Johannesburg: Arjuna Ranatunga had mixed emotions at The Wanderers Monday. On the one hand, he was pained by Sri Lanka’s performance, on the other, he couldn’t but appreciate India’s 24-carat display.
“The difference between this Indian side and the earlier ones is attitude... Clearly, we were outplayed in all departments... We just weren’t good enough. Also, it didn’t help that Sanath (Jayasuriya) put India in on an excellent batting surface,” Ranatunga told The Telegraph at the Crowne Plaza.
Speaking a few hours after Lanka’s massive 183-run defeat, he added: “The Indians have peaked at the right time and the presence of match-winning bowlers, in the pace department, has brought about a huge change... Earlier, you only had a Kapil Dev. Now, all three (Jawagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra) can win you games.”
Ranatunga, a Member of Parliament who is doing TV duty in the World Cup, felt the Indians have it in them to repeat 1983. “Of course, much depends on how teams play on the day in question, but this Indian side looks good. A distinctly positive attitude is making a difference.”
According to Ranatunga, Sachin Tendulkar’s form (a record 571 runs) has contributed immensely, besides the nature of the wickets. “We expected much pace and bounce but, instead, the wickets have generally been like the sub-continent...”
Asked whether he still maintained Sachin ought not to open, Ranatunga answered: “If he is comfortable, then it’s immaterial what others think. Had the wickets been bouncy and quick, I would have iterated that he shouldn’t open... In those conditions, it would have been foolish sacrificing the No.1 batsman.”
Ranatunga smiled when reminded that Sourav Ganguly and John Wright were following his (and Dav Whatmore’s) strategy of packing the XI with seven batsmen. Lanka’s 1996 World Cup-winning team, it may be recalled, also had seven (including the ’keeper).
“The emergence of match-winning bowlers notwithstanding, the Indians’ strength is batting. And, so, they should continue with seven batters and not be influenced by conditions into trying something else,” Ranatunga remarked.
Incidentally, Ranatunga had praise for Sourav’s captaincy. “I’ve always had the highest regard for (Mohammed) Azharuddin as captain, but Sourav has matured and is leading very well. Obviously, he backs his players and they, in turn, are giving their best.”
He added: “In any case, as issues keep cropping up — given the diversity in India — it may not be easy for a captain to keep the side together. Sourav, though, has been successful...”
Talking about Srinath, who has been at his best for the past couple of months, Ranatunga said: “If he is thinking of quitting, then he must be allowed to take a decision on his own... Actually, it’s never easy and it’s best that the individual alone decides what is good for him.”
Ranatunga, however, declined to offer any “advice” to Jayasuriya’s men. “I avoid doing that... If there’s a crisis, then you will find me backing the team, otherwise I keep my counsel to myself... All isn’t lost and, so, the side should quickly get its act right.”
Asked whether he would contest the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka presidentship, Ranatunga replied in the affirmative. “I don’t know when the elections will be called, but I’m determined to fight.”
Having been a winner for much of his life, it’s reasonable to assume Ranatunga won’t finish a loser.