Ranjan Madugalle is a name synonymous around the world for his role as the chief ICC match referee a position which all Sri Lankans are proud of. A product of Royal College, Madugalle had a distinguished career at school captaining them in the Centenary Match against traditional rivals S Thomas’ College Mt Lavinia in 1979. An accomplished top order batsman Madugalle later went onto represent and captain his country at international level before retiring rather prematurely at the age of 29.
A few excerpts from him ahead of the 138th Royal-Thomian cricket match that commences at the SSC grounds on March 9.
Q: What led you to take up to cricket at Royal?
RM: I grew up in a home which always had a ball around. So, if it was not cricket, it would have been rugby or tennis. I had my formative education at Trinity College, Kandy and that’s where I learned the basics. I moved to Royal College when I was 11 and cricket just flowed on from there. The first XI cricketers at that time at Royal were players like Asitha Jayaweera, Jagath Fernando, and Gajan Pathmanathn. They were the ones that inspired our generation of cricketers at Royal.
Q: Comparing preparations for and during a season for a cricketer during your era what’s different now?
RM: The first thing that strikes me is the amount of matches that a young schoolboy cricketer now plays during a season. In our time, we played a maximum of around 12 games whereas today’s schoolboy cricketer plays around 20-25. That’s a lot of cricket for a young man as I firmly believe that there should be adequate breaks/rests between games so that he has the opportunity to rest his mind and body. The other difference is that in our playing days there were no tournaments. So to battle for points was not a priority but to learn, improve skills and enjoy were the objectives. When you play too much of cricket during a season, it also leads to pitches not being at its best as nature is such that pitches do need preparation, care and rest. Average pitches do not produce quality cricketers. The other difference that I see is the level of fitness and preparation leading into a season which is greater than what we ever did which is very good. This prepares a young cricketer to face the rigours of modern day cricket. It’s now common to see a 15-year-old at a gym pushing weights. Whereas the only weight that I carried as a 15-year-old was my cricket kit bag to and from practice!
Q: The Royal-Thomian cricket match has been played for 137 years. What differences do you see in the RT matches from when you played and now?
RM: It’s nearly 38 years since I last played a Royal-Thomian. It’s only in my last year, which was the Centenary year; this encounter became a 3-day match as opposed to a 2-day match. That’s a difference it requires a different approach skills-wise, mentally and physically, as during the school season the games are played over two days. I’m glad that from then to now, the spirit in which the players have played the game in this great encounter have been of the highest order, upholding the values, traditions of the two institutions and this noble game of cricket. What have changed remarkably are the peripheral aspects and the commercialization of the game. We now have a dedicated bunch of old boys from both schools who run this game almost like a company to ensure that they maximize on commercial opportunities, generate income which is then channeled back to the schools to develop the sport and also contribute towards some worthy causes. In our time, a joint committee ran the game but we were not in that era of commercialization. Therefore, my fervent wish is that this aspect doesn’t encroach or intrude on to the core product, which is the Royal-Thomian cricket match.
Q: What was it like to be captain of the school, club and country?
RM: To represent one’s school and country is an honour given to very few. Therefore, I felt specially privileged to have had represented at the three stages of my cricket career. It’s during these stages you carry the hopes and aspirations of your school and country and it was with special pride that I stepped onto a cricket field knowing the significance and the importance of those I represented. Therefore, to have had the ultimate honour of captaining your school and country is something that cannot be explained in words but something that I will treasure for the rest of my life. This is not about a singular achievement, it’s also learning about life, making friends, competing at the highest level with great intensity, but in the spirit in which this game of cricket is meant to be played.
Q: What are the non-negotiable elements of discipline you would like maintained by both sides in the Royal-Thomian series having seen and played national and international cricket?
RM: The non-negotiable aspects I would like the players to maintain would be playing according to the laws and the spirit, respecting the umpires, respecting your opponents for who they are as much as you would respect your own players and always to think that the game is bigger than the team and the team is greater than you. Some of these are aspects of discipline but the others are values which have been the cornerstone and the bedrock of this game for centuries.
Q: How would do you see the Royal Thomian in the next 20 years?
RM: I would like to see the game played the way it is now, high in intensity, but in good spirit, skills and fitness levels improving with the advancement of modern science and one aspect that is inevitable in the day and age we live is the introduction of technology to ensure that we arrive at the best decisions. We can be the innovators of that. I am also sure the event organisers will make this encounter more attractive, marketable and current so that the future generations will enjoy “The Big Match” the way our forefathers and we did. Hope I live to see that day.