World Cup winning captain Arjuna Ranatunga inspired Sri Lanka’s rise in cricket | Sunday Observer

World Cup winning captain Arjuna Ranatunga inspired Sri Lanka’s rise in cricket

27 August, 2023
Arjuna Ranatunga with the World Cup 1996
Arjuna Ranatunga with the World Cup 1996

Arjuna Ranatunga achieved the crowning glory of his stellar career by lifting the International Cricket Council’s 1996 World Cup. He sprang to fame as Sri Lanka’s much loved “Captain Cool” by admirably leading Sri Lanka to a memorable, magnificent, and epoch-making victory.

It was his ground-breaking captaincy that led Sri Lanka to reach the cricket’s zenith. Ranatunga, a daring, dashing and intelligent cricketer was God’s gift to the game of cricket that was founded in Sri Lanka in 1880s. Ranatunga currently serves Sri Lanka sports as the Chairman of the prestigious National Sports Council.

Many Sri Lankans believe that the most glorifying moment in Sri Lanka’s sports history was when the country won the 1996 World Cup. One could easily rate Ranatunga as the Sri Lanka’s foremost cricket captain for his pioneering efforts in lifting the team from underdog status to a leading force in the cricketing world. He was as stylish as he was capable of and was a leader for whom the impossible was possible.

Ranatunga was widely recognized as a brave and belligerent leader and was famous for defending his players. His strategies were commended by many greats. He was the brain behind the strategy of scoring as many runs as possible in the first 15 overs of an ODI in which there are field restrictions. Ranatunga fell into the elite category of leaders who identify talented players, nurture them, and take them to the next level.

He created a family environment among the players and stood up for players. His leadership styles were unique, and he always put the team’s interests foremost. They were a true inspiration to their teammates in Sri Lanka’s success during his tenure. Ranatunga attributes his success to building a family atmosphere in the Sri Lankan dressing-room. “I call the boys malli – which is younger brother in Sinhalese – and they call me aiya, or elder brother”.

It was Ranatunga who changed the scenario of playing cricket for Sri Lanka and attracted the local fans. He admirably led Sri Lanka for eleven years, transforming it from a weak, routinely defeated team into a competitive and successful unit. In the international scene not, many captains have led the country for over 50 Tests and only Ranatunga has achieved the historical milestone for Sri Lanka.

Birth and Family

Arjuna Ranatunga was born on December 1, 1963 in Gampaha. His father Reggie Ranatunga was a veteran politician of the Gampaha District and former Governor of Sabaragamuwa Province. His mother Nandani Ranatunga is a retired teacher. He has five siblings Sanjeewa, Dhammika, Nishantha, Prasanna and Ruwan.

Dhammika made his Test debut against Australia in 1989-90 when Arjuna was the captain of the team. It became the first instance for Sri Lanka Cricket whereas a cricketer had made his international debut for a team captained by his brother. Sanjeewa also made his test debut when he was still the captain of the test team while Nishantha appeared in ODIs.

Ranatunga worked as an insurance broker in his early days of international cricket career. He married Samadara and is blessed with a son Dhyan and a daughter Thiyangie. His son Dhyan is a cricketer and currently lives in the United States and signed to play for Minor League Cricket tournament. Dhyan is married to Denushka and they have been blessed with a son Sahas who becomes the first grandson in the entire Ranatunga family. The daughter Thiyangie is married to Sanjula.

Arjuna’s legacy to Ananda College, the Sinhalese Sports Club and to Sri Lankan Cricket was that he is a winner all the way.He won the Observer Sri Lankan Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year award twice in 1980 and 1982.His approach and technique as a teenager were flawless. Ranatunga played for Sri Lanka under-20, as a 17-year schoolboy, scoring 128 not out against India under-20 in 1980.

International Career

The great Sir Garfield Sobers spotted the rare talent in Ranatunga whilst on a coaching stint in Sri Lanka. The glitter that Sobers saw in Ranatunga was gold and he immediately prevailed on the selectors to play the 18-year in the inaugural Test against England in 1982.

Ranatunga, a left-handed batsman and a right-arm medium bowler, made his ODI debut on February 14, 1982 against England and after just three days, made his test debut on February 17, 1982 against England at the Oval in Colombo. And Ranatunga did not let Sobers down and scored an exquisite half century on debut, becoming the first Sri Lankan to do so in test cricket. He also shared a 99-run partnership with Ranjan Madugalle for the fourth wicket.

He made his debut World Cup appearance for Sri Lanka during the 1983 Cricket World Cup. Then, he featured in Sri Lanka’s historical first ever test match against England at Lord’s in 1984. He along with Asanka Gurusinha became the first pair of Sri Lankans to bat out the entire day of a Test match with an unbroken partnership of 240 runs on a wicket-less final day of the match against Pakistan at the Oval in Colombo in 1986. Both came on to bat when Sri Lanka was reeling at 83/3 and the duo endured resistance against the strong Pakistani bowling attack. Ranatunga ended up with a career best knock of unbeaten 135 while Sri Lanka posted 323/3.

He was a key member of the Sri Lankan team that won its maiden Asia Cup in 1986. He top scored in the final against Pakistan scoring 57 runs off just 55 balls to propel Sri Lanka to a comfortable victory after a 192-run chase with 7.4 overs to spare. He was also the leading run scorer of the tournament with an aggregate of 105 runs and was adjudged the “Player of the Series.”

At the 1992 World Cup, Ranatunga scoring an unbeaten 88 propelled Sri Lanka in a massive run chase of 313 against Zimbabwe, which also marked the first instance that a team had successfully chased down the target in excess 300 in ODI history.

Test cricket is a test of strength and that is why it is called Test Cricket. It is the most difficult format of cricket as it takes a lot for the cricketer to perform consistently over the course of the five days. If a team is doing well in this format, the role of the captain is key.

Ranatunga made his Test captaincy debut in Australia on December 8, 1989.

Ranatunga is remembered for his firm stand when Muralidaran was first no-balled for “throwing” by Darrell Hair in the MCG Boxing Day Test against Australia in 1995. The incident drew world attention when Sri Lankan skipper took the side of Muralidaran and wagged his finger at the umpire and led his team off. He believed a captain must defend his players, come what may.

The most touching sight of the resulting disciplinary hearing was the arrival of his team demonstrating their loyalty to a much-loved captain. The lawyers defending Ranatunga did a grand job and he survived with a six-match suspended sentence.

The World Cup Glory

The 1996 Cricket World Cup was the sixth Cricket World Cup organized by the International Cricket Council (ICC). It was the second World Cup to be hosted by Pakistan and India, but Sri Lanka were hosts for the first time and played in India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

Controversy dogged the tournament before any games were played when Australia and the West Indies refused to send their teams to Sri Lanka following the bombing of Central Bank in January 1996. Sri Lanka questioned the validity of citing security concerns when the ICC had determined it was safe. The ICC ruled that Sri Lanka would be awarded both games on forfeit.

On February 17, 1996, Sri Lanka was to play with Australia in Colombo and Australia forfeited the match and Sri Lanka won by a walkover. On February 21, Zimbabwe took on Sri Lanka in Colombo and scored 228/6 and Sri Lanka reached 229/4 in 37 overs to win by 6 wickets.

On February 26, Sri Lanka was to play West Indies in Colombo and the West Indies forfeited the match. On March 2, India took on Sri Lanka in New Delhi and scored 271/3. In response, Sri Lanka scored 272/4 in 48.4 overs to win.

On March 6, Sri Lanka played Kenya in Kandy and amazed 398/5, a new record for the highest team score in an ODI. Kenya could manage only 254/7. Accordingly, Sri Lanka had 5 victories in 5 games and collected 10 points to remain on top of the Group.

On March 9, Sri Lanka played their quarter final with England in Faisalabad, Pakistan. England scored 235/8 and Sri Lanka raised to 236/5 in 40.4 overs to win by 5 wickets. On March 13, Sri Lanka won the Semi-Final over India at Eden Gardens in Calcutta. Sri Lanka scored 251/8. India slumped to 120/8 in 34.1 overs and the crowd began to throw bottles onto the field. Match referee Clive Lloyd awarded the match to Sri Lanka, the first default ever in a Test or ODI.

On March 17, the Finals were played as a day/night match at Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. Sri Lanka sent Australia to bat despite the team batting first having won all five previous World Cup finals. Australia struggled on to 241/7. Muttiah Muralidaran had the best bowling figures conceding just 31 runs in his 10-over spell to remain the most economical with 3.10.

Sri Lanka won the match by 7 wickets in the 47th over with Arjuna Ranatunga scoring the winning boundary and remaining 47 not out in 37 balls, recording the best strike rate of 127.03 in the match. Aravinda de Silva, the vice-captain, following his 3 for 42 in 9 overs, remained 107 not out with 13 fours in 124 balls to win the ‘Player of the Match’ award.

In the tournament, Ranatunga scored 241 runs and finished with the highest average of 120.50. Also, for batsmen with over 100 runs in the tournament, Ranatunga had the second highest strike rate of 114.76 and only Sanath Jayasuriya, the ‘Player of the Tournament’ was ahead with 131.54.

Ranatunga’s faith played a major part in the success of Sanath Jayasuiya. Ranatunga believed in his ability and was prepared to experiment with a successful middle-order all-rounder in the hope he would turn into a ferocious opening batsman. The duo Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana evolved into Sri Lanka’s most explosive opening pair.

He understands the family atmosphere. Ranatunga was befittingly bestowed the second-highest national honour of “Deshamanya” by the Government of Sri Lanka in 1996.

Winning 1997 Asia Cup

He captained Sri Lanka to triumph at the 1997 Asia Cup at home defeating India in the final to lift their second Asia Cup since 1986 after 11 years. Ranatunga was the top run scorer with 272 runs and with a remarkable average of 136 including a century and two fifties.

In 1988, Ranatunga pulled off a spectacular double for Sri Lanka, winning first the Triangular Tournament and then crushing England by ten wickets at the Oval, their first ever test win in English soil against England and also the first ever test series in England, recording a memorable 10-wicket victory. Thus, Ranatunga became the first Sri Lankan captain to register a test victory in England.

Ranatunga ranks the same close to the World Cup victory. This was his crowning moment as a strategist: he was derided when he put England in on a good pitch, especially after they scored 445. “I knew we had to rely entirely on Murali’s bowling for victory and that I could not enforce a follow-on because of the amount of work that was likely to fall on his shoulders,” he said.

Ranatunga’s guiding hand can be seen in every success the side has had. Sri Lanka established the world record for the highest team score in an inning of a Test match by reaching 952/6 against India in 1997 at the Premadasa stadium in Colombo.

During his stint as captain, he led Sri Lanka in 56 Test matches, winning 12, drawing 25 and losing 19. His last match as a captain was against India at the Sinhalese Sports Club Grounds that ended on February 28, 1999, in a draw. Ranatunga scored 3,118 runs in 92 innings as captain at an average of 36.26 with two centuries and 22 half-centuries.

In 2000, Ranatunga played in Sri Lanka’s 100th Test match, becoming the only player to represent his country in their first and hundredth test. Overall, Ranatunga played 93 Test Matches and scored 5,105 runs with an average of 35.69. He had 16 wickets, 47 catches and scored 4 centuries and 38 fifties. His highest Test batting score of 135 not out was made against Pakistan in Colombo (1986). His other centuries included 111 against India in Colombo (1985), 127 against Australia in Colombo (1992) and 131 against South Africa in Moratuwa (1995).

In 269 ODIs, he scored 7,456 runs with an average of 35.84 that included 4 centuries and 49 fifties. He also had 79 wickets and 63 catches. He has the record for the most runs scored by any batsman in ODI history at number 5 position (4675 runs) and the first to score over 4500 ODI runs when at number 5 position. His highest of 131 not out was scored against India in Colombo (1997). His other centuries include 101 not out against Pakistan in Durban (1994), 102 not out against Pakistan in Gujranwala, Pakistan (1995), and 102 versus New Zealand in Colombo (1998).

Post Cricket Career

After retirement from professional cricket in 2001, he became a television commentator. In 2005, he joined the ICC’s cricket committee. Besides, he held many posts in cricket administration that included his tenure as the President of Sri Lanka Cricket in 2008.

He entered his father’s stream of politics by joining the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and contested the 2001 parliamentary elections from Colombo District. After the victory in 2004, he was appointed Deputy Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment Promotion but resigned in 2006.

In 2010, Ranatunga joined the Democratic Party and was made the Deputy Leader but resigned in 2012. After the 2015 Presidential elections, Ranatunga was appointed the Minister of Highways, Ports and Shipping.

In 2020, he was deemed as a possible candidate to be the leader of the United National Party. In 2021, he revealed that he would distance himself from the United National Party and would not take part in party activities and later resigned.

Ranatunga has been a vocal critic of Sri Lanka’s decline at international cricket. He has repeatedly called for innovative changes to the domestic structure and believes that it is high time for Sri Lanka to settle with Sri Lankan coaches.

(The author’s email is [email protected])