The duels of Arjuna Ranatunga, Sri Lanka’s legendary captain, with the late and great Australian spinner Shane Warne was of the fiercest ever witnessed on and off a cricket field. Time and again, Ranatunga would taunt Warne with a flippant comment and relish it in the retelling as well. But inside all that nock-taunts lies a deep respect.
On Sunday, on the third and final day of Sri Lanka’s Test against Australia, Ranatunga had participated in an official tribute to Warne, who died this March, organised by the Sri Lanka Cricket Association.
Ranatunga pointed out Warne’s help when Sri Lanka were severely hit by Tsunami as the turning point in the Sri Lankans’ perception of the Australian legspinner.
“Everybody knows about the run ins we had on the field but off the field we moved on well. Sri Lankans weren’t big fans of Warne, but soon after the tsunami when he came over to help, people started appreciating him as he touched their hearts,” Ranatunga told reporters.
“I liked listening to Warne in commentaries. He wasn’t afraid to speak his mind out. He was outspoken and forthright, which is rare among cricket commentators these days. His cricket brain was ahead of his time,” Ranatunga said.
“His death was devastating and our fans were sad. It’s a huge loss for the game as he was a brilliant student and ahead of his time. As some say, he was the best captain that Australia never had, elaborated Ranatunga. Warne’s tryst with Sri Lanka had started in 1992 at the SSC stadium when he spun out the tail for no runs to push Australia to a thrilling win. Ranatunga recalled that game.
“Warne was picked at the right time. He was lucky that he had a clever captain in Allan Border. In that SSC Test, we knew that if he had bowled well in the second innings we would struggle. Still disappointed to lose that Test by the narrowest of margins as that would have been our first Test win against Australia. But that’s how the game goes. We knew from the start that Warne was special.”
“Our plan with Warney was to attack him. We knew that if we played defensively, it was just a matter of time before he got us out. Overall I would like to think that our strategy against him worked but we had bad days as well. He was too good a bowler not to come up with something to counter us. During the initial stages, I thought he wasn’t very comfortable when we attacked him. But then he developed and towards the tail end of my career he was a different bowler.”
In the past, to this correspondent, Ranatunga had spoken about some of the on-field tales with Warne.
This is Ranatunga on the first time he played Warne. “There was such hype over what he would do to us. I walked in and saw that there was nothing so great. I hit him for a six straightaway and immediately Asanka Gurusinha came across and said, ‘Machang cool down. Take it easy.’”
He had also shared a humorous tale from the field. ”I had an injury to my hand and when I went in to bat, I was taking my bottom hand off the handle while defending. Warne had men in the deep. He walked up to me and said, ‘Hey you’re showing respect to Warney?’ ‘Respect?’, I said. ‘I’m crippled here and you are bowling with men in the deep. Why don’t you bring them in?’ He did.”
Ranatunga chuckled as he added, “I went down on my knees and hit him over deep midwicket. He then bowled a googly and I called out googly as I played it to the off side. It was good fun!” Ranatunga rated Abdul Qadir over Warne as the best legspinner he had ever faced as he had problems picking Qadir’s googlies. “It [the btest] was Abdul Qadir. I had problems picking his googly,” he had said in the past.