Former Sri Lankan cricket team captain and present minister of ports and shipping of the country, Arjuna Ranatunga, was the first speaker on day two of Goafest 2016. He was in conversation with Rajdeep Sardesai, consulting editor of TV Today Network.
The first question, of a session that ended in a standing ovation, was about the ICC World Cup win in 1996, at a time the country was faced with internal issues.
Ranatunga recalled the mindset with which he approached the tournament, and said, "I always wanted to pick 14 good cricketers who would give their life and dedication to the country. Other than Aravinda (de Silva) we didn't have any stars. The World Cup win didn't happen overnight. We planned to get into the semi finals, and that began a year and a half prior. I asked my players if they wanted to win. Two players laughed. I only picked committed players. I probably didn't pick the best players. We didn't care about the money. We gathered around de Silva. I always looked to keep him happy. He's tough to keep happy. I led the team like a school principal. I would order my players to get back to their rooms at 10 pm, (sic) even if they couldn't get sleep early."
Like many teams, the Sri Lankan cricket team of 1996 had players with different backgrounds and interests. Sardesai asked Ranatunga about how he kept the team together and what was his piece of advice for agencies that have people from different age groups and backgrounds.
Ranatunga responded by bringing up the sponsor of the session, Dainik Bhaskar's advertisement that was played before the chat (below).
"If you go through the advertisement, it touched my heart. If we have a target in mind, no one can get anyone to lose. We were stationed in Colombo, and I got these people from different backgrounds to eat, drink and sleep the World Cup. I had immense respect for Kapil Dev and Imran Khan. The Indian team win in 1983 and Pakistan's victory in 1992 was derived from leaders creating wins. I thought if India and Pakistan could win the World Cups, so could we. My target was to reach the semi final," he explained.
The next topic Sardesai brought up was on aggression on the part of leaders. He cited an incident involving Ranatunga and Shane Warne during the SriLanka-Australia final of the World Cup the former won.
Ranatunga had famously called Warne a mediocre bowler in the lead up to the 1996 final in Lahore. Then, during the match, Sardesai pointed out that Ranatunga hit the leg spinner for a six and then put his tongue out to mock him.
Ranatunga quipped, "I'm not sure if I put my tongue out actually. With my size I pant a lot."
He explained how the issue was created by two Indian journalists.
"Two journalists met me after the semi final win. They asked me to take a shot at the Australian team and wanted me to start a war. These two guys told me where they'll be sitting (in the audience, during the press conference) and told me to answer their questions. One of them asked me about Shane Warne. I said he was mediocre and not a match winner. He said 'Thank you'. Then the other asked me about the Waugh brothers. I said the same about them and said that there were better cricketers in Asia," recalled the 'Captain Fantastic'.
The former Sri Lankan player went on to add that the journalists are 'good friends', when probed on their identity.
Underlining the need for aggression in leadership, Ranatunga pointed to how Australians treated the Sri Lankan team (in Australia) on previous tours. "Australians push you down straight from the airport. They open your bags and check our boots for dirt etc. We were put up in three stars while the Australian team stayed in five star hotels (before the World Cup win). So they pushed us first, and I responded. You can be the most unpopular person among the opposition, but you need to push yourself. You can't be a baby and captain your side," he added.
This led to Sardesai bringing up the infamous walk out by Ranatunga when Muttiah Muralitharan was no-balled by an Australian umpire in a match against England in Australia, for 'chucking'.
Ranatunga explained, "I studied all the rules. At that time there weren't very strict rules in cricket. Had I done that now, I would have been suspended for a year or two. I was trying to tell the world about how Muralitharan and we were handled. But, I asked the players to stay within the ground, while I alone stepped outside. I created the stir, but had we all stepped out, we may have conceded the game and lost it. It turned out well for us and Muralitharan as he hit the winning runs that day."
A student from Ranatunga's coaching academy asked him recently whether he was happy about what he had done with respect to the incident, recalled the cricketer. He told the student: "It's yes and no. You need to check the regulations, and with respect to what it helped us achieve, I am happy. But, I'm not happy because of the kind of example that it could have set for youngsters."
Continuing with the discussion on diversity, the interviewer asked Ranatunga about whether he had to treat the off-spinner in the team Muralidharaan differently as he was a Sri Lankan Tamil, especially during the nation's internal conflict, and also players from varied backgrounds.
The former skipper said, "When I saw him, he was in school and very talented. We knew he'd win games for us. When I captained my team, I didn't care which part my players came from. It was about being Sri Lankan. We didn't differentiate between Sinhalese and the others. When the issues started I faced enquiries. Murali told me that he'd help out by going home. I told him to stay on and told him it's my job. While I couldn't play him in the team then, I kept him on as the 12th man and asked him to always impress when he came out to field."
With Ranatunga now appointed minister of ports and shipping, Sardesai asked him what's tougher - being a cricketer or politician.
He responded, "I come from a political family. I learned politics from my younger days." Noting that being a politician was tougher than being a cricketer, he said of his current mandate of cleaning up a 'highly corrupt' ports and shipping ministry: "It's a big challenge, but I love that. When the president asked me to be sports minister, I turned that down and became one for ports and shipping. I wanted to make this department clean in four years after I took over."
Asked about how he deals corruption, he said, "I met with my team. I told them what happened in the past is okay and won't get into it. I wanted them to be clean post me coming in."
The session ended with questions from the audience, one of which was about Ranatunga's opinion on T20 cricket. He compared it to a brand of instant noodles and said, "It's quick, and filling but not healthy. Test cricket is what a mother cooks. It's healthy, but might not be very filling. We (Asian cricket teams) will lose our identity in the next five to 10 years with T20 cricket. It's not about being technical, but it's about power and strength now. West Indies won the World Cup because of power. We Asians aren't that powerful."
He ended the session by responding about why he didn't make himself available for brand endorsements and whether these deals affect players' form.
The cricketer who has till date done only three public service ads, surmised, "I didn't ever do an ad. When I was 18, after my first Test (match) a friend of mine who was leading a company asked me to endorse a brand. I asked him to speak to my mom. My mom told him that her son wasn't for sale and told me not to ever sell my talent or body."