Saturday, 04 February 2023
Sanga should have played the full series, or not at all: Arjuna

Sanga should have played the full series, or not at all: Arjuna Featured

Arjuna Ranatunga, who was captain when Sri Lanka won the 1996 World Cup, is set to retain his ministry - ports and shipping, when the portfolios are made public on Friday.

On Wednesday, Ranatunga (51) spoke to The Telegraph for around an hour in his Chaithya Road office, which is in an extremely high-security zone of Lanka's capital.

Indeed, armed personnel were visible just about everywhere.

As Ranatunga's room is being renovated, the interview took place in the conference hall, which has a trendy look, even though the building itself is around a century old.


Q Your take on the Test series which ended on Tuesday?
A India need to be congratulated. However, I'm not despondent. We have a young team and our captain (Angelo Mathews) is learning. Young teams need to be given time. In six-eight months, the same lot should perform much better. One has to be patient.

One assumes with no seniors around, Mathews may actually captain better...
Yes, Angelo could. He'll be his own man, which is important. As important, he can build the team the way he wants. In fact, I met Angelo at a function just before the India series and I told him exactly what I'm telling you.

But everything can't be left to the captain only...
The players need to take responsibility, definitely. You have to prove that you're worthy of playing for your country.

Frankly, I can't recall a more weaker Lanka team than this one. Do you agree?
I wouldn't disagree. We've landed in this position because Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) and the selectors didn't have a policy to groom the ones shortlisted to replace Mahela Jayawardene and (Kumar Sangakkara) Sanga. In such situations, the team will struggle.

Going forward, what should Lanka do?
Most important, not make too many changes. Then, in Test cricket, there has to be continuity in the batting order. Lahiru Thirimannne at No.3, Dinesh Chandimal at No.4, Angelo at No.5 and Kusal Perera at No.6. After that, you either have five specialist bowlers or one all-rounder and four full-time bowlers.

What about the openers?
I have no issues with Kaushal Silva being one of them. The best man, after him, should be slotted as his partner... Stop experimenting, otherwise the players' confidence will suffer. If the team is short on experience, then you need to give the players time to grow in confidence. To an extent, early on, you need to 'protect' them. That is the reality.

You certainly have a fairly effective pace attack...
Dhammika Prasad and Nuwan Pradeep are really good. I can't understand why Dhammika doesn't play more ODIs. Those good in Test cricket can adapt to the other formats, the two shorter ones. It doesn't work the other way.

Are you encouraged by the talent coming through in Lanka?
Absolutely. Talent isn't an issue.

For all his contribution to Lanka, some feel that Sangakkara should either have played the full series against India or not played even the first two Tests. Where do you stand?
No matter how big you are, the country must always come first. I'm not blaming Sanga, but SLC. The administrators should have persuaded him to play all three Tests or they ought to have had the courage to omit him. The same thing had happened in the Test series which preceded the one against India - versus Pakistan. Both times, he should have played the full series, or not at all. Sanga's contribution has been immense, but a line had to be drawn somewhere. I felt very disappointed.

Surely, it would have been difficult for SLC to drop Sangakkara...
One of our problems has been the presence and encouragement of what I'd term 'star culture'. The administrators don't want to take hard decisions... They get involved in issues they have no business getting involved with. Remember, stars will come and go. The one constant is the country's reputation and, of course, the game itself. In our time, there was no star culture. And, it's not that there weren't big players when I wore the national cap. The right signal must be sent.

What do you mean?
After going back to Surrey without playing the full series against Pakistan, Sanga was seen at Wimbledon. That photograph got flashed everywhere. What would the younger players think? There can't be any compromise with attitude. My take is that SLC loves to be popular, which should not be its priority. Administrators should administer in the best way possible, not look to become popular. If that's the motive, cricket is bound to suffer... In this country, you need strong characters to run cricket.

Apparently, politicians also get into the picture. Is that correct?
Well, the last President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, used some players to promote his candidature in the elections for the top post. Endorsing the President at that point in time helped advance the career of at least one player. It's disgusting.

[Ranatunga probably had Jeevan Mendis in mind. Mendis made the World Cup 15, even though he didn't have the strongest of credentials.]

Moving away from Lanka... What are your impressions of Virat Kohli as captain?
Kohli's tactics were good, but he must cut down on over-aggression. Aggression is required, but it should not be in excess. Too much of anything is bad. But, yes, Kohli's positive. That's a quality which captains require.

Generally, your thoughts on the Indian team...
It was a bit unusual for me... No Sachin Tendulkar, No Rahul Dravid, no V.V.S. Laxman... Well, even this team needs to be given some time to really find its feet... Technically, the batsmen impressed me. Obviously, they know the demands of Test cricket and aren't focused only on the shorter formats.

Did any one India player catch your imagination?
Cheteshwar Pujara's 145 not out in the first innings of the last Test was superb. He showed how top-quality batsmen can take advantage of opportunities. What's most impressive is that Pujara isn't an opener.

Ishant Sharma and Chandimal have each been banned for one Test... In particular, what did you make of Ishant's conduct at the SSC?
I was disappointed. Millions watch the telecast and the audience includes youngsters. They must not get the wrong impression. I'm not for sledging, let one's cricket do the talking.

The final one... But you sledged...
(Laughs) Only when somebody sledged me. I've never been one to be cowed down.

- Lokendra Pratap Sahi