Time we moved out of cricket pol­i­tics, says San­jeewa Ranatunga

Roshan Ma­hanama can re­sus­ci­tate Lanka's cricket Ranatunga - Dhar­madasa- Su­math­ipala men­tal­ity does not work any­more

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - INTERNATIONAL -

This Ranatunga clan mem­bers from Gam­paha are dual faceted. Though they came into in­ter­na­tional ex­po­sure through cricket – es­pe­cially through the in­di­vid­u­al­ity of Ar­juna, their gen­eral fam­ily trait is pol­i­tics, and they dive into both, quicker than duck when it sees the clos­est stream.

But, as mat­ter of fact, south­paw San­jeewa, who played nine test matches for Sri Lanka, with two cen­turies, has opted to stay out of the pub­lic eye. The only in­stance he was ex­posed to the pub­lic eye was through the me­dia, via his short stint with TV con­glom­er­ate ‘Si­rasa’, but he de­cided to shed that coat too; two months ago.

Now San­jeewa lives as an in­surance man but, com­ing from a dog­matic cricket back­ground, he has his own views on how the game of cricket should shed its tra­di­tional at­tire – now worn out.

Ini­tially, San­jeewa took us back to the school ground where he played ten­nis ball cricket, while his el­der broth­ers were en­gaged in more se­ri­ous stuff. He said, “I started play­ing ten­nis ball cricket be­cause I did not have any­thing else to do, while my older sib­lings were play­ing cricket for the school. Yet, at that time, our coach, the late Lionel Mendis, no­ticed that I also could hold the bat prop­erly, and there I was play­ing ju­nior cricket. All be­cause we stayed- on at the grounds, as our mother who was one of our school teach­ers, stayed on till all the sib­lings were ready to go home. But, we never stud­ied after school, be­cause we were en­gaged in play­ing cricket. For us, cricket was like a reli­gion, and we were pas­sion­ately in­volved in it. But, my in­ten­tions were dif­fer­ent. I al­ways wanted get a job and I knew that, if I played the game well, I would be looked at by a pri­vate firm. We went through dif­fi­cult times and we al­ways wanted to plan out our fu­ture. But, when I was play­ing well and scor­ing runs for my club, I was pushed to rep­re­sent the coun­try. At the same time, my boss Pathma Gu­nasek­era was very sup­port­ive of my cricket. But, whilst play­ing cricket, I al­ways made it a point to do my job well and make a mark in that field too. Today, I am in this po­si­tion be­cause of my ca­reer and not my cricket. This is my mes­sage even to the next gen­er­a­tion.”

Then we moved to more se­ri­ous stuff and asked what he thought of the grad­ual de­cline in tal­ent in cricket in the coun­try. Mus­ings started the con­ver­sa­tion, point­ing out, "Yes, when Sri Lanka won the World Cup, we had a good set of play­ers, and it was followed by crick­eters such as Mar­van Ata­p­attu, Ma­hela Jayawar­dena, Ku­mar San­gakkara, with Chaminda Vaas and Mut­tiah Mu­ralitha­ran be­com­ing true wicket- tak­ing bowlers. There­after, we had T. M. Dil­shan and Ran­gana Herath com­ing into the scene around 2004, but there­after, there have been a dearth of real match- win­ners who could carry the lion flag."

Ranatunga com­mented: “At that time, Sri Lanka had only a few schools and a few clubs – about eight each, in­volved in play­ing cricket. In an en­vi­ron­ment of that na­ture, com­pe­ti­tion is very high. Now there is an in­flux of cricket play­ing schools and the num­ber of clubs that play premier cricket also has in­creased. As a re­sult, the whole con­coc­tion has got di­luted. We are a small coun­try – ge­o­graph­i­cally and pop­u­la­tion- wise, and we can­not com­pare with the cricket in Aus­tralia or In­dia. We have to pro­duce a brand of cricket which is our own. For in­stance, in Aus­tralia, you have to fly from state to state to play cricket; in In­dia it is some­what the same. But, it is not so in Sri Lanka, for us ev­ery point is ac­ces­si­ble by road.

"Some think that by hav­ing more clubs and pay­ing crick­eters a fee, the prob­lem could be solved, but we are only di­lut­ing the sit­u­a­tion. I see what re­ally hap­pened was we lost our vi­sion for Sri Lanka cricket, at one point of time. Dur­ing that time, we had qual­ity crick­eters hand­ing over the ba­ton. For in­stance, for me, Aravinda de Silva is the best bats­man that the world pro­duced after Vi­vian Richards, yet, his bat­ting av­er­age does not re­flect that. The rea­son is, at that time, they played cricket for the coun­try and not what’s in it for them. Just see the sac­ri­fices the other se­nior mem­bers made for the side at that time. How they kept chang­ing their own bat­ting po­si­tions for the sake of the oth­ers, so that, the next gen­er­a­tion of play­ers would gain con­fi­dence. That is why, when Aravinda de Silva, Ar­juna Ranatunga, Roshan Ma­hanama and Asanka Gu­rus­inha and oth­ers moved out of the game, we had the needed tal­ent to sus­tain our cricket. The re­al­ity is that, now we are work­ing with quan­tity. We have to re­vert this vi­sion to qual­ity."

Young Ranatunga pointed out that if the au­thor­i­ties want to im­prove our stan­dard of cricket, Sri Lanka has to re­duce the num­ber of Premier League Clubs. If you have to set up pro­vin­cial cricket, they must start it from school level. They must start work­ing with a man­age­able con­tin­gent of play­ers and start build­ing their fringe tal­ent – the feeder point to the na­tional grid.

He said, “What has hap­pened now is, you pick one player for one tour, and he is not there for the next. This means they have not been able to iden­tify the right play­ers. I am very sad about what has hap­pened to Kusal Mendis. If he was fail­ing and had to be dropped, they should have dropped him and sent him on the ‘A’ tour to the West Indies. I learned that, now the bat­ting sur­faces in In­dia are very bats­man-friendly, and Kusal is a bats­man who plays the spin­ners very well. Had he been on that tour of the West Indies, he would have been back for the In­dian tour may be – any­way, I feel our ad­min­is­tra­tions lacks proper vi­sion.”

We asked: Un­der the present cir­cum­stances who would you hold re­spon­si­ble? Where have we gone wrong?

Ranatunga said he blamed the stake­hold­ers – those who vote at the elec­tions to elect cricket ad­min­is­tra­tors.

“Just see, we see the same faces. It is ei­ther the Dhar­madasas or the Su­math­ipalas. Then, if there is an in­terim com­mit­tee, it is ei­ther Ar­juna Ranatunga or Si­dath Wet­timuny. So the vot­ers know at the end of the day, who are they vot­ing for and not why and what they are vot­ing for? That’s why I hold the vot­ers re­spon­si­ble. I do be­lieve in the vot­ers rights, but there is a time when things have to change.

“I do be­lieve there should be a pro­fes­sional han­dling of the game in the coun­try. The per­son who takes over the game will be in con­trol of the game for at least five years, and for­get about the vot­ing.”

When we asked whether he has some­one in mind, Ranatunga promptly replied, Roshan Ma­hanama. He said, “If the coun­try’s ad­min­is­tra­tion does not have the right vi­sion for cricket, then the Gov­ern­ment must step in and try to rem­edy the sit­u­a­tion. We have had enough of this cricket war be­tween Ranatunga and Su­math­ipala and the Dhar­madasas. It’s time we for­got about that episode and started think­ing afresh. So, we must have a man who un­der­stands the game and cricket ad­min­is­tra­tion, and a per­son who is well known in the crick­et­ing world, and knows the value of play­ing for your coun­try.

"At the same time, Roshan is a pro­fes­sional and knows what his pri­or­i­ties are. That is why he gave up an ICC post­ing to be with his chil­dren – to have time for his fam­ily. Money is not ev­ery­thing. I think we need peo­ple like that. I know that Ar­juna is good but, now he can­not do it. He has a wider re­spon­si­bil­ity in pol­i­tics. If at all, he can help Roshan. Right now he is my best can­di­date, and he is a thor­ough pro­fes­sional. We may have not seen or met each other for the past decade or more but, I have kept a note of his ac­tiv­i­ties and I feel that he is the best man for the job." (For the video of the in­ter­view, please visit out web­site

www.sun­day­times.lk)

For­mer na­tional crick­eter - third of the Ranatunga broth­ers - to play Test cricket, San­jeewa is of the view that it is high time we did away with fac­tion­al­ism and in­fused pro­fes­sion­al­ism in our game. He feels that it is the only way we could take this game to the next mil­len­nium

San­jeewa Ranatunga looks with a rea­son­able eye on cricket - Pic by Sameera Weerasekara

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