08 Apr 2016 21:05 IST

Respect your players, let them have their own identity, says Arjuna Ranatunga

Speaking at Goafest 2016, former Sri Lanka cricket team captain talks of challenges in building a World Cup team

“If we have a target and work together, no one will lose,” said Arjuna Ranatunga, former captain of Sri Lanka’s cricket team and now Minister of Ports & Shipping. Speaking on leadership at Goafest 2016, the Indian advertising industry’s annual awards convention, Ranatunga, who led his country to a World Cup victory in 1996, said: “We never looked at money. I was more concerned with putting our country on the map.”

Ranatunga was in conversation with news personality Rajdeep Sardesai, who asked him how he achieved this at a time when Sri Lanka was wracked by civil war and extremist violence. Not only that, Sri Lanka was not yet a force to reckon with in cricket then and, because of the political situation, teams were reluctant to play matches there.

Putting a team together

Ranatunga said he wanted to pick 14 cricketers who would dedicate their life and talent to the game. It took him about a year and a half to find them.

He also knew they needed a star — and needed to keep him happy. He found one in batsman Aravinda de Silva. He asked him to commit to the team for a year, and found him very cooperative, said Ranatunga. He mentioned that he honestly never expected to win the World Cup; he wanted his team to get as far as the semi-finals at least.

What it took to build a team

On the importance of communicating with one’s team, Ranatunga said that, as captain, he inherited a team of diverse cricketers. “We spoke in Sinhalese. Non-players contributed a lot. I listened to everyone, and took all the responsibility for their actions, I never deflected the blame.” Also: “Respect your players, let them have their own identity. Then, have a plan, have a target. You will end up somewhere near it if not achieve it, but without a goal, you will end up nowhere.”

On his famed aggression as cricket captain, Ranatunga said, “I know how to handle pressure. When someone pushes us, we should push them twice or thrice. I learnt this very quickly. Sometimes, you need to be the most unpopular guy in the opposition. You need to have aggression, you can’t be a baby and lead a team.”

20-20 like instant noodles

Ranatunga confessed he was not a fan of the 20-20 cricket format. “It's like Maggi noodles, quick and filling, but unhealthy. Test matches are like your mother's cooking, nutritious and very filling,” he said. According to him, this format is all about power, not about brains or technique, which teams like his, India and Pakistan are known for.