Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, RUSSEL ARNOLD talks about Sri Lanka’s
history-makers, South Africa’s batting woes, Sanath Jayasuriya’s two-year ban
and previews the ODI series, which starts on Sunday.
Sport24 asked: Your take on Sri Lanka’s historic Test series triumph?
Russel Arnold: When the Sri Lankan team came over I thought it was
going to be a tough series, but the tour so far has gone much better than
planned. Sri Lanka’s Test series win over South Africa was welcome and I was
pleasantly surprised. (Sri Lanka had not won a match since October, the
selectors were not on the best terms with the coach and their regular captain
had been removed from the side prior to the series). I guess when your backs
are against the wall, it can serve as extra motivation. The boys realised they
only had each other and had to go out there and show more energy. It was very
good for Sri Lankan cricket to have a breather by beating South Africa at home.
(Sri Lanka made history by becoming the first-ever Asian team to win a Test
series in South Africa). But the Test series win for Sri Lanka can paper over
some cracks, so they have to be realistic. When you win, you see a different
picture, but it’s important to assess all aspects and be honest about where you
are at. If the results are good, you have to look at how they were achieved,
what worked, what didn’t and come to a conclusion when making decisions going
forward. The unlikely Test series triumph instils more hope within the Sri
Lankan team and because of that hopefully they will be able to make better
decisions. (After the first Test, Arnold was pictured in Sri Lanka’s dressing
room). I don’t believe anyone is neutral and I think it’s bogus to say that you
have to be neutral because your heart has to be in it as a commentator. If your
heart is not in it, I don’t think you can bring the best out of your commentary.
You’ve got to call it as it is, but my job is to give the Sri Lankan
Sport24 asked: How much of a blow was it for South African cricket?
Russel Arnold: The Test series defeat would have been
heart-breaking for South Africa because they have been very dominant at home
and, prior to their travels, there was nothing going right for Sri Lanka. It
was a series where South Africa should have put Sri Lanka down. It was not only
the fact that the current Sri Lankan team were struggling, better Sri Lankan
teams have struggled in alien conditions. We knew that the tour to South Africa
was going to be a massive ask, and for South Africa to have come up short will
be very disappointing for them. The fact is that it happened not only once but
twice, is a real concern for South Africa and they will have to assess how it
came about. They really need to hit back and the players have to take extra responsibility
as far as performance is concerned. South Africa gave Sri Lanka an opening, which
they took with both hands.
Sport24 asked: How would you assess South Africa’s batting woes?
Russel Arnold: When the pressure is on and the ball is doing
something, the South African batsmen don’t seem to be able to score runs and
that is a real worry. In terms of South Africa’s batting problems, I think it
should be about collective responsibility. Coaches are judged by the team’s performances.
If they don’t perform, they are criticised and if they perform, they should be
given credit. It’s the nature of the beast. You need to look deeper at a
coach’s role and see what their contribution is and how well the players are
developing. It’s tricky in terms of how you judge a coach (South African
batting coach Dale Benkenstein has been roundly castigated) but the players are
responsible because they do the on-field business. At this level, it’s about
managing and getting your game in order. It’s not about a batting coach
teaching you the basics. As a coach at international level, it’s more about
man-management. It comes down to getting the players in the right frame of
mind, fine-tuning aspects of play and reminding players of what has worked for
them in the past. However, it’s definitely not about teaching them cricket when
they are playing for the national side.
Sport24 asked: Has the T20 game affected batting in Test cricket?
Russel Arnold: The technique and mindset that has developed in the
shortest format of the game is coming into Test cricket and is not helping batsmen
playing Test innings, which you really want. You want your top-order batsmen to
absorb pressure and accumulate runs, but at the moment it just doesn’t seem to
be happening. If you look around the world, it’s probably only Indian batsmen Cheteshwar
Pujara, who is absorbing pressure and piling on the runs, whereas almost all
the other batsmen are flagging. The defensive mindset in Test cricket has gone
out the window. Many batsmen don’t look to defend and wear the opposition down
anymore, instead they look to attack. Michael Holding recently said that some
batsmen should be reported to the ICC, rather than the state of the pitches. He
was referring to the bigger picture and not only in this series, but in the
series against Pakistan as well. On bowler-friendly pitches where the ball is
doing a lot, batsmen will be challenged, but in Mikey’s opinion a number of
top-order batsmen are not showing the requisite application or technique. That
is what he was trying to say and you can’t disagree. The change in mindset is
affecting the Test game where we are actually searching for the grind and the
Sport24 asked: What do you make of Duanne Olivier’s defection?
Russel Arnold: That was really disappointing to hear because I
thought everything was in front of him as far as South African cricket is
concerned. I was looking forward to seeing him developing within the Test arena
and being a force. The news came as a shock and I’m quite disappointed that he
has looked to go away and take up a three-year Kolpak contract. It’s a blow not
only for South Africa but for world cricket because you don’t find too many
express fast bowlers around nowadays. However, looking at it from a player’s
point of view, a cricket career is for a limited time and they also need
security in their lives. But it’s disappointing he chose not to remain in
Sport24 asked: Is Sanath Jayasuriya’s ban also a bolt from the blue?
Russel Arnold: Yeah. It’s disappointing news and is not good for
Sri Lankan cricket because Sanath is one of the legends. Corruption allegations
have been around Sri Lankan cricket, so I’m of the view that rather than having
a cloud hanging over, it has to be cleared out. Whoever is implicated needs to
be taken to task. There is nothing to suggest that Jayasuriya was involved in
corruption, but him being charged and subsequently banned from all cricket
activities for two years is because of a delay in handing in a phone and SIM
card to the investigation when requested to (for the purpose of gathering
evidence) and not fully cooperating with the ICC in his role as Sri Lanka’s former
chairman of selectors. It’s difficult for me to comment on whether spot and match-fixing
is still rife within the game because I don’t have the information and it’s not
fair for me to comment on hearsay and what people talk about. There is a lot of
loose talk about spot and match-fixing, but I really hope that it’s not still
going on and would love it if we can trust our game and enjoy the entertainment
Sport24 asked: Your outlook ahead of the five-match ODI series?
Russel Arnold: It’s a different format and I’m hoping it will be a
closely-fought series. The goal for Sri Lanka is to pick up the pieces, get
their act together and really push South Africa. It will be a disaster for everyone
if it’s not a competitive series, and is the last thing South Africa would want.
They would want to be tested leading into the World Cup, as it the last ODI
series for both sides before the showpiece… Never having won a World Cup would
be at the back of the South African players’ minds because everyone will keep
reminding them, but it’s about going out there, expressing themselves and being
consistent throughout the tournament. Come the business end, their bigger
players must stand up. In terms of AB de Villiers, I feel people have to move
on. AB played his part for South Africa and if South Africa is still sitting
hoping he will make a comeback they are not going to be able to get over the
line this time either. The focus has to be on the players who are available.
David Miller can play the role of a finisher, but the foundation has to be set
and I think Quinton de Kock is the man for South Africa. Meanwhile, at this
stage, I don’t expect much from Sri Lanka at the World Cup in the UK, but this
series will tell us if they can cause a few surprises. There is no doubt they
have the talent, but getting their act together is the key. The two Kusal’s -
Mendis and Perera - are playing outstanding cricket at the moment and I also like
the look of 25-year-old Akila Dananjaya.
Sport24 asked: Who would be your dream dinner guests and why?
Russel Arnold: I would invite sporting royalty from football, rugby
and cricket. Cristiano Ronaldo would make the guest list. I like his arrogance
and the way he executes and goes about his business. I would also invite former
All Black Michael Jones. I grew up watching the ex-flanker play and always
admired him... I’m a big rugby fan and will be attending the Lions-Bulls derby
in Johannesburg on Saturday. My third guest would come from cricketing circles.
Someone I admired growing up was West Indian Garfield Sobers. He was one of the
best all-rounders in the world. During my playing career, I was nowhere near
him as an all-rounder, but as youngster he was one of the people I looked up
to. I would serve my guests Thai food and light reggae would be heard in the
Schalk Burger snr
Chad le Clos
Carlo de Fava
Flip van der Merwe
Neil de Kock
Rohan Janse van Rensburg