No. 44 May 29, 2011

Ranatunga and the new Sri Lanka

They always had the talent but he brought them winning ways
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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