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By Amir Husain
Russel Arnold played 44 Tests, 180 One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and one Twenty20 Internationals (T20I) for Sri Lanka between April 1997 and April 2007. A left-handed batsman who also bowled useful off-spin and played in the 2003 and 2007 World Cups, Arnold was also part of the Sri Lankan team that shared the final of the 2002-03 ICC Champions Trophy with India.
Arnold scored over 5,000 international runs, including four centuries and 38 half centuries and also had a successful domestic career, racking up almost 10,000 First-Class runs.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, the cricketer turned commentator gave his thoughts on the ICC World T20 2014 victory for Sri Lanka and what it means for the future of the team, the possible successors to Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, Sri Lanka’s ongoing tour of England, the controversy surrounding Sachithra Senanayake’s bowling action, Sri Lanka’s chances at the ICC World Cup 2015 and also looks forward to the series between Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Excerpts from an interview:
PakPassion.net (PP): What has the fantastic achievement of a World T20 win by Sri Lanka done for the outlook of cricket in Sri Lanka?
Russel Arnold (RA): It obviously gave us confidence and pleasure but above all, it gave us the belief that Sri Lanka can play good cricket. Unlike the past, the good performances in this tournament did not just come from the senior players as a lot of younger players also played well. The players played as a team and the performances came from all members of the team. It all really goes back to the time when the team went back home for a few days after winning the Asia Cup and the joy and celebrations that were witnessed back home meant a lot to the team as well. That really made the team more determined to see the people as happy as that and they were able to put together a similar performance in the ICC World T20 to bring that cup home.
PP: As you indicated, this was just not the spinners and senior players coming to the fore for Sri Lanka in the World T20 but an all-round performance which must be very pleasing?
RA: In order to take Sri Lanka to the final of the tournament, a lot of younger players played special knocks. Sangakkara was pretty quiet until the final and there was an inning or two from Jayawardene but all in all, you can name almost everyone in the team as everyone contributed. It was a great team effort. This showed clearly that the team was gelling together and the trust in each other was building and that can only bode well for the future of the team.
PP: Moving on to the current tour of England, we have now seen some inconsistent performances from Sri Lanka so far but how difficult is it for Asian teams to come into play in England in early Summer?
RA: We all knew that this was going to be the case so it’s all about not trying to find excuses but to find a way to battle through this situation. In the second ODI at Durham, they were able to build a partnership early which rolled on, though Thirimanne just got 10 runs in 37 ballsbut he saw off the new ball which made life easier for the rest of the Sri Lanka batsmen, but in the third ODI at Manchester, we didn’t see that as wickets kept on falling at various stages.
However, in the team’s defence, the conditions at Manchester were not the type we Asians would like to go out and play in as it was very cold and conditions were tough with the ball swinging and seaming around. Regardless of that, the Sri Lankans would be disappointed that they did not show much better technique or game plan in Manchester especially, when you look back at the score of 67 all out in 24 overs and the manner of dismissals of some of the batsmen.
I actually think that the wicket in Durham was tougher for batting than the wicket at Old Traffordbut the conditions were very cold and depressing and certainly not to the liking of the Sri Lankans. However after Manchester, the boys bounced back well in the fourth match of the series at Lords in a high scoring match and the series is set up nicely for the decider in Birmingham.
PP: There is a theory that when Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene retire, it could spell trouble for Sri Lanka in ODI and Test Cricket. Do you agree with that line of thought?
RA: Maybe not in the shorter form but in the longer form replacing players like those you mentioned would be hard. We have yet to see other players handle the pressure and burden in the way these two have done in the past. However, in the shorter form, I am pretty excited about the talent I am seeing on display and as I mentioned before when I spoke about the Asia Cup, the same talent also stood up well in the World T20 as well. That does give us some confidence of things to come but yes, I am a bit worried about the situation as far as the Sri Lanka line up in Test Cricket is concerned.
But looking at the positives of this, when Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva were about to retire and coming to the end of their respective careers, there was also the same questions about whether Sri Lanka could cope without those two stalwarts and up popped Jayawardene and Sangakkara, so I’m confident that whilst both Mahela and Kumar will of course be missed, others will make their presence felt.
PP: Any names that you could mention who could step up to the plate in Test Cricket once those two legends call it a day?
RA: We have a lot to look forward to in terms of Thirimanne, whilst Kaushal Silva also has a few years left in him as well. In addition, we have the likes of Dimuth Karunaratne, so we have a few players in the mix but unless we play them and put them to the test, we will never know how they will perform. Even Jayawardene and Sangakarra at a similar stage of their careers would have probably been in the same situation as the aforementioned players but as with them, with time these players will also grow in their roles. I also feel that Kithuruwan Vithanage has a role to play as well so all is not lost here!
In addition don’t write of Dinesh Chandimal, I do feel he is a very talented cricketer and hopefully the rough times at present will only make him stronger and better in the future.
PP: Sachithra Senanayake has been reported for a suspected illegal bowling action and must undergo testing within 21 days. Your thoughts on this decision?
RA: Well I do see a lot of other bowlers with similar actions and the ICC has a process whereby testing will be done or has been done. That process needs to take its course. As you know a lot of people were very critical of Murali as well but we found out that there were a lot of things happening there which were under the legal limits. His wrist going round was creating an illusionbut the fact is that there was nothing illegal happening there. His arm which could not straighten, looked ugly but was not illegal.
Sachithra’s action was found to be legal in the pastbut the more threatening he becomes the more murmurs you hear, so I am not surprised he was reported. But I do think its good that he does go through the process again so he can put an end to all the doubts once and for all.
Also, if you look at some of the other bowlers in world cricket, you would tend to think the same thing but we really don’t know enough to pass judgment as sometimes what we see is not exactly what is happening. Even Saeed Ajmal, found himself probably in the same situation and has been cleared so I guess this is a process that is defined by the ICC and they will go through that.
It’s really tough to make a judgement without being very sure and you also hope that bowlers don’t knowingly abuse the rules as that would be a real shame.
PP: Do you feel that the testing process for bowling actions is stringent enough?
RA: What other process do we have in place? We have to work with what we have. We have to accept it until a new process comes up which is more suitable.
Policing it is very difficult and you need to be consistent. You cannot be unfair to any individual player as well. I guess its not just the ICC’s issue and I think home boards need to take more responsibility and be tougher in domestic cricket in this regard.
PP: Saeed Ajmal has been subject of a whispering campaign regarding his action and bowling in long sleeves by sections of the media and by some former and current players. Do you think this is fair given that he has been cleared by the ICC?
RA: My view is simple. If you don’t know for sure then you should not comment about it. If we look at Murali’s instance again, the testing was done because of issues created regarding Murali, but the margin was created because of many other bowlers were in a similar situation. We really don’t know the exact technicalities of the issue so we should not pass judgment particularly in public.
PP: Pakistan will be touring Sri Lanka for a series towards the end of July. What are your thoughts on this series?
RA: It’s good for both teams. Although they have played each other a lot of late and know each other well, there is no reason not to play each other again. Here is a window of opportunity when both teams can get out in the park and I feel that this will be an exciting series.
PP: Sri Lanka will be at home and in familiar conditions and no doubt will be very difficult to beat. Surely they’d be considered as favorites against Pakistan for the Test series?
RA: Yes you have to say that the Sri Lankans are favorites but Pakistan also have some young players who are wonderful performers too and can compete in any conditions. So all in all, this should be a very keenly fought series and one that I’m really looking forward to.
PP: The Pakistan Cricket Board is very keen for Sri Lanka to tour Pakistan and have recently written to the Sri Lankan Cricket Board on this matter. Given what has happened in the past, do you think it’s too soon for Sri Lanka to tour Pakistan again?
RA: Well, it’s easy for us to sit here and talk about whether Sri Lanka should go or not but if you ask members of the team, some of whom did experience the ordeal of that Lahore attack, I am not sure they will be too keen to put themselves in that situation again. AlsoI’m not sure if the players will be able to forget the thoughts and memories of that terrible ordeal and their family’s feelings at that time.
This is a tough question although it would be great to tour Pakistan because in our times we had some wonderful memories and experiences but it will come down to whether you want the strongest Sri Lankan team to go and how those players feel about the situation.
PP: The Sri Lankan Premier League started off in a blaze of glory but is not taking place now. Is that a major blow to Sri Lankan cricket as a major T20 league is not being played there any longer?
RA: Well, we are seeing these tournaments happen everywhere so for Sri Lanka to also have one of their own where there players can showcase their skills and also to bring in some revenue would definitely have been a plus and exciting as well. Let’s hope there is a re-think and the tournament recommences in future.
PP: Lasith Malinga is not playing Test matches but instead concentrating on LOIs. How do you feel about Lasith picking and choosing the formats he wants to play in?
RA: He has been forced to make that choice. He does have an injury from which he struggles to recover so bowling long spells and playing back to back matches is a problem for him. That’s why he retired from Test Cricket as it’s within his rights to play Cricket and enjoy it as much and for as long as he can. Although, in the past he did offer to play Test Cricket but not back to back games, to play when he is fit and to basically choose when he can playbut the former administration knocked that offer back. So, he had no choice but to call it a day and take care of his body which he has every right to do.
PP: With the 2015 World Cup in Australia/New Zealand just months away in alien conditions for Asian teams, how do you see Sri Lanka’s chances of winning the Cup and who do you see as the main teams to watch for?
RA: I believe Sri Lanka’s chances are good because the wickets are not going to be unplayable. Moreover, in the recent past, the record of the Asian teams in those conditions has been pretty good. The team combination that Sri Lankans are taking forward, and the players and game plans that are being prepared ahead of the Cup for those conditions are taking shape.
Obviously, this is still work in progress but the direction of the team is right so I am pretty confident that they will do really well. Amongst the other teams, New Zealand have great firepower in their batting line up and they will be playing a lot of their games in New Zealand so I think they will be a team to watch out for.
(Amir Husain is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net. The above article is reproduced with permission from http://pakpassion.net/)
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