Ranjan Madugalle – a True Cricket Person

In Some Cricketers.. by Bill Ricquier

Ranjan Madugalle has been actively involved in international cricket for over forty years. That is a remarkable achievement. And there is no reason to think his role in the game is going to end any time soon.

Madugalle was a stylish right-handed batter and a fine outfielder. He was slim, and in the words of John Woodcock, a well-balanced, quick-footed player. He was born in Kandy, but the family moved to Colombo when he was twelve, and he finished his education at one of the capital’s outstanding cricket schools, Royal College. Like many others, Madugalle has acknowledged the role played by school cricket in his development as a batter.

It was certainly an interesting time to be growing up as a cricketer in Sri Lanka. There was little or no first-class cricket, but Sri Lanka had done enough in international matches to demonstrate that they were worthy of Test status. 1979 saw the second men’s World Cup, staged in England. Sri Lanka had played in the first World Cup, in 1975, but that did not mean they had a bye for the second. The 20-year old Madugalle was in the squad that was sent to play against other Associate countries to qualify for the main tournament, which they did. They finished third out of four in Group B, beating India by 47 runs at Old Trafford. Madugalle made his one-day international debut in that match.

Sri Lanka played a number of first-class matches before and after the World Cup and Madugalle certainly made an impact then. Described, slightly oddly, by Wisden, as “primarily an off-spinner” – although he barely bowled on the tour – he batted “with spirit and skill” , making 86 against Derbyshire and 88 against Kent. In a wide-ranging interview with cricinfo’s Mohammad Isan in 2016, Madugalle commented on what an invaluable learning experience this tour was, especially for him “as a schoolboy”- a strange comment for someone who was actually 20 at the time.

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He also toured England in 1981, playing 11 of the 13 first-class matches without achieving anything of note. But he was clearly perceived as a player of real potential. In 1981-82, when Keith Fletcher’s England side went to Sri Lanka, Madugalle made 142 against them for the Board President’s XI at Kandy, showing what Wisden’s match report called a “pleasing disrespect for reputations “in the way he attacked spinners Derek Underwood and John Emburey. A little over a week later, at the P Saravanamuttu Stadium in Colombo, he was playing in Sri Lanka’s inaugural Test against England. England won the match by seven wickets, but Madugalle, going in at 29 for three, which soon became 34 for four, top-scored with 65 in Sri Lanka’s first innings. He was also the first Sri Lankan to hit a six in a Test. In his cricinfo interview he said that the Test was not only the first Test he had played in; it was the first Test he had seen. He has certainly made up for that since.

Madugalle had a decent tour of Pakistan in 1981-2, making 91 not out, with fifteen fours, in the second Test at Faisalabad.

He headed the Test and first-class averages on the tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1982-83. He suffered a bit of a setback, though, on the tour of England in 1984. He averaged over 40 in the first-class matches, but he was attacked by a drunken passer-by outside the team’s hotel in Canterbury, and his confidence seemed to be affected. He failed twice in the Lord’s Test which followed soon after.

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The highlight of his playing career came in the home series against India in 1985-86. He scored his only Test century in the first Test at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo, and 54 in the second Test at the P Saravanamuttu Stadium in the same city. This latter match was Sri Lanka’s first victory, in their fourteenth match; they drew the third Test and won the series. Madugalle was dropped for the Pakistan series at home, played four months later. The first Test of that series, Sri Lanka’s 19th, was the first in which he had not played. It was a measure of the regard in which he was held that he captained his country in his two last Tests, against Australia at Perth in 1987-88, and England at Lord’s in 1988.

Sri Lanka were improving; they were ready for the era of Arjuna Ranatunga. Madugalle had never been very consistent as a batter. Now the team had Asanka Gurusinha, Aravinda de Silva, Roshan Mahanama, and Hashan Tillekeratne, not to mention Ranatunga, all vying for middle order places. Full time professional cricket was barely developed in Sri Lanka and Madugalle was already embarked on a business career. He was happy to slip quietly out of the national side.

In 1993 he was approached to become an international match referee. He accepted the offer. The panel had been established, on a part-time basis, in 1991, with the remit of enforcing the International Cricket Council (ICC)’s Code of Conduct. Madugalle was an inspired choice by the ICC. He was 34; there were plenty of people older than him who were still playing Test and one-day international cricket, while the average match referee was probably in his 60s – highly distinguished former players but not necessarily in tune with the modern cricket world; a classic example was Peter Burge, the former Australian batsman, who was referee for the England – South Africa Test in 1994 when the Mike Atherton “dirt in the pocket” incident took place. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the affair, it seems unlikely that Madugalle would have treated Atherton like a naughty schoolboy. A measure of Madugalle’s suitability for the job is that he is still doing it. He was appointed the ICC’s chief match referee in 2002 when a full-time panel of five was appointed; Madugalle was still easily the youngest. He is also on the panel that selects international umpires. He has become a significant figure in the administration of men’s international cricket. In his 2016 interview he said he thought that he had acted as referee in over 500 matches. In 2021 he was congratulated by the ICC after officiating in his 200th Test. He must rival the world’s busiest journalists for the title of most prolific cricket watcher. But for Madugalle it is different; he watches in the way a player watches, he told Mohammad Isan; that way, you spot the details you might otherwise miss.

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Of course there have been innumerable T20Is and ODIs, including four Men’s World Cup finals, most recently the extraordinary game between England and New Zealand at Lord’s, which ended with Jofra Archer’s Super Over. Presumably Madugalle was one of the few people on the ground who knew just how bare England’s margin of victory was.

That was a matter of playing conditions, as important for practical purposes as the 42 Laws (not rules) of cricket. During his interview Madugalle was asked if he thought there were any Laws players were unaware of. He replied that, if he himself as a player was anything to go by, many were unaware of quite a few. “Everyone”, he concluded, “is expected to know Law 43, which is common sense. But that too is sometimes missing.”

Ranjan Madugalle knows, better than most, how closely cricket reflects life.

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