Arjuna Ranatunga, in The Island, 7 March 2021, where the title runs thus: “Our fans were our biggest strength,” ….. with the highlights being the intervention of The Editor, Thuppahi
During one of my visits to South Africa, I came across an interesting saying — ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.’
This sentence is so true. As we celebrate the Silver Jubilee of us winning the World Cup, we owe the success to our wonderful team spirit. I treat each of the other 13 members of the World Cup-winning squad not as teammates, but as brothers. They mean so much to me. And I know they will do anything for me. This was the secret of our success.
I experienced the value of team spirit during the semi-final against India in Kolkata. It was hard for the 110,000 Indian fans to witness their team crashing out of the World Cup. As stones and bottles were hurled on to the ground, Upul Chandana, on as substitute for Roshan Mahanama, came up to me and asked for Aravinda to be relieved from boundary duties. Ara was fielding in the deep and Upul warned me that if a stone hit Ara and hurt him, he would be in doubt for the final. Instead, Upul said, he’d field in the deep. That was a very touching moment. This was more than a team.
During that campaign, there were occasions when I wanted to change the team. But some young players would come for a chat and tell me not to change the winning combination. That camaraderie will be very hard to find in any other sporting environment.
Our biggest strength was our fans. During good times and tough times, they were there with us. I remember when I ran into problems with the cricket board, how well the fans supported me. The same goes for other players. Whenever they were going through a rough patch, the fans were well behind them, giving all the support. That’s why it hurts me to see the national team playing behind closed doors in these unprecedented times.
I know when we play big tournaments; our fans conduct ‘bodi pujas’. Others go to churches, kovils and mosques to invoke blessings for us. This goodwill from our supporters and their best wishes help us immensely always.
Never have I doubted the skill levels of our players. Our talent has been on par with the rest of the world, if not better than other countries. Personally, I was someone who was always tough mentally. But I could see that the rest of my team-mates toughened up during our tour of Australia just prior to the World Cup.
I remember the day before the World Cup final. An Indian journalist came up to me and said I must transfer pressure back on the Australian players. He wanted me to say something uncomplimentary about the opposition so that would distract them. I saw the point. I knew the Aussies were good at sledging but when you say something back, they don’t like it. They tend to react aggressively and at times lose it.
So, before the final, Ravi Shastri interviewed me. He asked me about the Waugh twins. I told him they were overrated. Then he asked me about Shane Warne. I said Warne was a media myth. Now, these are all very fine cricketers. But that was my way of getting under their skin. It worked. Ian Chappell told me that when he went to interview Warne after Ravi had done mine, Warne had asked him, ‘What did that fat b****** have to tell about me now?’ Mission accomplished.
I also know that one of the things that really irritated the Aussies was when I walked those singles. So, I made sure I walked as much as possible. Sometimes, they would try to run me out and there would be overthrows. Then, I would sprint hard for those extra runs just to rub salt into their wounds.
It is very important in sport to pay attention to minute details. The day before the final, Duleep (Mendis, the manager) and I visited the ground at night without telling anyone. We were surprised to see the amount of dew that night. We knew dew was going to be a factor the following evening.
At the team meeting the next morning, we decided to bowl first if we won the toss. Not everyone agreed, but we explained our reasons for wanting to do so.
As I walked out for the toss on match day, I ran into Imran Khan. Now, Imran is from Lahore, and knows this venue as well as anyone. He asked me what I intended to do if I won the toss, and I said I had decided to bowl. He told me not to be silly, urging me to set a target as this was a fine batting track. Aravinda overheard the conversation and tried to persuade me to bat first. I was in a dilemma. Imran was not only from Lahore but he was also the last captain to win a World Cup. I also have immense respect for the man. So, I consulted Duleep.
Duleep is someone who respected Imran as well, so he would have had his second thoughts. But we came back to that one point – the dew in the night, which was very unusual at that time of the year. So, we decided to stick to our original decision as we knew our bowlers would struggle in the night with a wet ball. Not often would I have disagreed with Imran. But sometimes, as a leader, you have got to back your instincts although that’s not the most popular choice.
I would be failing in my duties if I don’t recall the role played by the late Gamini Dissanayake in our success. He was a visionary and much ahead of his time. I remember going to meet him just before a tour of Zimbabwe, and he reminded me to get the combination right as the World Cup was around the corner. That, unfortunately, was our last meeting as he was killed shortly after that. It’s so sad he didn’t live to see us win the World Cup.
His death was a massive blow for the game of cricket, but an even bigger setback for the whole nation. He was an astute statesman who loved his country immensely.
There are others I would like to remember like Neil Perera, Nisal Senaratne, Abu Fuard, Major General Heyn, WAN Silva, Ranjit Fernando, Anuruddha Pollonovita and T.B. Khelgamuwa — all honourable men who did much for our cricket in the early days when there was no money. More recently, we have had far-sighted administrators like Ana Punchihewa and Upali Dharmadasa.
I was lucky to be the captain when we won the World Cup and enjoyed success, but this fortress of our cricket was built by men like Mahadevan Sathasivam, C.H. Gunasekara, Michael Tissera, Anura Tennekoon and Bandula Warnapura, to name a few. Thanks to them, we enjoyed this success.
I appreciate the efforts of my parents in giving me the right values in life. I thank the contributions of my coach sir Lionel Mendis. I am always indebted to my school Ananda College and all the teachers of this great institution. I thank the parents of rest of my team mates, their coaches, teachers and their schools for giving them the right values in life.
I would like to also remember with gratitude the role played by our coach Dav Whatmore, our physio Alex Kountouris and Duleep.
Do bear with me if I have inadvertently missed out any names.