Ranjan Madugalle: Enduring batsman, respected official


Ranjan Madugalle, the stylish Sri Lankan middle-order batsman of the 1980s, was born on April 22, 1959. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at a former Sri Lankan captain whose second innings as a match-referee won the hearts of the cricket world.

Ranjan Madugalle was a treat to watch. When in his flow, his fluency was matched by a select few. With his characteristic grace he could pierce through the field with a lazy elegance that was so typical of his batting. He was the kind of batsman who could make the spectators forget about the scorecard when he got going.

Test career

Madugalle figured in the first 18 Tests Sri Lanka played, which is a feat no Sri Lankan — including stalwarts like Roy Dias, Duleep Mendis, or Arjuna Ranatunga — had managed to achieve.

Madugalle had made his debut in Sri Lanka’s first Test — against England at the P Saravanamuttu Stadium in Colombo. Coming out to bat at 29 for three, Madugalle top-scored with a defiant 65 (including a six off John Emburey) and helped Sri Lanka reach 218. It was mainly due to Madugalle’s stylish innings that David Frith wrote at the end of Day One: “the baby, nonetheless, had been delivered without complications; heartbeat regular; breathing sound, if a little excited.”

After a few indifferent series (including a few sparkling knocks), Madugalle finally came to his elements in the home series against New Zealand in 1983-84, scoring 242 runs at 60.50. When Sri Lanka won their first ever Test — against India at the P Sara Stadium in 1985-86 — Madugalle scored 54 in the only innings he batted, putting up 95 for the second wicket with Amal Silva. Earlier that series Madugalle scored his first hundred — a strokeful 103, adding 85 with Mendis and 144 with Ranatunga.

ODI career

Madugalle was generally considered a fine ODI batsman due to his style of batting, but he failed to impress the selectors, even after getting to play all ODI matches (barring one) for Sri Lanka between 1979 and 1984. He played on till 1988-89, and finished with 950 runs in 63 ODIs at a below-par 18.50 with a highest score of 73.

Captain of Sri Lanka

Madugalle got to lead Sri Lanka in his last two Tests — against Australia at Perth, and against England at Lord’s. Sri Lanka lost both Tests by plenty, and Madugalle scored only 36 runs from 4 innings. He quit thereafter, finishing a career with a rather pedestrian record of 1,029 runs at 29.40 from 21 Tests with just a solitary hundred — numbers way below his potential. Though he had scored 556 at 42.76 from 9 home Tests, his overseas record read 473 from 12 Tests at 21.50.

During this phase Madugalle also got to lead Sri Lanka in 13 ODIs, scoring 157 runs at 13.08. However, Sri Lanka managed to win two ODIs under his tenure – against New Zealand at Hobart in 1987-88, and in his last ODI against Pakistan at Dhaka in 1988-89. Sri Lanka had also won Madugalle’s debut ODI — when they pulled off an upset victory against India in the 1979 World Cup.

Chairman of ICC Cricket Committee Clive Lloyd (left) talks to ICC Chief Match Referee, Lord’s, 2009 © Getty Images

Match referee

After his retirement, Madugalle became an ICC-appointed match-referee, making his Test debut in the Pakistan-Zimbabwe Test at Karachi in 1993-94, his ODI debut in the Pakistan-Zimbabwe ODI at Karachi in 1993-94, and his T20I debut in the Bangladesh-Zimbabwe T20I in 2006-07.

Till date Madugalle has overseen 141 Tests, 270 ODIs, and 56 T20Is. Not only is he miles ahead in all three formats, his next competitors are nowhere close to him: Jeff Crowe (62) ranks second in Tests, Chris Broad (213) in ODIs, and Broad (46) in T20Is as well. In all three formats combined, his tally of 467 international matches stands way clear of Broad’s 318.

In 2001 Madugalle was appointed the chief match referee by ICC. When asked for a reason,Malcolm Speed, the CEO of ICC, elaborated: “Madugalle is clearly regarded as the outstanding member of the existing panel. His record as a former captain of Sri Lanka and the high regard in which he is held throughout the cricket world makes him an ideal appointment for this position.”

By virtue of his genial, apparently easy-going attitude, Madugalle has built up an easy-to-approach image of his. However, despite his congenial outlook, his strict sense of discipline has made him a well-respected and feared official that the players do not dare to take lightly.