Aggressive as ever, Arjuna Ranatunga now uses his skill on a different pitch, finds ANUJ KUMAR
We know he plays his game without fear or favour so when Arjuna Ranatunga retorts to the safety concerns for tourists in Sri Lanka with a question, “Tell me which part of the world is safe from terrorism and natural calamities,” it doesn’t come as a surprise. In his new role as brand ambassador of Sri Lankan Tourism Board, Ranatunga along with mate Arvinda De Silva is leaving no stone unturned to push tourism in the country fast recovering from the tsunami.
“I don’t understand why the Western media highlights only the incidents happening in the South Asia. People visit the riskiest place in the world but when it comes to Lanka they are told to go by advisories. The region is as safe as the US or Spain,” says the man who led Sri Lanka to World Cup victory in 1996 and very much like his contemporary from the region, Imran Khan, is doing something substantial for his people.
“I feel sportspersons with their reach have a responsibility to do something beyond their vocation. After Tsunami, Sri Lankan cricketers really came forward to participate in rebuilding exercise in various ways like organising charity matches and reconstruction of stadiums.”
Son of a politician, Ranatunga has been the tourism minister of Sri Lanka. He is so enamoured with his new job that he refuses to name any place he has a special liking for spending vacations. “If I am not on job, I love to spend time in my country. The place has everything and one can reach from hot to cold weather within a space of few hours. In three hours you can travel from a dry place to a beach. There are religious places, forests, mountains…everything a person desires for a vacation.”
Talking about the link between cricket and tourism, Ranatunga says the Board is working towards attracting cricket fans who will travel with the team during the forthcoming India-Sri Lanka series. “It is not only close but spending time in Sri Lanka is cheaper than a Mumbaiite spending two days in Delhi.”
Known as a great shopping destination and facilities like visa on arrival, Sri Lanka is emerging as weekend destination. Ranatunga adds that as the Indian rupee is stronger than the Sri Lankan currency, shopping could prove to be a great value for money.
Ranatunga agrees his team has struggled on the pitch in the recent past. “The focus was more on coaching and umpiring decisions rather than the game on the field. The team has a lot of talent and will surely bounce back.”
Ranatunga says Twenty-20 could also prove to be a great attraction for bringing in tourist. “It is entertaining for the public but as a cricketer I am not in the favour of the format. To me Test cricket is still the ultimate entertainer and test of technique.” He feels the new format will affect the technique of the players. “In the recent IPL, we saw seasoned players not known for hitting sixes trying hard to send the ball out off the park. I am happy that I have retired by the time the game became a business.” As biting as ever.