August 12, 2000

Cricketers are looked upon as role models

The authorities in the cricket world have lately been facing the predicament of having to take harsh decisions against leading cricketers of their respective countries. Some of the cricketers have got themselves into a mess with their off the field activities and the latest one in the list is Shane Warne. He was stripped of his vicecaptaincy for misdemeanours accumulated over a year. Cricketers have been looked upon as role models for the youngsters to emulate. As such they were and are expected to conduct themselves impeccably on and off the field. Unfortunately what is forgotten is that they are also humans and the human frailties will inevitably emerge.

The ACB deserves to be appreciated for their decision and this reflects the general attitude of Australian cricket. Warne is a special performer all right, but in the matter of discipline he has been treated like any other cricketer. Warne, on his part has accepted the decision without any fuss and said his commitment to the Australian team will be the same as ever. Steve Waugh's recent statements give one the impression that he would have preferred Warne to be his deputy. Anyway, the exciting cricketer Adam Gilchrist takes over the mantle and the Aussies start off their season with a one-day series against South Africa shortly.

The ensuing one-day series will be played in an indoor stadium with the roof totally covered and the entire stadium is likely to be airconditioned. The pitches (of the regular kind) are prepared outside the stadium and the entire square will be dug up, brought into the stadium and rolled out like a carpet for the matches to be played on them. It would be a first of its kind and if it proves to be a success, then obviously matches will be played regularly in the Colonial stadium. It will be a worthwhile experience to watch a fullfledged cricket match indoors and that too between two of the toughest sides in the game.

The South Africans departed from Sri Lanka after a long tour but the Sri Lankans for a different reason will remember the last Test they played. Arjuna Ranatunga, the most popular cricketer in Sri Lanka, announced his retirement from international cricket and would have left many of his supporters in tears. After the return of the Indian Under-19 team from Sri Lanka in 1980, most of the members mentioned that a player called Ranatunga should be watched with more than passing interest. The Sri Lankans were given Test status shortly and not surprisingly his name was included in the team.

That was the start of not only Sri Lankan cricket in the big league but also Ranatunga's career. Ranatunga did not burn many bridges to start with but was developing the skills required to become an international class batsman. He blossomed against the Indians in 1985 when he mastered the spin attack of Maninder Singh, Gopal Sharma, Sivaramakrishnan and Shastri. From then he has proved to be a thorn in the flesh for spinners all over the world. He was made the vicecaptain under Mendis and eventually took over the captaincy after the latter retired.

As a captain he had the task of developing the Sri Lanka side into a force to reckon with considering they were hardly invited on tours by other countries. The Sri Lankans were a good side always in the oneday format but it was in the Tests that they were found lacking. Gradually Arjuna along with Aravinda ingrained the aspect of hard Test match batting into the inexperienced but talented batsmen like Gurusinghe, Tilakaratne and Mahanama.

It will be stating the obvious to say the World Cup in 1996 changed the entire outlook of Sri Lanka as a cricketing nation. Ranatunga, after labouring for years, achieved his ambition of making Sri Lanka a major force in international cricket. It was during the World Cup that he was given the sobriquet of "Captain cool" for the manner in which he handled the side. He was hardly ruffled throughout the tournament and after the victory in the final, people started comparing Ranatunga with the best captains in the game. Like every good leader, he ensured that he backed his players through thick and thin and at times indulged in heated exchanges with opposing players. The way he supported Muralitharan during the Australian series cannot be forgotten and it will not be amiss to say that not many would have done what he did. Similarly he would not take any unwarranted asides from either the players or administrators lying down. Alec Stewart and Shane Warne would vouch for Ranatunga's contained aggression both with the bat as well as words.

A lot of people felt that Ranatunga was a bit of a snob, which definitely is not the case. One can only say that his detractors did not view his majestic presence with the proper perspective. Suffice to say that Sri Lanka was fortunate to have an excellent ambassador like Ranatunga and one wonders how long it will take for another Ranatunga to emerge. I wish Arjuna all the best in the future.