Events and people that shaped the game

No. 44

Ranatunga and the new Sri Lanka

They always had the talent but he brought them winning ways

Sambit Bal

May 29, 2011

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Arjuna Ranatunga lifts the World Cup, Australia v Sri Lanka, Wills World Cup final, Lahore, March 17, 1996
Rantaunga led Sri Lanka out of adolescence © Getty Images
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1996

On a misty night in March 1996 at Lahore's Gadaffi Stadium, Sri Lankan cricket grew up. And appropriately, Arjuna Ranatunga was the man who walked out in a mild drizzle to collect the trophy that would stand as abiding testament to Sri Lanka's new status, for he, more than anyone or anything else, was responsible for dragging Sri Lanka out of what then had seemed like perpetual adolescence.

As captain, he was a unique mix: father figure, dictator, tactician, rabble rouser and manoeuvrer all rolled into one.

Ever since they were granted Test status, Sri Lanka had not lacked talent. In Duleep Mendis, Roy Dias, Aravinda de Silva and Ranatunga himself, they had some fine batsmen. But Sri Lanka's showing on the international stage rarely transcended individual expression, and their attitude towards competition was as timid as their bowling resources were meagre.

Ranatunga owed part of his success to the emergence of two wicket-taking bowlers, in Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas, and to the professional and tactical nous of Dav Whatmore - but would Murali have survived without Ranatunga's nurturing and protection?

Ranatunga invested Sri Lankan cricket with ambition and provided it with inspiration to achieve. In his autobiography, de Silva, Ranatunga's contemporary and chief lieutenant, said this: "Arjuna's body always suggested his right to lead and competence to supervise. He was the father of Sri Lankan cricket."

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo.This article was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine in 2003

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Sambit Bal Editor-in-chief Sambit Bal took to journalism at the age of 19 after realising that he wasn't fit for anything else, and to cricket journalism 14 years later when it dawned on him that it provided the perfect excuse to watch cricket in the office. Among other things he has bowled legspin, occasionally landing the ball in front of the batsman; laid out the comics page of a newspaper; covered crime, urban development and politics; and edited Gentleman, a monthly features magazine. He joined Wisden in 2001 and edited Wisden Asia Cricket and Cricinfo Magazine. He still spends his spare time watching cricket.

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