Sri Lanka off-spinner Suraj Randiv was a surprise inclusion for the 2011 World Cup final. More than a decade later, it still remains a call that came out of absolutely nowhere, writes Shashwat Kumar.
When picking Wisden’s one World Cup wonder XI, there was a balance to be struck between excellent ODI players who had a decent solitary World Cup, or journeymen who starred in their short time on the global stage. And then there were the players whose stories made the case for them.
Suraj Randiv didn’t make the XI. He played only one World Cup game, lost it, and didn’t take a wicket. But his tale deserves deeper inspection. Because that one game came in a World Cup final. And the decision to select him still causes controversy to this day.
For much of the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup, Sri Lanka’s spin reserves were well-stocked. Muttiah Muralitharan was enjoying his swansong and Ajantha Mendis’ mystery had yet to be decoded. Rangana Herath offered the Islanders another excellent option.
As the tournament entered its home stretch, though, the injuries began piling up for Sri Lanka. Angelo Mathews pulled up lame during the semi-final against New Zealand, while Muralitharan also didn’t look in peak physical condition. Randiv and veteran Chaminda Vaas were drafted in as potential replacements, and while the former was presumed to be a backup to Muralitharan, when Mathews was definitively ruled out a day before the final, it was Randiv included in his place.
Still, even if his place in the squad was justifiable, picking him for the final was something else, with the off-spinner one among four players to come into the side. Mendis was the bowler to make way, despite having been Sri Lanka’s most economical bowler in the competition and having claimed three wickets in the semi-final.
Perhaps an argument for the mystery spinner’s exclusion was to be found in India’s 2008 tour to Sri Lanka. The series came at the height of Mendis mania, with eight wickets in the opening Test delivering Sri Lanka an innings win. But he was worked out by Virender Sehwag in the second Test, the opener constructing perhaps his best Test innings, and with the same opener set to be in his way in the final, was this why he was left out? Up until the final, India had played him as well as any side – they had faced him 16 times in ODIs, with his bowling average and economy rate against India each his second worst against any side. But then Randiv had hardly been a thorn in India’s side, with 12 wickets in 11 games at an average nearing 40.
A conditions-based pick, backing Randiv’s lanky, bouncy off-spin? A loss of faith in Mendis? Or just a hunch? It remains a puzzling decision, and for some it rankled even years later.
In 2017, former Sri Lanka cricketer and World Cup winning captain Arjuna Ranatunga could keep quiet no longer and cried foul, saying that the game needed to be investigated. Former Sri Lankan sports minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage also went on record, saying that “certain parties” fixed the match to ensure India’s victory.
This led to a massive probe in 2020, which was carried out by the Special Investigation Division of the Police. However, they couldn’t find evidence of any wrongdoing after questioning Aravinda de Silva (the chairman of selectors at the time), Kumar Sangakkara (Sri Lanka’s captain during the 2011 World Cup) and Mahela Jayawardene.
The ICC, too, rebutted all of those claims, categorically denying what Aluthgamage had alleged. The former sports minister had also said that a letter had been delivered to the ICC, asking them to investigate the match – something ICC Anti-Corruption Unit General Manager Alex Marshall rubbished in 2020.
“The ICC Integrity Unit has looked into the recent allegations regarding the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup Final 2011,” he said. “At this time, we have not been presented with any evidence that supports the claims made or which would merit launching an investigation under the ICC Anti-Corruption Code. There is no record of any letter regarding this matter sent by the then Sri Lanka Sports Minister to the ICC and senior ICC staff at the time have confirmed they have no recollection of receiving any such letter which would have led to an investigation. We have no reason to doubt the integrity of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup Final 2011.” Emphatic.
Perhaps for Randiv it was simply meant to be this way, with his wending career flecked with flashpoints. A closer look at his career, which began with him starting off as a medium pacer before bowling spin to accommodate his U-15 team’s needs, tells you that Randiv has almost always found himself in situations no one expected him to be in. Now, he has relocated to Australia, where he is working as a bus driver and plays club cricket whenever he can.
Already, in 2010, Randiv had ruffled India’s feathers, appearing to have deliberately bowled a no-ball to deny Virender Sehwag an ODI hundred at Dambulla. Sehwag, who wasn’t pleased with the off-spinner’s antics, remarked that Randiv, considering his past no-ball record, had done so willingly.
“Yes, it was done deliberately. Because [of the size of the no-ball] … that much from the crease. Till now in Test matches he hasn’t bowled a no-ball [although he bowled two at the P Sara Oval], he hasn’t bowled no-balls in one-day cricket, on 99 only why did he bowl a no-ball? And not a small no-ball, not a small margin, from one foot ahead,” Sehwag said.
Sangakkara, who was captaining Sri Lanka at the time, hoped that Randiv hadn’t pre-meditated such tactics. “I hope it was not deliberate. That’s not the way I would like to play cricket. If that was intentional, and I have to find out about that, it has got no place on the field of cricket. I will also have to see if there was any talk about it on the field prior to that delivery.”
Maybe that explains how Randiv has been fate’s favourite child at times before transforming into something completely opposite the next moment. Or maybe it doesn’t. Either way, there are still thousands scratching their hands, trying to fathom how Randiv was called upon to play the World Cup final, ahead of more established stars such as Herath and Mendis.
And what of the final itself? Randiv’s night was as uneventful as the circumstances surrounding it were eventful. He bowled nine overs, took no wickets, and conceded 43 runs as Sri Lanka lost a close tussle. Neither here nor there. And yet a strange place in history had been secured.