From the Island, December 2012
It was said that Sri Lanka would struggle once off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan departed. Only half of that is true. Sri Lanka, no doubt have had their ups and downs in Test matches since the champion spinner’s retirement, but not because of spin bowling. Rangana Herath has fitted into the equation like a duck taking to water. The national team’s struggles are due to two reasons. One of them is fast bowling and the other, the absence of a steady opener to partner Tillekeratne Dilshan. Two decades ago, one man did both jobs for Sri Lanka remarkably well; Ravi Ratnayeke is his name.
Ravi was primarily selected as a fast bowler, but developed his batting so well that he turned out to be Sri Lanka’s opener a few years later and did the job competently, seeing off the new ball. Like most Sri Lankan cricketers in the 1980s, he retired prematurely, before turning 30 and migrated to Australia and lives in Melbourne, about 45 minutes from the MCG.
“I don’t have much to do with cricket here. I work for a multinational packing company. I am with their marketing and sales department. I enjoy doing that and playing a bit of golf,” Ravi said when ‘The Island’ met him at Knox Tavern.
Pic by Johann Jayasinha
Fast bowlers are proud men. Most of them would tell you that their batting is actually better than what we think. So is Ravi, but unlike anyone else, he has the records to prove it. “I considered myself as a batsman. I started bowling because I was big enough and I felt I could have an effect. I just picked up the ball and started bowling. I grew up though as a batsman and I had reasons to succeed as a batsman as I had a decent technique. When you have the technique, it’s easy to develop,” he said.
Of course, the 1980s was the era of all-rounders and Ravi wasn’t short of any role models. “I kept working on my batting and I wanted to be involved. The other thing that really inspired me was my contemporaries. In that era, we had Richard Hadlee, Ian Botham, Imran Khan and Kapil Dev to look up to. Then Gary Sobers was our coach. There was a lot of encouragement to develop both sides of the game,” Ravi remarked.
He has several milestones as a batsman. Until last week, he and Aravinda de Silva owned the Sri Lankan record for the highest partnership for any wicket on Australian soil. They had added 144 runs for the seventh wicket in Brisbane in 1989.
“What I recall is that the Aussie media came and said that we are going to get hammered. They had just won the Ashes and scored 400 plus in every innings against a good English attack and leading up to the Test match, I had an interview with a television reporter and he asked how we were going to cope with Australia. I told him, look we are not England. In that Test, they didn’t get 400 against us, but we scored 400 plus. It was Arjuna’s first series as captain and we believed that we could do well against them. Aravinda was a classy player and I felt comfortable batting with him.”
Aravinda scored 167 and Ravi a half-century in that innings.
“Sidat (Wettimuny) is super to talk to on cricket. We still talk on cricket when we get together. Actually, when I opened batting with him, he helped me to settle down. He was a good mentor. Another guy that I liked batting with was Aravinda; well, who doesn’t like to bat with him. He was a class act.”
In the second Test in Hobart, the first to be played in Tasmania, Ravi went onto score 75 as like last week, the Sri Lankans kept the Australians on the field until the 11th hour. “That series in a whole helped us to develop, because we had a lot of guys who started doing well after that. We lost the Hobart Test at the last moment. It was the game that I should have scored a Test hundred actually. I was caught down the leg side trying to be defensive. I still think of that game. When you meet someone like Ian Healy, he says we were going to win that game.”
Ravi’s career best of 93 came against India in Kanpur in 1986 while opening the batting, a role he did remarkably well regularly. “That was a funny game. I kept on batting and the light was bad and we lost two wickets. The light was offered and we opted to go off. It was the right decision for the team, not for me perhaps. The following day, it rained the whole day. The next day I came into bat and Kapil Dev got one to pitch wide outside off stump and it swung back sharply and hit my pads and I was given out lbw to the first or second ball of the morning and I fell short of a century by seven runs.
“I worked hard and I believed that I could do well as a batsman. One of the things that worked for me was that I played straight. I used to enjoy opening because everyone was behind the wicket and no one was in front. So it was always easier. That was my theory. I also felt comfortable against spinners but not so much against the fast bowlers.”
Ravi made his debut against Pakistan in 1982 in Karachi on perhaps the flattest deck in the world. The hard lesson there enabled him to lift his game in unresponsive wickets. Three years later, he picked up eight wickets in an innings in Sialkot and to date, only Muttiah Muralitharan has better figures than him in an innings.
“We played at Sialkot and Imran and Wasim blew us away. It was a low scoring game and once I started hitting the line right, it all fell into place,” he recalls.
In that innings, the remaining two wickets were taken by Rumesh Ratnayake, so the all Pakistani wickets that fell that day went to the Ratnayakes (Ravi is J. R. Ratnayake while Rumesh is R. J. Ratnayake). “A lot of people still ask me whether Rumesh is my brother. When I say no, they ask me whether we are cousins. But one thing I can say is that we are good friends. Rumesh was an extremely talented bowler. He was lethally quick. He had shoulder injuries and that hampered his career.
Ravi had not been awarded a Trinity Lion, but after that performance in Pakistan, Trinity awarded him the prestigious award several years after he had left school.
The fate that befell most Sri Lankan cricket stars in the 1980s, who retired prematurely, fell on Ravi as well. He quit at the age of 29. “We didn’t have a lot of cricket those days. I had to make a living outside of cricket and had a family to look after. We had a residence in Australia and we had to make use of it and we thought of making the move at that time. I probably had a couple of years of cricket left in me at that point. People like Sidat gave up very early, because he had to look after the business and so were others like Ashantha (de Mel) and Ranjan (Madugalle).”
He also remembers with fondness the role Trinity College, Kandy played in developing his cricket and person. “When you are young it looks as if it’s another private school. But when you have left school and done with it, you are quite thankful for the upbringing you have got. There are a lot of traditions at Trinity and a lot of these traditional things have gone on for generations. I would imagine it’s the case now too. You make a lot of friends and to this date, my closest friends are those I went to school with. Some things at Trinity are quite unique. It helps you to define your character.”
“Kandy wasn’t my home town by the way. I was born in Colombo, but I grew up in tea plantations as my father was a planter. He was with George Steuarts. That prompted my parents to send me to Trinity and I was at the boarding school as well and that helped in my sporting activities.”
Ravi remembers with gratitude some of the individuals who had helped him to develop his cricket. “Bertie Wijesignhe, without a doubt, was the biggest influence. He was the number one coach in school cricket those days and he had a big influence. Then WAN Silva had a big influence too. Another person who supported me immensely was Ranjit Fernando.”
After school Ravi had to choose which club he was going to play for. And the choice wasn’t a hard one. “There were good reasons to join the NCC and it wasn’t a tough call to make. Some of my cousins were there and most of my mates were part of NCC like Ranjan (Madugalle), Rumesh (Ratnayake) and Amal (Silva). We had a strong side at NCC. We had some great characters as well. We enjoyed the cricket and the time spent together as a group.”
“More on Ravi Ratnayeke,” by Sharm de Alwis, in the Island 23 Dec. 2012
The warm and comprehensive report on Ravi Ratnayeke in ‘The Island’ of 21st December opened a flood of memories which I’d like to share with you readers. When Ravi forsook cricket at the age of 29 years, the country lost a gifted all-rounder. He was the vice-captain at the time, opening batsman and opening bowler but pomp and glory sat light on the credo that Ravi had developed as the eldest child of Yasa and Lakshmi and who was nurtured like Kumar Sangakkara after him in a school that molded his belief, values and principles to stand proud on that unshakable foundation.
Ravi Ratnayeke captained Trinity cricket in 1980 and had under him subsequent captains in Suresh Perera, Premith Yainue, Jeremy Mutumani and Hockey Lion, Roshan Rajadurai under whom the school won the All-Island Hockey Championship in 1982. Ravi also found his staff of life in fellow Trinitian Amodha who was Senior Lecturer in Zoology of the Colombo University at the time the couple emigrated to Australia.
As I handled their heavy baggage, Amodha would drop in on me often to discuss matters but only after she had a few words with my pet monkey. Amodha had studied for two years how to converse with monkeys in their own language.
Ravi had a long spell at the mid wicket. Fifteen years is an eternity in the span of fast bowlers because they burn up faster. In an earlier era quickies like Miller, Lindwall and Trueman were considered over the hill at 27. In Ravi’s time Botham, Kapil Dev, Richard Hadlee and Imran Khan were breathing fire and brimstone with every delivery even when they were in their 30s. Such a galaxy encouraged Ravi and Rumesh and they had the added fortune of having as their coach the imperishable four-in-one Garfield Sobers, the best all-rounder the world has ever known. As a schoolboy his cricket had been put on the correct track by the best coach of the day, Mr. Bertie Wijesinha who, himself, imparted the knowledge garnered from John Halangoda who had made champions when he coached at Trinity, Wesley, St. Thomas’ and St. Anthony’s.
Ravi and Rumesh started their careers simultaneously and both had the rare dedication that kept them in peak condition mentally and physically to thwart the challenge of time. In their period the country’s cricket was in the safe and capable hands of P. I. Peiris and Michael Tissera. And there was Abu Fuard who would read the game fairly well. W. A. N. Silva and Ranjith Fernando were affable ambassadors who were of tremendous help in overseas tours.
Ravi had found Sunil Gavaskar the most difficult to dislodge. “He had all the strokes and his feet were always in the correct position. He was never in haste. Never gifted his wicket. You had to get it from him.” Of the bowlers he had found Patterson of the West Indies, Imran and Akram as the demons difficult to contend with. He considered Roy Dias as the most elegant batsman he had ever seen.
Having entered the milestone of half a century in years he has little time for cricket and is engaged in the Marketing Division of a multinational packing company and lives less than an hour away from the MCG.