Marvan Atapattu November 21, 2007

A fighter and a frank talker

Tragically, one of the finest batsmen in Sri Lanka's history, a technical artisan with a cover-drive from heaven, has ended his international days in a fog of injustice
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Look back in anger: the controversial last few months of his career might overshadow Marvan Atapattu's earlier achievements © Getty Images

Marvan Atapattu's retirement announcement was widely expected in Sri Lanka after the second Test in Australia. All his recent public comments, most obviously the amusing "muppets and joker" broadside at the selectors, indicated a man poised to bid farewell. Tragically, one of the finest batsmen in Sri Lanka's history, a technical artisan with a cover-drive from heaven, has ended his international days in a fog of injustice. If Roshan Mahanama had not already used it, Retired Hurt would be the most fitting of autobiography titles.

The Atapattu saga has been a sorry and disruptive affair that stretches back to 2004 when Ashantha de Mel, during his previous term at the helm, clashed with Atapattu, the captain at the time, over the axing of Tillakaratne Dilshan for a two-Test series against Pakistan. Ironically, on that occasion de Mel was determined to blood young players. Three years later Atapattu has publicly condemned de Mel for being too reliant on the older brigade. In truth, back then Atapattu was furious not so much because of the policy but because the decision was forced upon him without any consultation whatsoever.

Ever since, Atapattu has been deeply suspicious of de Mel's motives as chairman of selectors. While he was not overly enamoured of the team management as a whole during the time he watched the World Cup earlier this year from the bench, he blamed de Mel the most, apparently convinced that his omission was personally motivated. Unfortunately, like any top-flight sportsman with self-belief, Atapattu simply could not accept that the ODI team was better balanced without his massive experience.

Rather than try to understand that Chamara Silva's sudden emergence just prior to the tournament was the chief reason for his misfortune, Atapattu descended into a schoolboy-ish sulk. After being omitted for the ODI series in Abu Dhabi that followed, he grew even more distrustful and started looking at other options, signing-up with Lashings CC and starting negotiations with the Indian Cricket League (ICL). Offered a berth for the Bangladesh series last July, he saw a snake trap where others saw a golden opportunity to resurrect his Test career.

The selectors publicly stated that they wanted him to play Test cricket and for Sanath Jayasuriya to concentrate on ODI cricket. Even his team-mates wanted the same, aware that even at 36 he had plenty to offer in the longer game if he could retain his fitness. Mentally he was far stronger than at any time of his career, and during the next 18 to 24 months he could have been a far better player than his final career average of 39.02.

The problem, though, is that Atapattu is a proud and stubborn man. And unlike many others, he steers his own ship. He felt victimised - not for the first time in his career - and he was not going to bow to a selection chairman he distrusted and disliked. Only de Mel's departure would have paved the way for a proper recall. But that was never likely. de Mel's political support base is rock-solid in the current climate. So Atapattu started to plan for life after Sri Lanka.

It is possible that he will wake up one morning and regret some of the decisions he has made during recent months, but this is improbable. They may have triggered his downfall, but his straight-talking honesty and open dislike of the extremely politicised cricket set-up in Sri Lanka have always been among his most endearing characteristics. Atapattu had little time for Sri Lanka's cricket administrators and wasted even less trying to ingratiate himself with them. When cricket politicians tried to get him to play their games, he invariably ran in the opposite direction.

It is possible Atapattu will wake up one morning and regret some of the decisions he has made during recent months, but this is improbable. They may have triggered his downfall, but his straight-talking honesty and open dislike of the extremely politicised cricket set-up in Sri Lanka have always been among his most endearing characteristics

Sadly this controversial last year might overshadow his great achievements as a player, and especially as a captain.

The way he fought his way back into the team after the abysmal start to his career, scoring piles of runs in domestic cricket, was a lesson in bloody-mindedness and determination. Once back in the team, he grew better and better as he gradually overcame all his inner demons.

His greatest weaknesses as a batsman were his nerves at the start of an innings, his often appalling running between the wickets, and the traditional subcontinental frailty outside the off stump, especially on bouncy pitches. However, these frailties gradually faded in significance as he matured in his thirties into a top-class batsman. Technically he had no peer in Sri Lanka and his unbreakable concentration helped him to six double-hundreds. His off-side play was his strongest suit and his skill against the slower bowlers was exquisite.

His captaincy tenure was cut short by his back injury, but he was also an accomplished leader when he was finally, apparently reluctantly, handed the reins. Indeed, another irony of his World Cup fate was that he had played an important role in laying the foundations for the team's success, helping to foster a new team culture that embraced egalitarianism, self-improvement and personal responsibility. This fact has been frequently acknowledged by the current captain, Mahela Jayawardene, who referred to himself as the interim leader for many months after taking over.

Whether Atapattu plays any further part in Sri Lanka's cricketing future remains to be seen. His abrasive relationship with the establishment will always make it difficult for him to fit in and the likeliest scenario is that he will carve out a career overseas. The ICL might be his immediate priority, and then a relocation to Australia to play club cricket appears an increasingly likely possibility. A TV commentary role has also been discussed. Whatever he does, though, one thing is for sure, he will do it his way.

Charlie Austin is Sri Lanka editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • navinjk55 on November 25, 2007, 17:55 GMT

    What is lacking in Sri Lanka and most of the subcontinent is independence and self belief. Atapattu has shown that there are Sri Lankans that can achieve much without snickering up to the politicians and power brokers, at least in cricket.

  • Angel2007 on November 25, 2007, 3:01 GMT

    As an ardent follower of Sri Lanka cricket I was bemused reading the above article.To my recollection Austin appeared in the Sri Lankan Cricket scene a few years ago as a reporter for Cricinfo.However,in due course through his close association with some of the Sri Lankan cricketers he arrogated to himself the mantel of a Cricket Guru and connoiseaur of the game.To the amusement of all he has commenced pontification on issues related to cricket, on which he hardly has any knowledge.He has become the mouth-piece of Mahela Jayawardena and now sings for them for his supper.He merely writes what his paymasters desire whilst his account gets credited with commissions.

  • dilruk on November 24, 2007, 15:15 GMT

    Ever since I saw him play at Ananda College I was a huge fan. We even used to sneak out college to watch him play. He had an astounding talent and guts to match and was a great captain for Sri Lanka. He's probably been the most technically correct batsman in the game since David Gower and it's always been a joy to watch him perform. Thanks for the memories Marvan, all the best in whatever you choose to do.

  • malaya on November 24, 2007, 5:38 GMT

    Great cricketer! Great Man!! Marvan you made all of us proud!! Be with SL Cricket! I dont agree with Charlie's comments!

  • Dild on November 24, 2007, 0:12 GMT

    HI to all. I'm so upset as what happen to marvan. he was one of the elegant and best cricketers ever played cricket on world. but his days are cut short by the selecting committee. I think first of all guys who come for selecting committee should know about the game and should love that game from HEART. Then only they know how it feels. The guys few overs and played few matches don't know anything about cricket and what happen to their mind set when they play fool. Selecting committee chairman might did this for revenge but he should have thought about it two wise. What happen from this is all negatives which are 1. Running a Great players Life 2. Shame about Srilankan Cricket. If marvan is not capable to play at WORLD CUP as selecting committee thought he should be on bench for rest of the tours with guy call UPUL THARANGA and CHAMARA SILVA playing im sure THARANGA which doesn't bat fluently wont have any chance against Australians and he really didn't bat well on world cup, so kee

  • Sudewa on November 23, 2007, 15:21 GMT

    What I appreciate most in Marvan is not his fine technique but his ethical behavior as a gentlemen cricketer. It is bit disappointing that articles on his retirement did not talk about it. There were several occasions in his career, he walked towards pavilion without even looking at the umpire in occasions he is sure that he is out but when it is hard for the umpire to make the decision. Nowadays most of the batsmen wait till the umpires decision in appeals where its hard to make the decison by the umpire. But most of the time batsmen knows whether he is out or not.

    In that aspect he is a rare cricketer.

  • ignam on November 23, 2007, 5:01 GMT

    Dear Mavan, I remeber you as greatest ever captain as Ananda and Sri Lanka. You are simple, innocent and kind to the juniors those days and role modle to follow. Same you have done in Sri Lankan cricket. i suggest that all your juniors to follow you to their carrer progress whilist keep the head up. you have proved that you are still capable scoring even in australia against great line up in aussiee wicket. I hope that selectors should answer atleast now for keeping you out in world cup 2007. i strongly beleive that we had a chance of bringing that to Colombo if you were among Mahela and team at that time. All the best Mavi for your future. Hope you will back to serve sri Lankan cricket in diffrent form

  • Nilmin on November 23, 2007, 1:03 GMT

    Marvan.. you were born in the wrong place at the wrong time. I will ever remember your world best Cover Drive. Our crickers live and perform in a complex environment poisoned with political interferences and personal goals of administrators. The sad thing is that all leave with a determination to not to come back ever. In Australia, where the best cricket administrative and coaching system is available, the retired good cricketers start involving running the backstage affairs and groom next generation. Our adminstrators and coaching staff are either poor performs of the game or top performers with political motives. Where is Warnapura... Where are Diaz, Sidath, Aravinda, Roshan, Asanka and Arjuna as mentors to young cricketers ? Now Marvan. Next Murali and Vas !!! Maybe as Sri Lankans, this is what we deserved. I will lower my expectations and enjoy the moment until they retire. Good Luck Marvan. Forget the bitter past and enjoy your future with your family.

  • Philip_Gnana on November 22, 2007, 21:55 GMT

    Instead of letting his bat do the talking, was out of character in his verbal assault on Ashantha De Mel. Was it not De Mel who wanted Marvan's experience for the Australian tour? Perhaps De Mel was wrong to have even considered Attapattu and should have given a rookie the job?

    Unable to accept the fact Sri Lanka did well under the astute leadership of Mahela Jayawardena and being deprived of his captaincy, he has sort to vent his fury on the chairman of the selectors. Mis-directing his disappointment with a verbal assault. Was he mentally sound to have been on the Australian tour. Sadly the joke has been on himself. Did not Sri Lanka reach the world cup finals without his input? A bitter pill to swallow it seems.

    Selectors do get things wrong from time to time in all sports. Sad to the fabulous cover with his sweet timing of the ball will not be in my mind when it comes to remembering him, but the legacy of what has been said out of frustration. Philip Gnana Surrey England

  • ranilb on November 22, 2007, 20:17 GMT

    First thought I got on my mind when heard about his retirement was "Can't some person close to him like Ranathunga can help him change his mind". We know Jayasuriya was dropped out of the team (in fact he retired before this happened) but yet came back to play for SL. Marvan does not have to step back because of a 'joker'. He won in Austrailia. It was just a matter of 'facing teh reality'. Marvan has lot to give to SL cricket. Unfortunately, he has given up the battle even before fighting it. I hope he will realize there are sousands of his fans are behind him! All the very best with whatever he chooses to do!

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