KANDY: Former Sri Lanka captain Arjuna Ranatunga has singled out Michael Clarke for praise over his snubbing of Indian Premier League and Big Bash League riches, arguing the Twenty20 phenomenon is proving the downfall of Test cricket in his homeland as too many put cash before country.

Ranatunga, now an opposition member of Parliament, also took Sri Lanka’s selectors to task, telling the Herald the decision to leave mystery spinner Ajantha Mendis out of last week’s first Test in Galle was ”unbelievable” and blaming administrators for not planning for the future.

He said Clarke, who has never played in the lucrative IPL tournament and has knocked back turning out in the revamped domestic competition this summer, was setting an example to Sri Lankan players who, he claims, lack commitment to the Test game.

”I’m really impressed with the way Michael Clarke has been captaining,” Ranatunga said. ”His passion for cricket, rather than thinking of earning money and focusing on other areas – not only the IPL but all these shorter versions – is admirable. There are lots of cricketers today who will sacrifice their country for money.

”I’m not really sure if [Sri Lanka] are focused enough to play the longer version. I am very disappointed with the commitment of most of the players, in particular I am really worried about a couple of the batsmen and their commitment to the longer version of the game. I think we look much better than Australia on paper, but they are more committed.”

Ranatunga slammed Sri Lanka’s selectors for the omission of Mendis, whose peculiar finger-flicking style terrorised Australia in the second of two Twenty20 internationals last month and who continued to mystify at times in the one-day series that followed. Mendis was left out on a spin bowling paradise in Galle but is tipped to be brought in for the second Test, which starts in Kandy tomorrow, at the likely expense of off-spinner Suraj Randiv.

”I personally feel there have been a lot of selection blunders,” Ranatunga said. ”They have not picked the right side. Especially when they play on a turning track like Galle, they should have played Ajantha Mendis. He has been very dangerous bowling against England and Australia. He performed so well in the shorter version without fielders surrounding him on good tracks, why wouldn’t they pick him there? Keeping him out was unbelievable.”

The ex-skipper is also deeply concerned about a lack of forward planning in Sri Lankan cricket. The country, still ranked a place above Australia at fourth in the world, has not won any of its nine Tests since the retirement last year of Muttiah Muralitharan and is facing the prospect of replacing the team’s three most accomplished players in the next few years. Captain Tillakaratne Dilshan and Mahela Jayawardene are 34 and Kumar Sangakkara is 33.

”We will really struggle after Mahela, Sangakkara and Dilshan retire,” Ranatunga said. ”They will all go at the same time.”

A feisty character who was never far from controversy during his captaincy, Ranatunga says he retains no bitterness towards Australia as a result of the crowd taunts directed at Muralitharan after his bowling action was called into question. Ranatunga even advised the champion spinner not to tour Australia in 2007 but holds no grudge.

”There can be an issue with the public in Sri Lanka but, generally, we always loved to travel to Australia even if we had to face issues,” he said. ”Murali was treated in a disappointing manner but, ultimately, we had the last laugh because he became the highest wicket-taker in the world. I don’t keep a grudge on those things. Whether you travelled to Australia or England, or somewhere else, I used to fight for the rights of my cricketers.”

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