for words as he thanked all those who had stood beside him in the hour of need during his long and distinguished career.
Arjuna Ranatunga was the only survivor of the inaugural Test played by Sri Lanka against England in Colombo 18 years ago, and he’s been through it all representing his country in 93 of the 105 Tests played to date. Arjuna Ranatunga took over the captaincy in 1989 when things looked bleak for Sri Lanka, but with his flair and understanding, he played a significant role in building up a side with collective strength to win the most prized possession in one-day cricket, the World Cup in 1996.
Arjuna Ranatunga was a cricketer the Aussies loved to hate, following his on-field incidents with individual players, especially Ian Healy and Shane Warne during the 1995-96 tour when his key bowler Muttiah Muralitharan was no-balled for throwing. It was sweet revenge for Ranatunga that his side should beat Australia to win the World Cup at Lahore. The victory was a crowning moment in Sri Lanka’s cricketing history and it brought forth a new generation of cricketers and cricket fans to the game.
He earned the tag of “Captain Cool” from International Cricket Council (ICC) match referee John Reid when he led the side to victory against India in the Asia Cup final at Colombo in 1997 with a career-best 131 not out. The success was also transformed into the Test arena, where Arjuna Ranatunga became Sri Lanka’s most successful captain winning 12 of the 19 Tests won by his country. In the Test series against Pakistan in June 2000, Ranatunga became the first player in the history of the game to appear for his country in its inaugural Test and its 100th Test.
He achieved this feat in the first Test against Pakistan at the Singhalese Sports Club grounds. Ranatunga made his Test debut while still a student at the prestigious Ananda College at the age of 18 against England at the Saravanamuttu Stadium in February 1982. He scored his country’s maiden Test fifty in that game. Since then he has played a major role in the development and success of Sri Lanka cricket internationally.
A left-hand batsman of immense talent, Arjuna Ranatunga became a vital cog in the Sri Lanka team. He is the second-highest run-getter to his one-time deputy Aravinda de Silva, with 5,105 runs at an average of 35.69. He made four centuries, all at home, the highest of which was an unbeaten 135 against Pakistan at the Saravanamuttu Stadium in 1985- 86. Ranatunga and de Silva were the pillars of Sri Lanka cricket through good and bad times, dominating the scene for nearly two decades.
Apart from his cricketing ability, Ranatunga is also known for standing by his teammates during trying times. The most significant occasion was when Muralitharan was no-balled for throwing by Australian umpire Ross Emerson in Brisbane in January 1996. Ranatunga threatened to take his team off the field and had a finger-wagging on-field argument with the umpire that brought cricket to a standstill for several minutes.
Ranatunga ‘does not have even one regret Accusations from miffed opponents of bringing the game into disrepute do not sit lightly with cricket’s stormy petrel, Arjuna Ranatunga. He promised a front-foot reply, with the trimmings, but not until June this year, for he wanted to avoid any political fallout as he bid to become the first Sri Lankan to play 100 Tests.
While in Melbourne before the home series against Pakistan for an operation to repair his left thumb, fractured in several places by another old warrior, Pakistan’s Waqar Younis, in Rawalpindi in February 2000, Ranatunga said he was preparing his book launch but he was currently contracted to the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka and so could not be full-frontal just yet, at least not before his retirement.
I have lots to say, and I will in my book. It has to be a controversial book; otherwise, it is not my book. People should know what has happened. The former Sri Lankan captain said he did not have even one regret in more than 350 representative appearances, many of them turbulent. He concedes and might have been less militant at times, but he was only ever concerned with furthering the interests of Sri Lankan cricket.
If he offended, he had to, for too long Sri Lanka and its cricketers had been treated with contempt. Helping his country walk taller has been central in the recognition process which, at the end of the year 2000, sees England figure in their first three-Test series against the cricket-mad island nation. “I have done what I could do for the country and our players,” he said before flying back to Colombo for visits to Pakistan and South Africa.
I may have handled some things in different ways but it never bothered me what others felt. It’s very complicated to say I should have done this and that. I’ve been all about trying to improve our cricket and standing. That was always my ambition.” Openly arguing with the umpires, almost team walk-off in Brisbane and, his refusal to shake hands with Australian players at the conclusion of the contentious 1995-96 international summer cut at the very fiber of the game.
Three years later, in a Carlton & United One-day International in Adelaide, England’s then captain Alec Stewart, one of the acknowledged nice guys of world cricket, was so angry that he went on air on Channel Nine’s stump micro-phone saying Ranatunga’s behavior as a country’s captain was appalling. After a mid-pitch confrontation between Darren Gough and Roshan Mahanama, a fired-up Stewart even dipped his shoulder into Mahanama as they changed ends.
When asked to explain, Ranatunga said: “What I want to know is if these particular things happened to that particular captain, how he would behave?” Ranatunga said that the no-balling of Sri Lanka’s enigmatic off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, the allegations of ball-tampering against the Sri Lankans in Perth, and the persistent sledding of his players had triggered the earlier strife. Socially there was also a connection between the teams and much unpleasantness. There were just so many issues, one after another,” he said.
When I first came into the side, a lot of cricketing nations used to treat us like babies. Hence they thought we were good cricketers but they automatically felt they were better. When I took over as captain I felt I’d had enough talent that we should do something about it.” Ranatunga says Sri Lankans are naturally happy, jovial, and free-spirited. They cannot understand why there is so much ‘warble’ in world cricket. Why cannot cricket again be a basic battle of Batman versus Bowler?
But it’s not just Australia, this sledding thing happens all over the world. Even now it is happening too much and it shouldn’t. We play hard. If I’m angry I scold myself rather than someone else.” Behavioral concerns reach deeper than today’s band of international players. “I blame the administrators and the umpires. They are there to control the game and it doesn’t always happen.”
Arjuna Ranatunga has been part of the Sri Lankan team since the country’s inaugural Test in 1981-82 when, as an 18-year-old schoolboy. He made a half-century against England in Keith Fletcher’s farewell match in Colombo. One of four brothers to play for Sri Lanka, he has amassed 93 Tests and 269 One-day Internationals. In the first Test versus Pakistan in Colombo in June 2000 he became the first player to appear in his country’s first Test and also the 100th.
I still have a lot of cricket in me, depending on how I go at the international level. But if I still feel I’m good enough I’d like to keep going.” Then, however, he decided that he would retire at the end of the series against South Africa. He regards Sri Lanka’s World Cup in 1996 and the team’s first-ever win at the Test level against England at The Oval in August 1998 as his most satisfying moments. He also led them to series victories in New Zealand and Pakistan during this stellar period for Sri Lankan cricket.
As for the boil-over victory against Australia in the 1996 World Cup Final in Lahore, he says: “We’d set our sights on reaching the semifinals so we could be recorded among the best four sides in One-day International cricket. To qualify for the Final and win it was beyond all expectations.” His decision to encourage Sanath Jayasuriya to bat in the first three and then open with wicket-keeper Romesh Kaluwitharana remains one of his most successful.
A lot of people criticized me for opening with these two, but for me, they were the outfit for the World Cup. They changed the complexion of one-day cricket. They weren’t just sloggers. They could bat properly and leave the ball when necessary.” Asked about his own individual highs over an 18-year career.
Arjuna Ranatunga said his match-winning 131 against India during the Asia Cup tournament in Colombo in 1997-98 was his favorite century. Especially as his team, set 228 to win, had lost Jayasuriya and their top batsman, Aravinda de Silva, with less His most cherished Test innings was 84 on his debut at Lord’s during the one-off Test in 1984.
It was just a year to pass out of school. Just walking out at Lord’s was a thrill. The occasion was so important” than 10 runs on the board. His most cherished Test innings was 84 on his debut at Lord’s during the one-off Test in 1984.
Just walking out at Lord’s was a thrill. The occasion was so important.” He speaks fondly of Ananda College and of his coaches, particularly Lionel Mendis who offered him the bat of his choice after he and his family lost everything when their house in the village of Udugampola, outside Colombo, was deliberately burnt down during an election.
Arjuna Ranatunga’s father, Reggie, was one of the chief organizers for the ruling party of the day. “They started throwing stones and we had to evacuate,” he said. “I was only 13 at the time and we lost everything. We were out on the road. While it was a bad experience and it was many years before we all got back to one particular place, it kept the whole family going and made us even closer. Everyone wanted to achieve it.
If it wasn’t for that particular incident, I may not have even played cricket.” The other important career moment for Ranatunga came when the great West Indian all-rounder Sir Garfield Sobers became Sri Lanka’s national coach in 1982. I was not in the first 38 when he came to Sri Lanka. He brought me back and worked really hard with me on my technique. I got 90 against Australia in a Test and 55 not out from 39 balls in a one-day game.
He was the person most responsible for my success. Arjuna Ranatunga, predicts that Muralitharan will eventually take 500 Test wickets as long as the shoulder Bareness that he has experienced lately settles down. He also, believes Sri Lanka’s depth of reserves will continue to lift as players like Murali, who hails from Kandy, are now being developed all over Sri Lanka, and not just in Colombo and its environs.
He would also like to see greater globalization of the game, particularly in regions like Malaysia and the United States. He believes that administrators worldwide will be keen to assess the interest in the One-day International series contested by Australia and South Africa at Melbourne’s indoor Colonial Stadium in August, as it could be a lead for Test cricket to be played indoors and out-of-season.
Administrators need to be mindful of what the public wants. If it means day-night Test cricket, so be it. It may not work but there needs to be solutions. The Test crowds in Sri Lanka have been mediocre for years. The people just want to go and see the one-dayers.” After retirement, Ranatunga joined the political matters in Sri Lanka’s general election and was elected Deputy Minister of Industry, Tourism & Investment Promotion.
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