NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Wearing a neat suit and with his grey hair smartly combed back, Arjuna Ranatunga looks the part at a media promotion by Sri Lankan officials to draw Indian religious tourists to the island.
The firebrand ex-cricket captain, who led Sri Lanka to an upset World Cup win in 1996, takes the microphone to help publicize sites in his small nation steeped in Hindu mythology.
He is happy to switch to his favorite topic, however, as he reveals his plans for Sri Lankan cricket.
Ranatunga, 44, took over as Sri Lanka Cricket chairman this month on a three-year term and wants a second World Cup win, this time as an administrator, when the premier one-day event returns to the sub-continent in 2011.
Although Sri Lanka reached the final of last year’s edition in the West Indies, Ranatunga feels junior cricket is in urgent need of revamping.
”My target is, how we can concentrate on the next World Cup, how we can win it,“ he said. ”We want former cricketers to get involved and try and give ideas on that.
“We want them to get into umpiring, as curators, everything relevant to cricket.”
He has already roped in Aravinda De Silva, Sri Lanka’s finest batsman who scored a hundred in the 1996 final against Australia, as a batting expert for the under-19 squad.
De Silva was with him as a tourism ambassador for Sri Lanka on the trip to New Delhi.
Sri Lanka are searching for fresh talent to replace players such as opening batsman Marvan Atapattu, who retired last year, and the explosive Sanath Jayasuriya who has already quit tests.
Ranatunga served as junior tourism minister and a television commentator after his retirement from the game in 2000 and wants to make a swift impact in his new role.
In his 18-year career he played 93 tests, scoring 5,105 runs with four hundreds, and 269 one-dayers, aggregating 7,456 runs.
Despite the 2007 World Cup showing, Sri Lanka need to improve their overseas test performances and Ranatunga will have to avoid clashes like the one involving Atapattu late last year.
The seasoned batsman, frustrated after being forced to sit out at the World Cup, was chosen for the Australia tour in November only after the island’s sports minister, who has the final say on every squad chosen, intervened.
Atapattu then called the selectors “muppets, basically headed by a joker,” referring to panel chief Asantha de Mel, a former player, and quit at the end of the series.
Ranatunga blames poor communication for the incident and says his personal rapport with the selectors will help matters in future.
“These selectors will be finishing in March,” he said. “We’ve to submit the (new) names and I’ve no problems with them. They played cricket under me.”
Ranatunga fiercely defended his role as captain in a row with Australia in 1995 which caused an uproar in world cricket.
He led his players off the field during the Boxing Day test after controversial umpire Darrell Hair no-balled off spinner Muttiah Muralitharan seven times for chucking before Sri Lanka were persuaded to return.
“I was trying to protect one of my colleagues who was accused badly,” Ranatunga said. “But it is very important for the ICC to work closely with the cricket boards.”
This month, India threatened to pull out of the Australia tour after their loss in the second test in Sydney, marred by poor umpiring, when spinner Harbhajan Singh was found guilty of racially abusing allrounder Andrew Symonds and banned for three tests.
India withdrew their threat after the International Cricket Council (ICC) sacked umpire Steve Bucknor for the third test and cleared Harbhajan to play pending an appeal.
Ranatunga wants sledging to be banned altogether.
”Australia have had these issues with some of the touring sides. History shows whenever they get it back they struggle.
”I‘m not saying it is the right thing,“ he said. ”Sometimes they also need to learn a lesson.
“I‘m a great believer they should stop all shouting in the grounds,” he said. “Cricket is a game which was played by gentlemen in the past and that is the way it should be.”
Editing by Clare Fallon