ARJUNA Ranatunge's leadership definitely merits some questioning after the Sri Lankan team returns home. But given the privileged position he enjoys it is extremely unlikely that he will face any challenge. He will stay captain until he decides to call it a day.
It is not merely the on-field incident which has cast Ranatunge in a bad light. His leadership and tactics right through the one-day series have been lacking character. He seemed to have lost the ability to drive home any advantage gained early on in a game and appeared to be waiting for things to happen rather than trying to make them happen.
There were questions voiced early on over strategy and there were known to be divisions over whether the team should bat first on winning the toss or decide to chase. It seems strange that a blanket decision can be taken on a matter like this but this is what happened in Sri Lanka's case; after losing the first three matches, they decided to chase because they feel they are better at it. No question of the type of pitch or whether batting second would be more difficult than taking first knock.
Ranatunge won the first eight tosses and after three losses when the team batted first, he apparently decided to chase. This led to debacles like that in Perth when Sri Lanka were all out for 99. And in that same match, one of the captain's weaknesses shone through; he had England on the mat at 39 for four but could not drive the screws home and found his team facing over 200 to chase on a dodgy pitch. One could also call into question the decision to field just two pacemen in that match, one of them a debutant. Wickramasinghe showed in the next match why the inclusion of a third paceman made sense.
The level of desperation which had crept in was displayed when Ranatunge on more than one occasion resorted to sending in a pinch-hitter when all that was needed at those junctures was more singles and sensible running between the wickets. If a team which has such explosive openers also needs a pinch-hitter then a lot of people are failing badly at their jobs.
Right through the tournament, Ranatunge seemed reluctant to attack. He seemed content to let batsmen from the opposition milk the singles in the middle overs, forgetting that this was giving them a platform from which to launch an assault in the last few overs. Sri Lanka was undone by this on at least one occasion.
And now to the Adelaide incident. Ranatunge can argue that he was merely standing up for one of his bowlers but the manner in which he did it was offensive. He has to realise that being the seniormost international cricketer around carried some responsibility. Thumbing one's nose at aauthority is all very well but not for one of his age and maturity. He should have taken Muralitharan off or else asked him to bowl leg-breaks. The protests could have come off the field; it would have had more effect.
That said, it must be also pointed out that the kind of publicity that accompanied the Sri Lankans on this tour did not do them any favours. It has been akin to a campaign and has left a downright nasty taste in the mouth.
The next times these two teams cross swords could be in the World Cup; else it will be on Sri Lankan turf. That will not be an easy tour because Ranatunge is not known to be the most forgiving of opponents. It would have helped if Mark Taylor had been in charge. It wil certainly be a test of character for the new Australian captain, no matter who he be.