A gentleman-cricketer par excellence

Written by: S K Sham
Published: Monday, August 7, 2000, 0:00 [IST]
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If Sri Lankan cricket already has a purple patch to cherish, in its all-too-brief a history, it has been provided by the country's most remarkable, though not necessarily the most outstanding, of performers, Arjuna Ranatunga.

As the roly-poly figure of the man who bore the greater brunt of Sri Lankan cricket than any other player, slowly treaded his way back to the pavilion, he most surely must have wished that fate had been kinder to his team, than to take the second Test away from their grasp.

He had played another of his typically stoic, but heroic knocks. That sterling contribution had assured a win in the Kandy Test, as also the series for Sri Lanka over South Africa. But an unimaginable collapse followed to leave the series open.

Arjuna Ranatunga lives to fight another day, but not for long. The third and final Test will mark his farewell appearance in international cricket. Sri Lanka must win if they are to pay a fitting tribute to one who has made them a force to reckon with in international cricket.

Baby-faced Arjuna's debut, at the age of 17, had coincided with that of his country's baptism in Test cricket. In a unique marriage of destinies, Sri Lanka's rise and fall, as a cricketing nation, went along with that of their longest-serving captain, a natural left-hander and a born leader.

Sri Lanka had for long far better credentials than what Bangladesh have today, and yet their recognition as a Test playing nation was held back for years. In less than just two decades, the Islanders are capable of given the very best a good run for their money.

There is no team they haven't beaten in Tests and one-dayers. Truly can it be said that, in limited-overs cricket, they have taken the place that the West Indies once enjoyed, both in character and achievement.

Their triumph in the 1996 World Cup was their greatest achievement and earned for Ranatunga the highest respect of the cricket world as a highly successful captain.

For a player so highly gifted, Arjuna Ranatunga has carried far too many contradictions within himself. His childish looks and soft-spoken disposition has given many the impression that he is too meek to face the big challenges. As it so turned out to be, it was one of the biggest misconceptions in international cricket for anyone to think that Ranatunga was a weakling.

He is made of much sterner stuff than his gentle looks suggest. His steely character came to the fore during the tour of Australia a few years ago. The Sri Lankan team was harassed no end by the officials and the media on that disastrous tour.

A couple of umpires' bias was quite clearly seen when Muttiah Murlitharan was called for chucking more than once. Ranatunga kept a highly demoralised team together and showed the Australians that he would no longer tolerate the nonsense of a deliberate bias.

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