January 3, 2001

CricInfo talks to Ravi Ratnayeke

Ragavan Thuraisingam

Despite being a talented rugby player at school Ravi Ratnayeke's real passion was for cricket. Predominantly a batsman at junior level, he developed into a lively right arm medium pace bowler who played for his country throughout the 1980s. He made his Test debut in 1981/82 against Pakistan and went on to take 56 wickets. He became a worthy all-rounder, opened the batting on occasions, and averaged a useful 25.

Ravi Ratnayeke played in the early years of Sri Lanka's international cricket, when Sri Lanka rarely won and Test series were few and far between. Sri Lanka were minnows and times were hard. However, his efforts, along with the likes of Sidath Wettimuny, Warnapura, Rumesh Ratnayake, Duleep Mendis, Madugalle and Roy Dias to name a few, paved the way for greater success in the 1990s.

Now, with his playing days far behind him, he lives in Australia. Recently, CricInfo caught up with him and discussed those early days of international cricket and some of the recent issues in the world of cricket.

Q: How would you describe your rise into the national side?

Cricket was always my passion and from an early age I wanted to play at the highest level. I had always been a good junior batsman, but then one day I picked up a ball and I bowled it faster than any of the other boys. Soon I was bowling well in junior levels, before becoming more of a bowler in senior cricket.

The Australians brought an Under-19 team to Sri Lanka and I was keen to get into our Under-19 team. I started to do extra training and physical work and, the next thing I knew, I was in the national side.

Q: You played your first Test match against Pakistan in Karachi. How would you describe the moment?

Any Test match, but especially the first, is great for anybody. I don't think I realised the enormity of it all at that stage.

Q: Then you went to England for the 1983 World Cup and played in the first-ever Sri Lankan one-day victory, which was against Australia in 1984. That must have been a special feeling?

Absolutely, to beat Australia is a big thing, especially then. Playing back then, we always wanted to beat the West Indies or Australia as they were the premier sides, but we knew when facing England or other nations we had more of a chance of knocking them off.

Q: You were always described as a right-arm fast bowler. However, we are yet to see a crop of outstanding fast bowlers emerge from Sri Lanka. Why do you think that is?

Initially, I believe that there was a lack of understanding on how to coach fast bowling, even at the top level. Most of the learning I did, was 'on the job'. Rumesh and myself did a lot of learning while we played. It took time to learn, as we had to teach ourselves. Nowadays, there is a better coaching structure and greater understanding of the art of fast bowling.

Q: How can Vaas and Zoysa be better fast bowlers? Are the camps held by the likes of Dennis Lillee in Madras helping Sri Lankan bowlers?

There is the capacity to develop the bowlers in Sri Lanka with the likes of Rumesh Ratnayake involved in the coaching structure. However, players like Dennis Lillee are invaluable in developing fast bowling talent.

Q: What differences do you see in the way cricket is played in Australia to that of the domestic competition in Sri Lanka?

In first-class cricket in Sri Lanka there are clearly far too many teams. Players struggle to bridge the gap between club and international cricket. There is a brilliant infrastructure within junior cricket, but at domestic level we see far too many mediocre sides. It's similar to the situation in county cricket in England: too many average teams and too many average games.

Q: A Players' Association has recently been formed? Was there an association in your time? Is this a good idea for Sri Lankan cricket?

When I was playing we tried to form a players' association but it never got off the ground, perhaps because we didn't know how to get it going. Now there seems to be a better knowledge of what is required and what needs to be done.

To be successful it's important that the Players' Association works closely with the administration to enhance the whole game.

Q: Who should the Players' Association be helping?

It should help all players and bridge all gaps. There is also a responsibility on the players' association to develop the game. Players who have recently played the game have a contribution to make and the board should be open-minded enough to pick their ideas which will enhance the game. If the Players' Association and the BCCSL work together, the players will benefit in the long term.

For a long time, a players' association was seen as a union, battling against its employer. It does not work that way and will never work that way. They must work together to further the game.

Q: If you were on the ICC board how would you help eradicate the problem of match fixing?

The ICC represent cricket in all Test-playing countries. This is an issue that may be beyond their jurisdiction. They can only catch someone within the game trying to fix games, not those outside, such as bookmakers. They can only control the boards and players.

Q: Was the ICC too soft in the early stages?

When the rumours first came out they should have acted on them. They turned a blind eye and hoped it would go away. The classic example was the Australian players. Being a leading Test-playing nation, Australia should have done something much stronger, instead of hushing up the issue.

Q: Is match fixing a case of too many meaningless one-day matches being played, which has opened up the players to too much temptation?

If you are going to play for your country, you are not being forced to do it. Nobody is denying that they should be paid as professionals. Nobody is forcing them. They make the choice whether to train and work hard. If they wish to sell out their country they should be punished, severely.

Q: Did the notion of match fixing or bookies surface around your era?

I can absolutely say that during my time I never heard of it. I only heard of it after I stopped playing.

Q: Some players have commented they have never heard of match fixing due to Sri Lankan cricket being at its infancy at that stage?

When the volumes of one-day cricket increased the idea of betting increased, especially with the advent of Sharjah and many non-stop one-day tournaments.

Q: Is Murali the greatest ever Sri Lankan bowler?

Statistically, he is the best bowler to come out of Sri Lanka, without a shadow of a doubt. He may be the best spinner statistically but I would still rate Warne ahead of him. However, I would feel there are other bowlers who have performed better with higher quality colleagues within the side.

Q: Is Sri Lanka too reliant upon Murali?

Murali applies a lot of pressure on teams, but he cannot do it all the time. There are some quick bowlers coming through. The Sri Lankans are underrated as a bowling side. If you look at times when the team has not done well, it has not been due to the bowling. It's been due to the fact they have not put the runs on the board, even though they are touted as a strong batting side. They are a good bowling side, not a devastating bowling side, who perform best when they bowl together as a team. Murali can bowl his heart out from one end but this would be pointless if the bowling is loose at the other end.

Q: What are Sri Lanka's realistic chances in the tour of South Africa?

They have a good chance if the batsmen score heavily and give the bowlers a chance.

Q: Do you agree with the decision to leave Aravinda De Silva at home?

Aravinda, in my opinion, is the best batsman in Sri Lanka, without a shadow of a doubt. He can probably carry three or four of the current crop on his own shoulders. But the problem with Aravinda is that to get into form he needs his head to be working as well. He needs to get his attitude right, and if managed properly, he is a devastating player. By the same token, Aravinda is the type of player whose attitude can be destructive to the side. If this is going to be the case it is better to leave him at home.

Q: The concern of many supporters is that when they face South Africa, they are facing a quality attack of Donald, Pollock, Klusener, Ntini, Kallis and Co. Can the younger Sri Lankan batsman handle this pressure?

I think Sri Lanka could spring a surprise. They are a much better team now than when they were at the 1999 World Cup.

Q: Has Dav Whatmore reversed Sri Lanka's fortunes like he did in 1995-96?

When Dav was not there the guys did not have the foggiest what they were doing. The side is better equipped and prepared now. His training regime and coaching ability makes a huge difference.

Q: What does the future hold for Sri Lankan cricket post Ranatunga and Aravinda De Silva?

For far too long the side depended too much on Arjuna and Aravinda. Changes that have now been made should have occurred two or three years after their World Cup success and not just after the abysmal performance in 1999. Sri Lankan cricket should have made earlier changes. The only way Sri Lankan cricket can compete at the international level is to give the youngsters coming through an opportunity to play for a year or two.

Q: Is Sanath the right man to captain the side?

He has matured as a captain. At the stage he was appointed I thought Marvan was going to be appointed, but Sanath has grown into the role.