Arunabha Sengupta looks at some of the most famous feuds of cricket. This episode talks of the bad blood between Arjuna Ranatunga and Shane Warne
One could almost hear the ring announcer introducing the fighters in the two corners. It was the clash of two heavyweights, and not simply because of their gigantic achievements.
True, the feats of the two were phenomenal. One was the champion leg spinner of his era –indeed one of the very best of all time. The other led his country from a shaky start to the very top of the world.
However, both were graced with generous builds, which led them to be the butt of many cruel taunts on the field.
When Arjuna Ranatunga asked for a runner on a particularly hot day in Sydney, Ian Healy’s legendary comment was heard worldwide through the stump microphone, “You don’t get a runner for being an overweight, unfit, fat c**t.”
Ranatunga was offended enough to instruct his players not to shake hands with the Australians after the match.
Although united by this weighty cause, the two rivals did not see eye to eye. The problems started with Sri Lanka’s visit to Australia in 1995-96 – a tour full of problems at every step. The visitors did not really get a rousing welcome, with sniffer dogs getting extremely interested in them at the airport. This was followed by the infamous Darrell Hair calling Muttiah Muralitharan for throwing. When Ranatunga, the captain of the Lankans, hinted at conspiracy by the Australians against his champion spinner, the home team was not amused. The friction continued for years.
It was aided and abetted by Ranatunga’s uncanny ability to rattle a team of world-renowned sledgers, with Warne being the prime victim. During the 1996 World Cup, the rotund Sri Lankan captain went on record saying that Warne was overrated. Eager to settle things on the ground, Warne tried to bowl him a flipper in the World Cup final, but it came out of his hand as a juicy full toss. Ranatunga pulled it for six and stuck his tongue out at the fuming leg-spinner. Warne also dropped the left-hander off his own bowling as the Lankans romped to a win in the final.
In a One-Day International (ODI) between Sri Lanka and England at Adelaide, 1998-99, umpire Ross Emerson called Muralitharan for throwing. Ranatunga not only objected, but according to Warne, also tried to tell the umpire where to stand when the off-spinner was in operation. Warne, in My Autobiography, says that he found it disgraceful and was surprised that the International Cricket Council (ICC) did not find it offensive enough to fine the Sri Lankan captain.
During the 1999 World Cup, the leg-spinner wrote in his column that Ranatunga was a disgrace and Sri Lanka and the game would be better off without him. He added, “I don’t like him, and I’m not in a club of one.”
While this was supposedly provoked by Ranatunga’s threat of legal action against the ICC, but unfortunately it was the selfsame governing body that suspended Warne for a match and deducted half his match fees for the statement.
In the press conference after Sri Lanka’s first match of the tournament, Ranatunga retaliated by referring to the Australian cultural heritage and mocking the country as a convict settlement. Warne wrote that he was surprised to see the Sri Lankan get away with it.
After retirement, Ranatunga’s ample form was rapidly appended by several additional ample layers, perhaps good enough to pitch fork him to a different weight category – but the bout continued. Warne, seeing him in 2005, remarked that he looked as if he had swallowed a sheep. Ranatunga, aware of the ban on that Warne faced for taking an illegal substance, shot back, “It is better to swallow a sheep or a goat than swallow what he has been swallowing.”
However, there was grudging admiration between the two. Ranatunga confessed, “I, however, respect Warne as a player. He is great.”
Warne, on his part, included Ranatunga in his list of greatest players in the 2008 book Shane Warne’s Century remarking, “You can’t be mates with everyone, and if there was any way I could knock him down to number for the purposes of this book, I’d be delighted to do so. But having taken on the task, I want to do it seriously, and the fact is that Ranatunga helped to put Sri Lanka on the cricket map. And you know what? Deep down, I’ll quietly admit that I rated him as a cricketer.”