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February 20, 1999


The Rediff Interview/ Asanka Gurusinghe

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'Ranatunga was lucky to get away with it!'

He has been part of Sri Lanka's World Cup campaign for three editions.

More importantly, though master blaster Sanath Jayasuriya and Mad Max turned Mister Reliable Aravinda D'Silva stole the limelight during the successful 1996 campaign, the rock-solid presence of Asanka Gurusinghe in the number three slot helped the free-flowing strokemakers flourish, and provided the key to the Lankans' winning gameplan.

Gurusinghe joins Rediff's World Cup coverage and will be writing a series of articles for us.

Retired from international cricket and now settled in Melbourne, Australia, Gurusinghe discusses with Prem Panicker aspects of Sri Lanka's recent inconsistent run, and other cricketing issues. Excerpts:

What's with Muralitharan and the Australian umpires anyway? He is never called elsewhere -- in fact, Lancashire recently signed him up and said they were prepared to buck the ICC and even the English board, come to that. But he can't seem to set foot inside Australia without being called. Since you were part of the team that toured Down Under in 1996 and have been in at the genesis, could you share your recollections of that time -- of Muralitharan's first no-balling?

Its become a joke, every time Murali comes to Australia he is under pressure because the Australian umpires and the media keep hounding him about his action. I believe he's been targeted because he is our main bowler, therefore putting him under pressure even before the tour beginsis the Australian way of winning half the battle. Murali was first called on December 26th at the MCG, I was fielding in the covers at the time. Before the game there was a lot of talk that Murali was going to be called, but reliable sources cleared the air saying it was just talk and nothing else. However, much to our astonishment, Darrell Hair did call him and at that point I sensed that this was going to be a long drawn out battle. Naturally, Murali was devastated and the whole team rallied around him. Since then Murali has played around the world in many tournaments without even a mention of this issue, but he returns to Australia after three years and it starts again. I am reliably informed that the Sri Lankan board has decided that it would be in Murali's best interest to not to play for Lancashire this season.

Your views on Murali's being called this time, after being officially cleared by the ICC? And leading from that, what do you think the ICC needs to do, to put an end to such incidents?

There were very strong indications, even before the Sri Lankan team set foot in Australia this time, that Murali's issue was going to the highlight of the season, rather than the cricket. All eyes were focussed on the Adelaide game, as Ross Emerson was umpiring there. It should never have been allowed to happen again -- if one umpire can call Murali even after he has been cleared by the ICC, then the ICC's book of rules needs a review. A brilliant bowler's career is in question here, and he should be allowed to do his job in peace, the cricket-loving public should not be deprived of his genius for reasons other than cricketing ones.

Ranatunga took the controversy to a whole new level with his taking on of the umpire on the field of play. Your views about the Lankan skipper's on-field actions, please? To what extent are they justified?

I can relate to how angry and frustrated Ranatunga would have felt when Murali was called. However, there is code of conduct that needs to be adhered to. Especially as captain of the team, he needs to lead by example. Ranatunga was lucky to have got away with it this time, we all know that the game is bigger than the individual.

After winning the 1996 World Cup, Sri Lanka went through a phase when it seemed they just couldn't lose. Suddenly, the side is looking a lot more human again. Where do you think the problem lies? Is this a temporary phase, or the symptoms of some bigger malaise?

During the build up to the 1996 World Cup, we worked on our cricket fundamentals. All that we needed was a boost to our confidence, so that the chaps could believe in themselves and their individual talents, and also what they could achieve as a team. But after we won the Cup, we had to work twice as hard to maintain that momentum. With the departure of Dav (Whatmore) many things have changed within the team, and that has led to their poor performance.

From the outside, one problem we tend to notice is that Lanka is an ageing side, with its leading players Aravinda, Ranatunga, Jayasuriya, Mahanama et al having been around a long time and reaching their use-by date. Do you see young talent coming up in sufficient numbers to replace the ageing veterans? Is there a problem ahead for Lankan cricket?

We are definitely faced with a big problem. A similar fate to what occured in the West Indies camp when players like Holding, Marshall, Roberts, Lloyd, Richards, Dujon etc all left around the same time, is going to be repeated in the Sri Lankan team with most of the senior players reaching retirement age. Although we do have many extremely talented players in our second string, they have had very litte exposure at the international level. The Australians have worked out a comprehensive plan to avoid such situations, blooding young players at every opportunity, and Sri Lanka should should take a leaf out of that book and get cracking before its too late.

Sri Lanka, in the build up to the 1996 World Cup, had launched an initiative aimed at becoming the best Test-playing nation by the year 2000. As the millenium draws to a close, how far, or near, is the country to achieving that aim, and where do you see the roadblocks?

This goal was set for Sri Lanka cricket without any consultation with the team. If it had been discussed with the team prior to the announcement, the goal would have been a lot more realistic. We have a lot of work to do before we reach this target. For Sri Lanka to be the world's best Test-playing nation, the team has to win consistently at home and overseas. And to achieve that, we need to revamp the side considerably, especially the bowling.

Sanath Jayasuriya, most valuable player of the 1996 World Cup, appears to be facing a crisis of confidence. In fact, ahead of the Australian tour, he had said in an interview that he was working on changes to his technique -- however, he was not particularly successful Down Under. What is going wrong with the Lankan master blaster? Is it a case of quick bowlers sorting him out by coming round the wicket and angling in to him, cramping him for room, or are there problems we do not know about?

I don't see any problem with Sanath. After being tortured by him over the years, most teams have analysed him and worked out a plan for him. However, I think Sanath is too good to be kept down for too long, he's bound to sort himself out soon and come up with the right answers.

In the aftermath of the World Cup win, I recall press briefings where much of the credit was given to the then coach, Dav Whatmore. Subsequently, Lanka sacked first Whatmore, then his successor Bruce Yardley. Noticeably, the results the team has achieved hasn't been quite as good since. Are the two co-related, or merely coincidental?

There is no doubt in my mind that Dav Whatmore played a major part in our victory in the World Cup. I believe that he hardly got the praise he deserved for what he achieved, as there were certain parties that were influential enough in Sri Lankan cricket circles to have the praise heaped on themselves rather than Dav. Dav's very abrupt departure from Sri Lanka was also a result of this. The next victim was Bruce Yardley. He quickly became unpopular because he called it as he saw it, and that too didn't sit too well with certian individuals. I believe that a highly disciplined foreign coach, who is not afraid to call the shots as he sees fit, will be most beneficial to Sri Lankan cricket at this point.

Your own retirement came as something of a bolt from the blue -- why did you choose to quit the game when you did, and could you fill us in on what you have been doing since then? Are you still connected with cricket in any way?

To me, the buzz I felt when I represented my country was the real reward, more than anything else. There came a time when I was not enjoying it anymore. I was well aware that there were at least a couple more years of cricket left in me, but the rush was gone and certain incidents that took place just before I announced my retirement made me believe that quitting was the right decision. At present I'm playing cricket at the district level here in Australia, as captain/coach of Prahran Cricket Club in Melbourne -- and enjoying my life, with my family.

Ed: Watch out for Gurusinghe's inaugural column, next week

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