SL need to plan around players, not fit players into a plan: Russel Arnold
Aug 16, 2016
Since retiring from the game in 2007 Russel Arnold has remained a prominent figure amongst Sri Lankan cricket fans, exchanging his bat and pads for a microphone, and becoming a well-respected cricket commentator.

Arnold’s career was mostly spent in the middle-order, where he provided stability to a sometimes frail batting line-up, also contributing with his off-spin.

Arnold spoke to Wisden Sri Lanka about his time as a player and transition into commentary, and how he thinks the game has evolved since his retirement.

Q: How did you get into cricket?

A: It was a gradual process. Initially we played cricket in the park, down the road, even as a youngster. When I was 11, a friend of mine asked me to come and try out for St. Peter’s College Under 13, which I did and then made the team. From then on, you’d play, it was just a part of life. It was only when I was 18 that things suddenly started to take off -- I was picked for the Under 19 tour, and then on as soon as I came back I was picked for Sri Lanka ‘A’. First class cricket after that, and you perform and the doors open up.

Q: How was the journey as a cricketer?

A: I had lots of challenges which I had to face, but when I look back I am very happy to have been a part of Sri Lanka cricket, and International cricket, and for the opportunities, for what I have achieved.

Q: What are some unforgettable moments as a cricketer?

A: There are a lots of incidents that do happen, that when we still meet as friends we sit and talk about, still have a giggle. But I would say, making my debut was a very special moment, and also my last game which was a World Cup final, which we couldn’t get over the line. It was unfortunate, but thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it. If you really want me to name a situation -- when I first played for Sri Lanka, it has to be up there.

Q: Do you remember the incident, the argument, between Sourav Ganguly and yourself in the 2002 ICC Champions Trophy?

A: Lot of people do still ask me about that. But it was nothing really. People – media, fans – tend to make a lot about it. It was just one of those moments where we had a bit of banter. Yeah, I did run down the wicket; there was a bit of history between Ganguly and me, where at every game there was a lot of banter between us. But (there was) no malice at all, just the way the people see, there were no heated words as such. Just a bit of fun. And we moved on. We’re very good friends even at this stage. If we see each other we talk to each other and it was just part of life. But Indian fans especially still keep throwing it at me. It’s become a big deal. But as far as we’re concerned it was just another day on the park.

Q: How did you get into commentary and how have you found it so far? A: It happened by chance. When I retired I was approached and I thought ‘why not?’ and I like it, I enjoy it and over the years I think I have improved quite a bit in what I give out, how I do things. Still I know there is a long way to go, improving all the time, bringing in different angles all the time, trying to get the viewers involved, entertainment, and then you need to cover the sides of the broadcaster’s requirements – for example, Sri Lanka Cricket’s requirements. So it’s about colouring it up and trying to give out the best picture while not compromising on the cricket. And again, I am very happy. I get lots of opportunities – been able to travel the world, meet new people and kind of get the best seat in the house to watch the sport I love. But again, extremely happy about the journey I have had.

Q: Any unforgettable moments as a commentator?

A: Well, I’ve had the privilege of commentating on lots of world cup finals, because Sri Lanka have got into almost every final though we haven’t won – we won one, that was a special incident, it was probably up there. I don’t have to look too far back, we’ve won a few Test matches I have really enjoyed – the Headingley win (against England), being there and talking about it is exceptional. The win against Australia in the first Test was extraordinary and a wonderful feeling. It’s a wonderful journey and great to be a part of.

Q: How do you think cricket has changed since you retired?

A: Yeah, a lot more changes. Lot more research, biomechanics have all come into the game. How players are prepared. T20 came in straight after so that has influenced cricket quite a bit. Batsman looking to relieve pressure by hitting the ball rather than defending and when you’re looking to hit the ball, how you align yourself up is also different, how you use your hands is different. So lot of players tend to focus on that because everyone wants to play T20 as well. Thats where the rewards are unfortunately.

The requirements of players and how they do things are quite different to a few years ago. Even the bats, the size of the bats, are making a difference.

Q: Thoughts on the current Sri Lanka team and where they need to improve?

A: I think we’ve got talent. I think we’ve got flair. And I think everyone’s got their own style. They are now making strides I think the win (in the first Test) should give them confidence that certain things can be achieved. The team plan is what Sri Lanka need to be careful of. You’ve got to identify the personnel you have and come up with a game plan that suits them. Not try to stick to the game plan you had in the past, and try and get the players to fit in there. That way, I think you will cause problems for yourself. Then again, putting younger players under pressure in trying to emulate legends of the past, is also a cause for downfall, because that adds to the pressure, and everyone is different. Even now if you saw Kusal Mendis bat, he’s instinctive, he plays with a lot of flair. But if you ask him to play like seniors player in the past he’s going to have to change and that will take the natural gift away from him. I think its the same with a lot of others and we should identify that and let that flourish.

Q: What was it like being a part of the 1999 Test win over Australia? How big was it for the team then?

A: It was massive. In 1999, it was transition time again. The youngsters were just brought in. After the ‘96 World Cup, till 1999, it was the World Cup winners who were kind of in the team and then after the failures of the 1999 World Cup they looked to change the guard and that’s when, though I had played before and Mahela had played before, that was when we all came into the team. So there was a lot of changes happening. To beat Australia at that time was exceptional in fact. We were very proud of our achievement. The only thing that soured the win was Jason Gillespie and Steve Waugh ran into each other and they couldn’t take part in the match any further. So in the second innings Australia were down to only eight wickets. Other than that, I thought we had the game covered and we had done a lot of things right to win that.

Q: Who are some of the modern cricketers you enjoy watching?

A: Lot of exceptional players going around. I like to watch Virat Kohli bat – outstanding skills and consistency, great attitude. AB de Villiers for that matter. From Sri Lanka, I like to see Kusal Mendis a lot more. He’s just starting. I think Chandimal is enjoyable when he gets going.

Q: What is your life like outside the commentary box?

A: Yeah, I do have a young family. My son is 11 and I have a daughter, 7. My son loves to play cricket. Very happy with the way they are growing. We do spend a lot of time in Australia, but I tend to travel a lot because of work, and do spend a lot of time in Sri Lanka as well. You’ve got to make decisions on where work takes you to at this stage. I plan my time around commentating, I am a level three high performance coach, so I do help with coaching here and there when time permits. But I do enjoy time with the family, with the kids. We do simple things, go for long walks, cycling as a family. We do lots of things like that which is simple and nice. So, I’m pretty happy with where I am in life and I thank God for that.

Q: Would you rather be Russel the Cricketer or Russel the Commentator?

Well, if you ask me now, now I like what I am doing. Playing cricket also had its fun but now you can’t play and you have to move on. It’s a tough pick really. What you want to do, what you can do, all changes with time. If you ask me at his time, well, I’d have to say Russel the commentator.

Source: Daily Mirror - Sri Lanka

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