Arjuna Ranatunga
© PA Photos
25

Hate to Love

Large and in charge

Defiant, passionate, cunning - Arjuna Ranatunga was a mighty tough cookie on the field and an unwavering friend off it

Martin Crowe

Truth be known, I love to hate the Australians more than anyone else. And therefore the man who got under their skin the most is my hero. Appearances can be deceiving, and when it comes to Arjuna Ranatunga, the rotund Sri Lankan mastermind, there was nothing soft in his underbelly. He is as tough a cricketer as I have ever come across.

We represented our countries at the same time, both very young, eager allrounders hoping to fit into the cut and thrust of international cricket. Sri Lanka were just beginning their climb, possessing many fine cricketers, if not hardened professionals. New Zealand were a nice mix of amateur and professional, led in example by the pro's pro, Richard Hadlee.

I first spoke to Arjuna while fielding under a helmet at short leg in Kandy in 1984. He was defiantly chirpy at the crease, never taking a backward step. His game was a bit limited - the cut and sweep were his release shots. He appeared unfit, yet he never lacked for effort or punch. He quickly became known as "Chef": hungry, dressed in white, and ready to give hell to anyone who didn't conform to the rules of his workspace.

We teased each other a little but deep down we had huge respect for one another, and I loved his smile and zest for life. He had no out-of-control ego, or fear, just a massive heart and a cunning mind. Despite Sri Lanka having no experience as such, Arjuna soaked up all he could. It was as if it was preordained - his apprenticeship was a natural platform for him to learn how to mastermind his team to unprecedented glory.

He quickly became known as "Chef": hungry, dressed in white, and ready to give hell to anyone who didn't conform to the rules of his workspace

I was more comfortable bowling to Arjuna than batting against him. I could swing it away from him, and enjoyed following up my bouncers with a prolonged look to see his response. He was always muttering something and smiling. When he bowled to me, he knew I feared getting out to his miserable deflated wobblies.

Regrettably, he dismissed me too often, notably in Wellington, when I was one short of being the first Kiwi to post a triple-century. I recall the moment when he got to the end of his run-up, beaming ear to ear. He had a gift for me. At that precise moment, up popped the thought that I had already achieved the triple-century. I didn't remove the thought; instead, I hung on to the feeling a bit longer. "Heck, you've done it," I muttered.

Arjuna rolled in and offered up a juicy half-volley wide of off stump. It was a glorious finish to a hard-fought draw, and some history. I never saw the ball leave his hand. My mind was scrambled as I jumped from "Done it", to "Where is it?" Seeing it very late and very wide, I lashed out in desperation, the blade slicing the ball and sending a thick edge into the slip cordon. Hashan Tillakaratne, the wicketkeeper, moved swiftly and calmly to his right and plucked the ball millimetres from the ground.

While Arjuna was upset for me, I was angry and inconsolable. A couple of weeks later, in the Hamilton Test, he dealt it to me again with the same mode of dismissal. Unintentionally, he had got under my skin, in the nicest possible way. I began to hate facing his gentle floating autumn leaves.

By 1996 he was a wise sage. He knew his team and their strengths, and he knew what buttons needed pushing. He saw the Australians as an easy target. He saw how false they could be: loud, lippy banter masking their own fears, often turning into personal abuse when the pressure mounted. He believed the more they resorted to mental disintegration the more they exposed themselves, diverting their attention from their obvious skill and from the job at hand.

A streamlined Arjuna bowls in the 1983 World Cup

A streamlined Arjuna bowls in the 1983 World Cup © Getty Images

On the eve of the World Cup final he told the many drooling media hounds that Shane Warne was just an average bowler. It caused a violent reaction, more so because "Chef" had been pecking away at the Aussie psyche for a few years and this was the ultimate insult. While Warne tightened with fury, Aravinda de Silva - Arjuna's right-hand man and master batsman - loosened up. Two buttons pressed, both for different purposes, both pushed to achieve one result.

Arjuna dabbed the winning run down to his favourite third-man area. Upon seeing it disappear to the boundary, he reached down and grabbed a stump. It was as if he were picking up the stake he had earlier rammed in the ground upon his arrival. That stake stood for a nation that had cracked the code to win a world title. Ranatunga's name was etched in history forever.

We became close companions off the field. He would take me home to dinner, offering his favourite foods and delights. Not surprisingly, he enjoyed a fine feast, probably more than he did cricket, and I loved hanging out with someone so at ease. He also helped me get expert treatment for my ailing legs, so I could get fit again after developing hamstring problems due to my knee condition. He took me to places I never knew existed, and I felt safer with him in a foreign land than I did in any other.

Arjuna wasn't really an arch-enemy or a player I loved to hate. I loved him, full stop. Mostly I loved the way he stood up to the big boys, the bullies, and bulldozed them back in his unique inspiring way. He represented the underdog.

Arjuna left everything out on the park and, going by his healthy waistline, that was quite a plateful.

Martin Crowe, one of the leading batsmen of the late '80s and early '90s, played 77 Tests for New Zealand

 

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  • POSTED BY Manoj Damani on | May 27, 2015, 6:06 GMT

    Ranatunga, such a genius. All respect to current Sri Lankan players but no one has been able to match his class.

  • POSTED BY Sathya on | May 26, 2015, 9:51 GMT

    He is the best ever captain that I have seen in my 40 years of life. His greatest specialty was an awesome judge of his own players' capability and utilising the available resources to the maximum extent possible and if no body does he'll take his team to the win with his own inimitable way...to top it all...doing all these with calmness of a Buddha. It was a joy to watch the way he lead the side in 1996.

  • POSTED BY buddhika on | May 25, 2015, 9:47 GMT

    tears came to my eyes..he is the greatest cricketer we have produced on and off the filed

  • POSTED BY Muhammad Ali on | May 25, 2015, 9:31 GMT

    Hi Martin, Pray for your long life and well being. You are a GEM, as an outstanding player of your era and for your articles which are pure joy to read. Write your experience of facing the two W's in their pomp and how you dealt with reverse swing at great pace as you were the one to handle reverse swing of Wasim and Waqar with ease.

    BTW, everyone loves to hate the Aussies for their high headedness and foul language they term sledging. Its pure disgrace to cricket and young generation.

  • POSTED BY Chatty on | May 24, 2015, 1:37 GMT

    What a wonderful complement to Arjuna, coming from one of the greatest of the game of cricket. I think when complements come from some of your top competitors, it counts more than most. When compliments come from the modern day journalist whose job is to create heroes, it means nothing. But this means everything. This is the reason why most Sri Lankans, even those who do not believe in his politics, have enormous respect for him. That is also why despite all the respect Mahela and Sanga get from the international media, as leaders, they will not even come close to Arjuna. Mahela and Sanga were nice modern day diplomats. Arjuna was a leader of men.

  • POSTED BY sam on | May 24, 2015, 1:14 GMT

    Seems like Crowe is still chewing on sour grapes from what 'Clark's Aussies' did to his belowed 'B Mac's NZ' at the G.Let go of it.Its just a game,albeit high profile 1 in which Aus were far superior. 'Spread love,not hate'!!

  • POSTED BY Ravi Chandran on | May 23, 2015, 22:01 GMT

    Master class as your are. Apart all his cricketing heroics.. Arjuna always a wonderful human being.

  • POSTED BY Sharma.Anurag on | May 23, 2015, 12:31 GMT

    Fantastic to read this! To say nothing of the tip you gave once when somebody asked you for a basic pointer on batting. 'Batting is hard enough, just keep that top hand loose'. Things like these go a long way for youngsters, and though it apprars basic, sometimes the little things are overlooked. I recall Bob Willis' book and I was gearing up to bowl fast for school- he said something which was incredible for me- 'the bowling arm should be a blur to anybody watching' or sonething on those lines. Worked wonders, I can tell you leading to some fond memories to reflect on :)

  • POSTED BY Vikas on | May 23, 2015, 10:49 GMT

    After 1998 Arjuna had become very stubborn and rigid in his thinking and actions both on and off the field. This proved to be detriment to both his cricket career in his later years and his role as a cricket administrator in the island. He became very opinionated in his thinking and inflexible in his approach while as a administrator in the board of Lankan cricket.

  • POSTED BY ganesh on | May 23, 2015, 9:25 GMT

    Excellent writeup as always - Martin Crowe!

  • POSTED BY Nirav on | May 23, 2015, 8:27 GMT

    Crowe - You are a GEM and thanks for putting lights on Arjuna Ranatunga, indeed he let his performance speak for himself. In SL worldcup win he lead from the front & put forth an example.

  • POSTED BY Niro Dissanayake on | May 23, 2015, 7:13 GMT

    Fascinating article to read Mr. Crowe. While I am certain this will mean a lot to Arjuna Ranathunga, please be assured how touched all cricket loving Sri Lankans will be, who have the privilege to read these words coming from a great cricketer that we have long admired. I still remember your performances in the 1992 World Cup and rooting for the Kiwis. It was a pleasure to do the same once again, for another great team. In the last World Cup. Thank you.

  • POSTED BY Ranil on | May 23, 2015, 7:09 GMT

    Excellent piece by Martin,reading was quite enjoyable & gives an insight into the close relationship between two legends.

  • POSTED BY marino on | May 23, 2015, 6:24 GMT

    Arjuna easily the greatest captain of them all. He stood against the power, overcame the power and conquered it. He is a True Cricketing legend. As always another great piece of writing Martin

  • POSTED BY Tim on | May 23, 2015, 6:24 GMT

    Aussie supporters and players only "hate" the best opposition players. As an Australian, I can say that in hindsight Arjuna is respected for what he did against Australia. He defeated them in the World Cup final and put up some good fights in tests where they probably shouldn't have on paper. He got the best out of the Sri Lankan team and Aussies definitely did not take him or his team lightly.

  • POSTED BY ami on | May 23, 2015, 5:50 GMT

    wow. A great great piece of writing..hats off

  • POSTED BY Kiran on | May 23, 2015, 5:32 GMT

    very good article i pretty much enjoy reading any article on this website. Great job

  • POSTED BY Shailesh on | May 21, 2015, 14:17 GMT

    Martin, Your writing is as good as your batting. Always loved to watch your batting.

  • POSTED BY Aaron on | May 15, 2015, 10:20 GMT

    Was hanging out for a new article by Martin Crowe. The wait was worth it. Hopefully there will be many more. Thanks Martin.

    Arjuna only took 16 wickets in tests - and at least 2 of them were Crowe. Amazing

  • POSTED BY Ajay on | May 7, 2015, 0:47 GMT

    Very nice article. Thanks for sharing those insights. Arjuna always had my respect, a very astute captain who showed how to back his team.

  • POSTED BY Cricinfouser on | May 6, 2015, 18:14 GMT

    It is always a pleasure to get an insight into the relationships between players and how rivalry brings out the best and/or the worst in them. Fans like us can offer tributes to these legends and so can cricket journalists and analysts but nothing can compare to the beauty of a tribute from a legend to a legend. No matter how deeply I understand cricket by watching and following it closely I can never feel what these men feel on the ground and I can never get into their heads to find their thoughts about each other. An article like this is a rare gift for the avid fan; a key to understanding the great men we look up to so much. I would be ecstatic if I was a Sri Lankan :) and happy for them.

  • POSTED BY hamish on | May 6, 2015, 8:33 GMT

    Fantastic article from a great player on another great player. Like many other New Zealanders I really like the Sri Lankan team and hold them in the utmost respect. Hopefully we can emulate Sri Lanka by beating England in the upcoming test series.

  • POSTED BY Chamath Herath on | May 6, 2015, 4:39 GMT

    Most would see Arjuna as a stubborn player, but people who have known him closely just like Crowe know that there's much more to that rough exterior. He was a great player, a wise leader and a national hero. He deserves all the respect of the cricketing world.

  • POSTED BY udendra on | May 5, 2015, 5:49 GMT

    Thanks for sharing some unknown moments with the fans.

  • POSTED BY Aravinthan on | May 4, 2015, 13:53 GMT

    Such mellifluous words for a great adversary, as Martin had mentioned in the end seems there was no hate at all, but only great respect between the two of the game's pugnacious competitors