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
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
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