Natham, Dindigul, August 12: Russel Arnold believes it is not fair to judge players on the basis of their performances in the TNPL as they are still in the developmental stage. “It’ll always be a learning curve and we should be careful that we do not judge them at the level of international players or even IPL players. Because, this really is a stepping stone and so we’re looking up to it in a different angle,” he said.
The former Sri Lankan star, however, was impressed by the performances during his commentating stint at the tournament. “It’s a great fun I must say in trying to get to know about the players and watching them how they go about their business. There have been some wonderful performances. The fielding has been pretty good; some athleticism and great judgements. In terms of bowling, there is variety and variation. Bowlers are coming up with a lot of different slower balls, which are going to be crucial. In batting too, the shot selection has been pretty impressive. But all in all to become an entire package there still got to be little more improvement,” he said.
The facilities and organisation are other aspects that caught Arnold’s eye and he believes players should make full use of the TNPL platform to develop and progress to the next level. “When I came here, I initially saw the facilities. They are top class. The ground, the pitch, whatever is around, cricket can only get better. It is a great opportunity for a lot of these young guys. Some of them don’t play the highest level, but it’s for them to showcase, improve and probably make it to the higher level. A great starting point for them to develop and I hope they realise that,” he said.
Since hanging his cricket boots, the 45-year-old has become a popular commentator and is a regular at all global cricketing events. He has quite a following on the social media, especially in Tamil Nadu, since he often converses to his fans in Tamil. Arnold reveals the stint in TNPL is an extension of what he enjoys doing -- commentating and interacting with fans on social media.
“With my line being commentary for the last few years, I find social media as a great place to pick up news you want and also interact with fans, so it’s great knowing the language and knowing people here (in Tamil Nadu). There are some great friends on social media, especially Twitter. It’s been a great line. It’s good to have fun, when you know where to draw the line. I know a lot of people who have a great humour sense and they make life all the better.
“I am enjoying the commentary as well. And now that I have started doing Tamil commentary, it is very different compared to English. We enjoy the local fun, the venues and the interaction with the fans is lot more, the direct communication. Therefore, this is something I’d like to do and keep doing,” he said.
Arnold reveals the TNPL is gaining currency in Sri Lanka as well. “A lot of channels do pick up Star Sports Tamil. It is becoming more and more popular now. Sri Lankans are realising there is another option. I do follow it, because I need to know what’s going on,” he said.
It was a pleasant surprise for Arnold to watch some of his contemporaries in action during the TNPL. Fast bowler Tamil Kumaran, all-rounders Rajagopal Sathish and Vasant Saravanan – all in their late thirties -- have lined up with or against the Sri Lanka star in Twenty20 tournaments a decade ago. “I was pretty surprised to see them. But then on the other hand with how cricket is being played right now, you’re able to go on and play longer and they’re fit. Tamil Kumaran is not doing what he used to in running and bowling quick as he can. But he bowls a quicker one every now and then so that’s being smart about it and being able to play a part. Rajagopal Sathish looks very effective and fit. He’s the one I’m most impressed with in terms of maintaining fitness. As long as you’re fit, you can stay out there,” he said.
As a player, the left-handed top-order batsman was a vital cog in Sri Lanka’s wheel of success between 1997 and 2007. The current Sri Lankan team, however, appears to be in transition, still coming to terms with the retirements of batting superstars Mahela Jayawardena, Kumara Sangakkara, Tillakaratne Dilshan and recently bowling heroes Rangana Herath and Lasith Malinga.
Arnold feels Sri Lanka is struggling because of the lack of a robust domestic set-up, unlike India where tournaments like the TNPL help in harnessing talent. “They’ve been in a transition for a while. It is very difficult to replace the players that we’ve lost over such a short time. There are areas in Sri Lankan cricket that needs to be addressed. The first-class system has diluted a lot. Look at the TNPL, they are learning something here. We don’t have that type of set-up so players tend to learn their game only at the international level. That’s where it becomes difficult,” he says.
“Skills have never been low in Sri Lanka,” Arnold insists as is evident in their historic Test series win in South Africa in February early this year and their impressive showing in the One-Day series at home against Bangladesh last month. Consistency, pride in wearing the Sri Lankan shirt and heroes are what the Island nations needs, says the batsman, who featured in 44 Tests and 180 One-Day Internationals during his decade-old career.
“We have been surprising teams and that is because of the talent. The consistency is the issue. So that’s something we need to look at. In terms of players, how the administrators and coaches hold it together is the key. There’s got to be a lot more pride in what they do.
“Try and be heroes. For example, a 40-odd score may keep you in the team but it may not take Sri Lanka cricket to the next level. The problem they are having right now is they have no heroes. There is no one you can really look up to. As a fan or a cricket follower, you can't think that this guy is Sri Lanka’s Kohli or something like that. You don’t have that. So to create that outcome, it is up to the individual to come out and be special. Those type of values cannot be coached. So we need a bit of an improvement in that area,” he said.
Arnold, who was at the ICC World Cup as a commentator, could not exactly put his finger on why India has struggled to win titles in big tournaments over the last five years. India’s last win came during the 2013 Champions Trophy in England and since then they have lost to: Sri Lanka in the 2014 Twenty20 final, Australia in the 2015 ICC World Cup semis,
West Indies in the 2016 World Twenty20 semis, Pakistan in the 2017 Champions Trophy final and lastly to New Zealand in the 2019 ICC World Cup semis.
“Well, these kinds of tournaments are very difficult and you have to be very consistent right through. With India coming in, with the team they have, they’re the team to beat so everyone wants to trip them. But since 2013 you do have to consider the fact that what happened at the other end. In T20 World Cup where Sri Lanka beat them, you got to give the credit to Sri Lanka in that situation for handling the situation well. Down Under (in 2015) the conditions come in to play and it’s tough to go out there and blast your way through with extra bounce and pace coming in to the equation. You’ll only find teams that grew up in those conditions will get through. If you go back to Champions Trophy final, Pakistan had a blinder of a game. So, I really don’t know how you look at it. It’s just about trying to show up and being the best you can.”
However, Russel is convinced in England, injury to left-handed opener Shikhar Dhawan, who was ruled out early in the tournament, hurt India’s chances.
“I thought Shikhar Dhawan was the big miss for India. Once he got injured, the Indian players were out of zone. They had to rebalance their team and confidence and their goals had to be reset, which was the real problem. With Dhawan there, scoring 300 and 330 was an easy task for Indian batting line-up. But, without him the pressure was too much on Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli so I eye reckon there they went out of balance, but these things tend to happen,” he added.