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July 21, 2000


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The end of an era

Roshan Paul

We've come a long, long way together;
through the hard times and the good.
I have to celebrate you, baby;
I have to praise you like I should.

At the end of the Test series against South Africa, when the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka fete their longest-serving cricketer on his retirement, they could do worse than borrow that verse from Fatboy Slim's hit song, Praise You. For Sri Lankan cricket and Arjuna Ranatunga have indeed 'come a long, long way together.' They have been through the darkest of tunnels and scaled the peaks of cricketing achievement. Together.

Ranatunga What is left to say about Arjuna Ranatunga that hasn't already been said? Over a 17-year career, the portly left hander from Colombo has seen it all. And with the announcement of his forthcoming retirement, it seems he's finally seen enough. As an 18-year-old schoolboy, he scored his country's first half century in Test cricket and as the 35-year-old elder statesman of Sri Lankan cricket, he led his tiny nation to an unexpected (but thoroughly deserved) World Cup triumph.

Statistically, he is Sri Lanka's most capped player and most successful captain. He took over the reins from Ranjan Madugalle in 1989 and was very much the 'don' of Sri Lankan cricket until he was sacked after a disastrous 1999 World Cup campaign in which his team of defending champions failed to even qualify for the second round. Of his 91 Tests to date, he has captained his team in 56 of them; winning 12, losing 19 and drawing 25. However, it is in one-day cricket that he achieved his biggest triumphs; leading his country in 193 games, the most by any player. He is also the only player in the history of cricket to play in both the inaugural and centenary Test matches of his country.

In both forms of the game, he is second to Aravinda De Silva in terms of runs scored by a Sri Lankan. He has 4908 Test runs, at an average of 35.30, and 7456 one-day runs, at 35.83. Though he chose not to bowl much in his later years, he was a competent medium pacer in his time, with 16 wickets in Tests and 79 in one-day games.

But, like with all great players, statistics are only part of the tale. A 'Wisden Cricketer of the Year' in 1999, the southpaw has never been far from the limelight in a career filled with controversy. RanatungaHe has had his share of personal problems such as being sacked once for being overweight and losing not only his captaincy but also his spot in the one-day team after the '99 World Cup. But his legendary loyalty to his players has also put him in the spotlight, such as his defense of Muttiah Muralitharan, when the off-spinner was no-balled for chucking in Australia. An angry Ranatunga led his team off the field in protest.

Born on December 1, 1963 into a cricketing family (three of his brothers have also represented Sri Lanka in international cricket), Arjuna Ranatunga says in his retirement letter to the BCCSL, "Cricket has been an integral part of my life ever since I held a bat as a schoolboy. Amidst all trials and tribulations I enjoyed every minute of playing cricket as long as I could do so with honour and dignity."

As a player, he was most noted for his ability to use great placement on both sides of the wicket to keep the scoreboard moving. Since his girth prevented him from scampering quick singles, it was important that he found the gaps well. So good was he at doing so that it allowed him to stroll between the wickets instead of running. With quick singles being so essential in today's game, it was highly incongruous to watch the plump Ranatunga unhurriedly walking for his runs.

He was also known for his grit and determination, and evidence that he still possesses both came in the recent Test series against Pakistan. In the last Test of the series at Rawalpindi, a Waqar Younis delivery broke his right thumb. Despite that, he batted on and eventually guided his team to a thrilling two-wicket victory.

Notwithstanding his contributions as a player and though he has often been outshone by the flamboyance of De Silva and Sanath Jayasuriya and the genius of Muralitharan, he will always have a special place in the annals of Sri Lankan cricket for his role in the development of the game on the island and the nation's subsequent international success. Far more than a wonderful batsman, he was a great leader, a role model and an ambassador that his country can be very proud of.

If you were to write a book on Sri Lankan cricket, you would have to devote at least a whole chapter to Arjuna Ranatunga; so prominent has he been in Sri Lanka's short cricketing history. And with his retirement, it is not only the end of the chapter but also the end of an era.

Slide Show

Arjuna Ranatunga : Statistics
Type: Left hand middle-order batsman and right arm medium pace bowler
Team: Sinhalese Sports Club, Sri Lanka
First-class debut: 1981-82
Test debut: v England at Colombo (PSS), 1981-82
Last Test: v South Africa at Galle, 2000-01
Highest Test score: 135* v Pakistan at Colombo (PSS), 1985-86
Best Test bowling: 2-17 v New Zealand at Kandy, 1983-84
Test captaincy record: (1989-90 to 1998-99): P56, W12, L19, D25

Test career
M Inns No Runs Avg HS 100 50 Ct Balls Runs Wkts Avge Best 5w 10w
90 150 11 4908 35.31 135* 4 36 44 2361 2373 16 65.00 2-17 - -

Arjuna Ranatunga : LOI Statistics
LOI debut: v England at Colombo (SSC), 14-2-1982
Last LOI match: v Kenya at Southampton, 30-5-1999
Highest LOI score: 131* v India at Colombo (RP), 18-7-1997
Best LOI bowling: 4-14 v India at Kanpur, 24-12-1986
LOI captaincy record: (29-10-88 to 30-5-99): P193, W89, L95, T1, NR8

LOI career
M Inns No Runs Avg HS 100 50 Ct Balls Runs Wkts Avge Best 5w R/O
269 - 255 47 7456 35.85 131* 4 49 63 4710 3757 79 47.56 4-14 - 4.79

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