Former Sri Lankan Cricket captain Arjuna Ranatunge lashed out at President Mahinda Rajapakse accusing him of interfering in Sri Lanka’s cricket. The cricketer turned politician told Lanka Independent, it was petty politics that has ruined the game of cricket in the country and this year dashed the nation’s hope of winning the world cup for the second time.
Arjuna Ranatunga led Sri Lanka’s cricket team to victory over Australia in the 1996 Wills World Cup finals in a nail biting finish. Popularly known as Captain Cool, Ranatunge changed the face of Sri Lankan cricket and his tenure as captain was arguably one of the most exciting in recent times for the sport.
Amidst allegations of match fixing after Sri Lanka lost the 2011 World Cup final to India, Ranatunge accused President Mahinda Rajapakse for interfering in Sri Lanka Cricket and said it was a marked difference form political leaders like J.R. Jayewardene, R. Premadasa, Chandrika Kumaranatunge and Ranil Wickremasinghe who refrained from using their powers to obstruct the game.
“Hats off to these leaders for not using their powers to interfere with the Sri Lanka Cricket Board’s (Now Sri Lanka Cricket) work and we were given a free hand to carry out our duty. That’s why we were able to bring glory to the country,” Ranatunga said.
Ranatunga also accused the selectors of sending a weak team to India for the World Cup finals in April.
“This was the weakest ever team sent since 1975. What was the reason to make four changes in the finals? This was never expected. Although the selectors could select the team, the captain should have the authority to pick the best team to play, which is not happening now. Politics has got into Sri Lanka Cricket and every single decision is now being taken by President Rajapaksa,” Ranatunga said.
Judging from the level of interference, Ranatunge opined it was perhaps time for President Mahinda Rajapakse to also hold the posts of Sports Minister, Chairman Sri Lanka Cricket and to head the Selection Committee as those who in fact hold these posts have become mere puppets.
“There is no necessity to have a Sports Minister, a Board President, a chairman or selection committee if President Rajapakse is getting involved in all Sri Lanka Cricket administrative work. The worst is the players too now run to President Rajapakse for assistance whenever there is an issue in cricket. That is why I am saying that once politics enters the game it cannot be played as it should be played. When I was playing for the country this never happened. Whoever captained the team had the authority to take decisions, which were taken for the betterment of the game and the country you were representing. Every thing has now changed and Sri Lanka Cricket has become yet another government institution which has become politicized,” Ranatunga, said.
This was the reason why nobody at Sri Lanka Cricket, on the Selection Committee or in the team took any responsibility for the 2011 World Cup loss. He pointed out that in 1999 he was brave enough to take the blame for the team’s World Cup failure.
“There was no political interference at that time. I was bold enough to take the blame for the loss. However with all the present pressure, I am very happy to note that the former cricket coach an Australian – Trevor Bayliss had the guts to say that Sri Lanka Cricket is plagued by politics. If he made these comments earlier, either he would have had to pack is bags and leave the country or a white van would have done the ‘job’,” added Ranatunga.
Analysing the recent World Cup loss Ranatunga, said one of the reasons was that the players were more concerned about their personal achievements rather than their country.
“Knowing that the middle order had failed miserably over and over again Mahela Jayewardene was still sent to bat at number four instead of sending a junior player. Had they sent at least two junior players ahead of Jayewardene we could have amassed a much better score. In 1996 I wanted to change the batting order and requested Kaluwitharana to open batting. I also requested Roshan Mahanama to bat at number seven instead of his permanent place. I am glad that my plans worked well and I got the full support of the 13 players. None of them were concerned about their personal achievements but as a team worked to bring the world cup home,”
Ranatunga also blamed politicians for embroiling current national sportsmen and women in politics and using them in political advertisements.
“This never happened earlier. I was thoroughly disturbed to see our national players and artists taking part in government political
advertisements. Some may have taken part in these advertisements for fear of losing their places in the respective national teams but the respect the people had for them may have surely diminished. None of our former leaders wanted the national players to get involved in such political advertisements. For example Chandrika Kumaranatunge could have used me for her political advertisements had she wanted to as the Bandaranaike and Ranatunge families were very close. But she never brought such a proposal. That was how our former leaders maintained their dignity,” Ranatunga said.
Speaking about the unnecessary expenditure to build an international cricket stadium in Hambantota, Ranatunga said that when President Rajapakse came up with the proposal it was only he (Ranatunga) that objected to the decision.
“When Rajapakse came up with the proposal I vehemently disagreed with the idea. I said it would be a white elephant and would not be useful for local cricket because the local schools do not play cricket. However Sri Lanka Cricket officials were highly impressed by the President’s proposals and they wanted to please him and gain brownie points. However we had plans to build the Pallekelle Stadium on a latter date but not immediately,” said Ranatunga.
According to Ranatunga, the Cricket Board has spend more than US dollars 50 million to renovate R. Premadasa Stadium and to build Pallekelle and Hambantota stadiums.
“The ICC never told us to have three stadiums to play the eight games. All the games would have played at the Premadasa stadium. Even though Sri Lanka Cricket is running at a loss still they wanted to build the other two stadiums. Although we have spent 50 million US Dollars we have not even received 20 million US Dollars from ticket sales. It will take another few years for Sri Lanka Cricket to recover the money. When I was at Sri Lanka Cricket I never approved a cent for unnecessary things. I was keen to save money to protect the game and to take the game to the villages. If things continue in this manner Sri Lanka cricket will have to face the consequences that was faced by the West Indies,” Ranatunge warned.
The former Sri Lankan captain also accused the International Cricket Council (ICC) of going soft on the issues.
“Earlier the ICC did not allow the head of National Cricketing bodies have any connections with the bookie business. That’s why one of our former Presidents had to leave. But now the ICC is not strong enough. That’s why D.S. de Silva is allowed to continue as Chairman Sri Lanka Cricket. D.S. too is linked to a bookie family. His wife is connected to a bookie family – one Balasooriya in Kandy, Ranatunge alleged.
Speaking on the IPL games in India, Ranatunge said that it was in 2008 that the contract was signed for the IPL.
“When this was signed I asked the players to play for the IPL and to return half way through as we had organized a tour to UK . When the players were asked to come half way through the players went to the President and got the approval to play for all the IPL matches. As a result we could not tour UK. This time too, when Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage wanted the players to come half way through for practices before going to UK, Presidential offspring Namal Rajapaksa got involved went to India and came to a settlement. That was why Minister Aluthgamage allowed the players to play for the IPL and to go to UK straight from India. For those who did not take part in the IPL games, they will have to play in the UK without any practice matches.
For them the country comes second and money comes first,” alleged Ranatunga.
When Lanka Independent contacted former Vice Captain of the winning 1996 World Cup team Aravinda de Silva who was the chairman of the selection committee for the 2011 World Cup team, he declined to comment. When we asked him why as the former Chairman of the selection committee he made four changes for the final match, and that Arjuna Ranatunge has leveled allegations against the committee, Aravinda Silva said he could not speak as he had to attend a meeting at the Central Bank. We tried to contact him many times following the initial call but he did not answer his phone.
We attempted to get a response from Chairman of Sri Lanka Cricket D.S. De Silva. When we finally got through to him and posed the questions that were raised in the Ranatunge interview including why two new stadiums had to be built incurring millions of dollars he declined to comment.
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