Shane Warne lobs one up. Arjuna Ranatunga steps out and smacks it straight. Warne readies himself for a caught-and-bowled dismissal, but the ball by now has bulleted past him for a boundary. The next ball a chest-high full toss and Ranatuga pulls it off front foot for a six. These were unforgettable sights from the 1996 World Cup final. His fans still recall that moment as ‘Ranatunga owns Warne’.

Ranatunga finished with a 37-ball 47 not out as he became the first cricketer to score the winning run in a World Cup final (given the previous WC final victories were scripting by a team defending a score). Over the years, Warne and Ranatunga went on to scale their rivalries. They often got personal, and did not hold themselves back from having a go at each other.

In 1999, Warne made his feelings clearer. He told Times, “There is plenty of animosity between Arjuna and myself. I don’t like him, and I’m not in a club of one.” Six years later, Ranatunga openly called him an “overrated bowler” who could “never be a role model”.

Warne rated Ranatunga as his 93rd favourite cricketer in his book Shane Warne’s Century: My Top 100 Test Cricketers.

Excerpts from the book will throw more light on their not so cordial relationship. In using ‘no so cordial’, I am being kind to the cricketers who represent the gentleman’s game.

“Through gritted teeth, I have put Arjuna Ranatunga in my 100, because everybody knows I don’t like Ranatunga… if there was any way I could knock him down to number 101 for the purposes of this book, I’d be delighted to do so.

“The basic problem I had with Ranatunga was his attitude towards the game. He didn’t play cricket in the right spirit and tried to manipulate the laws and regulations without actually breaking them.

“I can remember occasions when he led his team off the field because he was unhappy with an umpiring decision, ordered an umpire where to stand behind the wicket, called for a runner by faking injury to disguise his own fitness – he looked as though he’d swallowed a sheep – and told his teammates not to shake our hands after a match.

“He was described as a little Napoleon early in his captaincy career and I think he took it as praise, he was so irritating. I have not heard a good word for him from a single international player outside Sri Lanka.”

The background

The day before the start of the 2003 World Cup, Warne was sent home after a drug test conducted (for a banned diuretic) during an ODI series in Australia resulted positive. Warne claimed that it was a prescribed ‘fluid tablet’ given to him by his mother to improve his appearance — to get rid of his double chin to be precise.

A disappointed South African fan during the World Cup (Image courtesy: Getty)
A disappointed South African fan during the World Cup (Image courtesy: Getty)
Meanwhile, he received support from fans from Australia (Image courtesy: Getty)
Meanwhile, he received support from fans from Australia (Image courtesy: Getty)

A tearful Warne left the Australian side shocked as he then served a year ban.

“I admitted to the hearing that I had taken a tablet in early December. I was doing a lot of wine promotions. I’d had a couple too many bottles of wine and had a few late nights. I took a fluid tablet then. It was to get rid of a double chin. The December test showed small traces of the same thing. That was before my [shoulder] operation. That proves I didn’t take the fluid tablet to mask anything,” Warne clarified in Melbourne.

If Ranatunga was fat (like he swallowed a sheep), Warne during his playing days wasn’t the leanest man. He grabbed headlines for his mastery, chubbiness and off-field antics. However, both these men did not allow their vastness to come in the way of their greatness.

Warne, the bully

Warne was a master at sledging. Daryll Cullinan had to see a psychologist thanks to Warne’s mastery with the ball and the art of ‘mental disintegration’ as the Australians would put it. Even for once, he managed to get the better of the smart blokes such as Sourav Ganguly and Nasser Hussain through sledging.

Shane Warne had made life miserable for Daryll Cullianan, so miserable that the latter to visit a psychologist (Image courtesy: Getty)
Shane Warne had made life miserable for Daryll Cullianan, so miserable that the latter to visit a psychologist (Image courtesy: Getty)

But Ranatunga wouldn’t digest any filth thrown at him. He could be a Napoleon with words too.

Warne had it in 2004, after he returned to international cricket post the ban. Australia were touring Sri Lanka. The series was rightly billed as Warne vs Muralitharan.

Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan are regarded as two of the greatest spin bowlers ever (Image courtesy: AFP)
Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan are regarded as two of the greatest spin bowlers ever (Image courtesy: AFP)

It had been four years since Ranatunga had retired from international arena; he also had won a seat in the Sri Lankan Parliament in the 2001 elections. Warne was asked in a press conference if he would meet his old foe. Warne spent no time mincing with words and poked fun, “Arjuna, he’s probably slotting himself around at 150 kilos at the moment, is he? Swallowed a sheep or something like that.”

Ranatunga isn’t the one who usually swallows barbs. He spoke to AP from his home.

Shane Warne never missed an opportunity to take a dig at Arjuna Ranatunga (Image courtesy: Getty)
Shane Warne never missed an opportunity to take a dig at Arjuna Ranatunga (Image courtesy: Getty)

“If I swallow a lamb or a goat, it is none of his business. But I must tell him that I don’t swallow those pills and blame my mother for it,” Arjuna lived up to his name and hit the bull’s eye. He continued, “I am fine and fit at 95 kilograms. It is better to swallow a sheep or a goat than swallow what he has been swallowing.

“I am certainly going to meet him. I may even invite him to attend one of my campaign meetings. Though I know I may risk losing some votes.”

However, Ranatunga showed some respect for his legendary foe when he concluded, “I, however, respect Warne as a player. He is great.”

Warne finished with 26 wickets from 3 Tests, 2 behind Murali. However, Warne averaged 20, 3 points better than Murali’s 23. Both had an economy rate of 3.10. Warne struck every 38 balls compared to Murali’s 44. Warne’s heroics helped Australia sweep that series 3-0. He ended his career almost 3 years later with 708 wickets and the tag of ‘arguably the greatest spinner ever’.