The conversation that, quite naturally, started with the 1996 Sri Lankan world cup win led to the obvious question, what did it take Ranatunga as a captain to pull a team of a country embroiled in a civil war and political strife to win the title? To which he very simply answered, “I always wanted to pick 14 cricketers who would give their lives, commitment and dedication to the match and win for the country. We did not pick stars but 14 players who were committed for a cause. I was more concerned about putting my country on the map. We didn’t really care about the money. But I tried hard to keep Aravinda D’ Silva happy all the time. That was critical.”
When asked about what were the three things that the world cup win taught him about leadership, he said, “I learnt to listen to my players. I also tried to give them the respect they deserve as that is the only way you can earn respect. I also tried to encourage them to be self-confident and create their own identities.” He also added how it is important for a captain to be aggressive.
On being asked about how he dealt with players coming in from varied backgrounds and interests, he responded, “If you have a target in mind, no one can make you lose.”
Ranatunga also shared various anecdotes, the most interesting being an incident involving two Indian journalists who told him he needed to start a war. “At the press conference, one of them asked me about Shane Warne. I said he was mediocre and not a match winner. Then the other then asked me about the Waugh brothers and I said the same about them and said that there were better cricketers in Asia,” he said, making the audience laugh.
He also shared various instances when teams like Australia would try to get under their skin by checking their shoes and bags for dirt and would make them stay in three star hotels while themselves staying in five star accommodations. He shared that these were pressure tactics used by the opponent teams that he learnt pretty soon.
While talking about cricket, the conversation also veered towards his political role with Sardesai asking him which role was more difficult, the role as a cricketer or a minister to which he replied, “The role of a minister is more difficult. But I come from a political family and I love it.” He also stated that cleaning up the highly corrupt port and shipping ministry is a challenging job but one that he really liked. “When I met my team, I told them what happened in the past was okay but that I wanted them to be clean after me coming in.”
At the end of the session, Ranatunga made an interesting analogy when asked about his opinion about T20 cricket. He said, “T20 cricket is like Maggi, quick and unhealthy but something that will fill you up. But test cricket is the food your mother cooks.”
The session ended with a discussion on what he would do if an Indian advertiser approached him for an endorsement. He narrated an incident when his mother said no to the first advertiser who had come to him saying that her son won’t sell his talent for money. He added with a laugh, “If someone comes to me, I would ask them to speak to the three ladies in my life, my mother, wife and daughter. If they say yes, I will do it.”