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Greatest Captain - Arjuna Ranatunga

Greatest Captains

Arjuna Ranatunga

-: Writer :-

Vipul Yadav


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Arjuna Ranatunga, (now a politician) a rather stockily and un-athletic sporting figure in world of cricket, is the symbol and architect of modern day Sri Lanka cricket. Arjuna is the catalyst to this island playing cricket nation who turned minnows in to world beaters that changed the typical colonial rule “cricket is only for privileged”. His arrival on cricket scene turned cricket from largely attracting urban masses to winning hearts in rural areas of Sri Lanka. He is by far the greatest Sri Lankan cricketer, who always happened to be eye of storm by defending his players at any cost, a distinctive quality of a leader.

Early life & Cricket Start

Arjuna Ranatunga was born on 1st December 1963 in a politician family and is second sibling in a family of six boys. Father, Reggie Ranatunga was active politician but due to the turmoil in the country and after General Elections, the political enemies threw “The Ranatungas” family on the street. The life became miserable for them, to provide quality life and education the parents had to fight against all odds. Arjuna’s earlier education was at Bandarnaike Vidyalaya, Gampha. But once again political rivalry wrecked havoc in their life, rivals burnt down the house and The Ranatungas had to flee to save their lives. The little Arjuna, unknown from all these, went in to the burnt house and reclaimed his bat- his passion.

Arjuna and his brothers started attending one of the premier institutes in Colombo, Ananda College. He started playing for Under 12 and Under 15 team representing the institute. As a captain of the under-15 team he created history, Arjuna scored 315 not out and took all 10 wickets in an innings in the match against St. Mary’s College, Negombo - a feat which was registered in the Guinness Book of World Records. He represented Ananda College from 1979 to 1982 (as captain in his last year). His achievements were recognized when he started playing for Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC), a leading club in Sri Lanka. But again a point to note here that 15 year old Arjuna was dismissed as a “Sarong Johnnie” by an elderly club member. In 1980 Arjuna played against Under 19 team from India, captained by Ravi Shastri, where he scored a century. He found praise from all the members from Indian side. Arjuna made his first class Test debut in 1982 against England at Kandy for the Board President’s XI. The turning point of Ranatunga’s career was that his potential was spotted at the right time by none other than the great Sir Garfield Sobers. It was the time when the selectors were undecided as who should be selected as a middle order batsman, who could also bowl. Finally selectors decided to give him a chance to prove his potential.

‘Arjuna’ of Sri Lanka Cricket

Arjuna, a specialist left-handed batsman and part time pace bowler, made his international Test debut at the age of 18 in an inaugural match against England at Colombo in February 1982. England’s bowlers were at the top when he walked into bat, Sri Lanka were reduced to 34/4, he fought back with his first fluidic fifty scoring 54 and entered in to the record book to score first fifty as a Sri Lankan. Though still a schoolboy he bravely batted and got wide spread publicity terming him as a next super star of cricket. Even though after this brilliant display, Arjuna failed to make any impact during the tours of Pakistan and India; and later being dropped from the tour of New Zealand in 1983. But destiny had other ideas; as majority of the seniors were unavailable due to injury problems he was selected once again to play against Australia in home series. He grabbed this chance and showed his class both with bat and ball to prove everybody wrong. Sri Lanka won ODI 2-0 but lost one off Test to Australia. Ranatunga was the key factor and praised from all quarters for the Sri Lanka’s stupendous victories. Successive tour of England and India in 1984-1985 saw Arjuna scoring his maiden Test hundred against India at SSC ground, the second test where Sri Lanka recorded first Test victory for the Island Nation. His batting heroics continued against Pakistan. In one day internationals Arjuna was always a step ahead while evaluating situations on the field. He made his ODI debut on February 14, 1982 against England at SSC ground. Ranatunga was a part-time bowler, who occasionally unleashed his armoury of medium-pace. For instance, in a One-Day International (ODI) against India at Kanpur in 1986, the hosts were chasing only 196 to win. Ranatunga produced astonishing figures of 6-1-14-4 and bundled India out for 78.

As his career progressed in ODIs his tactics and implementation of ideas saw a sea of change in the world of cricket, he changed the view of playing cricket forever- how to approach game and executes the plans. In a 1992 world cup he anchored Sri Lankan team to surpass target of 313 runs with three balls to spare by scoring 88 runs against Kenya, making history to chase down such score for the very first time in cricket history, all due to his analytical and presence of mind in the game, which churned out how to achieve 14-15 runs in an over!

A Strategical Captain

Arjuna took charge of captaincy of Sri Lankan national team in 1988 and was at helm for next 11 years. The first assignment was Asia Cup where his team beat all India, Pakistan & Bangladesh in group stages but failed to get past the final hurdle eventually losing to India. During this decade he transformed a weak and often defeated team into a competitive and successful unit. As a captain he studied the weakness and strengths of the opposite team and worked his ideas around to get best from his boys on the ground. He was indeed an innovative captain, who brought in “attack the ball in first 15 overs (power play) of the innings & score maximum runs” that defined new rules in the game of cricket; the tactic led Sri Lanka to lift the most coveted trophy. He is widely recognized as valiant leader; famous for defending his players at any costs regardless of what they did, like a true statesman.

1996 World Cup with “Shane who” moment

Arjuna knew his team well from his long tenure of captaincy. He was dead sure in his mind that if India and Pakistan can win World Cup then why not Sri Lanka. He applied his newest invention (attack is the best form of defence) by instructing team openers Sanath Jayasuriya and R Kaluwitharana to score maximum runs in first 15 overs (power play), a ploy that worked throughout tournament. Win against India in the semi final at Kolkata was enough to get ripples across Australian dressing room whom they were meeting at Lahore in Final. Arjuna saw Australians as an easy target. He saw how false they could be: loud, lippy banter masking their own fears, often turning into personal abuse when the pressure mounted. He believed the more they resorted to mental disintegration the more they exposed themselves, diverting their attention from their obvious skill and from the job at hand. On the eve of the World Cup final he answered one of the question asked by waiting media; replying “Shane who? He is just an average bowler”. It caused a violent reaction, more so because over the years he had nasty banters with the Aussies and this was the ultimate insult. While Warne tightened with fury, Aravinda de Silva - Arjuna's right-hand man and master batsman - loosened up. Two way attack, both for different purposes, both pushed to achieve one result. Arjuna thrashed the daylights out of Shane Warne. Warne’s one over looked similar to a telephone number in the scorebook (2, 6, 4, 4, 2, 1). The Lahore scoreboard moved like a taxi metre on that night. He scored winning runs on the day and grabbed the stump. That stake stood for a nation, had cracked the code to win a world title. Ranatunga's name was etched in history forever. They managed to change the course of cricket, and in style, for the island nation and for the world itself.


Arjuna Ranatunga played his last Test match in home series and yet again was a milestone for the Sri Lanka cricket at it was 100 Test for the Island and he became the first person to be part of 1st Test and 100th Test of Sri Lanka. After the world cup of 1996 poor showing in successive tours and a dismal world cup 1999 campaign; he was made to resign from the post of captain but continued his place in the team until retired in 2001. Just to mention here that despite his difficult run in later part of the career, due to his remarkable contribution to the game of cricket throughout, earned the place in the list of Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1999.

Career at a glance

Test Debut : Sri Lanka Vs England 17th February 1982 P Sara Oval

Last Test : Sri Lanka Vs South Africa 6 August 2000, Sinhalese Sports Club

ODI Debut : Sri Lanka Vs England 14th February 1982, Sinhalese Sports Club

Last ODI : Sri Lanka Vs Kenya 30th May 1999, County Ground.

Arjuna, played in 93 Test matches, and in 155 innings, scored 5105 runs and remained unbeaten on 12 occasions. His highest score was 135 not out at an average of 35.69

He played in 269 One Day Internationals. In 255 innings, he collected 7458 runs and remained unbeaten on 47 occasions. His highest score was 131 not out. His average was 35.84, maintained strike rate of 71.93

Controversies & Standing for team:

Arjuna Ranatunga was never far away from controversies, right from the beginning of his first class career till date. He was always the man who would go out any length to protect his team mates as a captain and take stand for his nation.

He always had love hate relationship with The Australians. One such famous incident, Ranatunga took his team off the playing field in protest against umpire Ross Emerson no-balling Muthiah Muralidharan on account of chucking during a Carlton and United ODI against England in Adelaide.

On a fitness level he was never an athlete. This point also became a part of controversy when he called a runner in one of the game against Australia, claiming that he had “sprained something” due to humid conditions which Ian Healy –Australian Captain- responded with an insulting sledge which was picked up by the stump microphone being broadcasted live. As a result in the second final ODI of that series Arjuna told his players not to shake hands with Australian team!

Again in 1993/94 when selectors sacked Aravinda de Silva, Arjuna resigned from the team in support of Aravinda.

The Ranatunga and Warne stories are always the case when two teams played against each other; like world cup final 1999 where Ranatunga called Warne an average bowler and Shane responded with saying he is a disgrace in a publication. The Sri Lankan took a pot shot referring to his country’s cultural heritage and then mocking Australia over convict settlement. In 2005, Warne mocked Ranatunga's rotund figure, which had become more ample since his retirement, suggesting that he had swallowed a sheep. But ever since after Tsunami of 2004 Warne got close to Muralidharan and Ranatuga in doing Aid Works and the rivalry receded with time gone by.

Political and Social Presence

As politics runs in Arjuna Ranatunga’s blood nobody is surprised him being in politics after retirement. He became an influencing figure in Sri Lankan Cricket administration. Joined People’s Alliance and won the election. He served as Member of Parliament of Sri Lanka and held post of minister of tourism and later served President of Sri Lanka till December 2008. He then joined Democratic National Alliance in 2010 and currently holding portfolio of minister of ports & shipping. Arjuna Ranatunga is known to be vocal and blunt to raise issues in uncanny manners, be in politics or on cricket, such that he had quite love hate relationship with other members of the party and cricket administrators. If the newswires are to be believed, he had made himself available to contest polls in the Sri Lanka Cricket Board Association by taking pledge to remove the rotten system of corruption that had in place ever since they won world cup of 1996.

To wrap up, Arjuna Ranatunga was captain cool of Sri Lankan Cricket, who broke the elite club and opened doors of cricket to masses of rural areas of Island. He like a true statesman always put his country first, defend his mates and never worried about his image being in jeopardy. As an astute thinker always identified the strength and weakness of the rival in the game and worked around the situations to get his job done. Whole world followed whatever he brought on the table to the game of cricket. He always stood up to the big boys, bullies and bulldozed them back in his own inspiring style. Arjuna, a role model, with a clear mindset provided vision to the war torn nation to break the mould and move forward without giving away values what the Sri Lanka stand for.

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