The only surprise in the announcement that Ranatunga is to appear today before the match referee, Peter Van Der Merwe, is that he is doing so alone. Several other players could have featured on the charge sheet including the England captain, Alec Stewart, who could be seen walking into a Sri Lankan batsman in the tense final stages of the contest.
As the dust settled on the most extraordinary of all one-day cricket matches the game's authorities headed for one of their favourite places. Chucked under the carpet, you might say.
From the moment the off-spin bowler, Muralitharan, was no-balled for throwing, the game in descended into ugliness. There was the reprehensible yet somehow understandable reaction of Ranatunga, who had a dispute on the pitch with the umpire, Ross Emerson, which involved the unseemly exchange of finger wagging.
There was the brief threat of a Sri Lankan walkout, which was halted by mobile phone calls to officials in Colombo. There then followed an exercise in brinkmanship, masterminded by Ranatunga, which went to the very edges of breaching the spirit of the sport.
Finally, there was the culmination. It was as thrilling a finish as anybody could wish to see, marred not only by what had preceded it but by deliberate physical contact between players. If Roshan Mahanama unquestionably swerved into the England fast bowler, Darren Gough, reaping a feigned head-butt for his pains, then Stewart, definitely barged Upul Chandana.
Sri Lanka won by one wicket with two balls remaining, and the persecuted boy, Muralitharan, hit the winning run with a shot scooped marginally over the head of cover. But that was lost in the melee. Swift action if not summary justice (everybody had had enough of that for one day) needed to be taken and when the announcement was made that Van der Merwe, was urgently contacting the chief executive of the International Cricket Council, David Richards, it seemed as though tradition would indeed be broken.
Everybody who played in or watched the match agreed it was thoroughly unpleasant. They also concurred that the events it contained, possibly all sparked by the sensational no-balling of a man who has taken more than 200 Test wickets, should never be repeated.
And the result? Only Ranatunga was to be charged by the referee. In as anaemic a response to unacceptable behaviour as could be imagined, Van der Merwe decided he would take no action against anybody from the England team. A prepared statement read out by the England tour manager and chairman of selectors, David Graveney, said: "He [Van der Merwe] did, however, express his concern about the general atmosphere in which Saturday's match was played. The England management accepted this point and has reiterated to both Alec Stewart and the rest of the England squad the need to fulfil their obligations and responsibilities to the game of cricket."
Graveney said he had given clear instructions to Stewart and the matter was now closed.
England can consider themselves lucky. While Stewart's was not a sacking offence, it was especially unnecessary given his position. Had he been the England football captain behaving in similar fashion, the assault and battery charges would already have been laid.
Stewart looked grey and drained afterwards. Cadaverous sprang to mind considering the mess cricket had been put in. He was doubtless disappointed to have lost a close, tense, high-scoring game and maybe disappointed with himself. But he was disingenuous both in suggesting the pushing incident in which he was involved was merely a brushing of shoulders and in his judgement on Ranatunga's ruck with the umpire. "When the umpire makes a decision you accept it and get on with the game."
That is for sure, but the calling of a bowler for throwing is an eerie and breathtaking moment. It is a form of humiliation which only those who have been birched publicly might comprehend. Ranatunga, the general, was protecting his player, one of his key troops. It contradicted the game's spirit and laws but in its way it was touching. Nowhere but in Australia, he seemed to be saying.
Muralitharan had bowled nine balls when the call came from Emerson at square leg. It had developed into an open secret that this might happen. Emerson had called the bowler seven times in a match on Sri Lanka's previous tour three years ago, then from the bowler's end. Since then, no other umpire has called him as his worldwide reputation has increased. Emerson's action seems at the least to have been pre-meditated.
The reaction was indignant. Ian Botham said in his telling television commentary that it was bizarre, unnecessary and one man's moment of glory - and he did not mean Murali. Ranatunga then put Murali on at Emerson's end but persuaded the umpire, against his wishes, to stand close to the stumps so he could not see the bowler from the rear and therefore call him again.
It was clear at this point and later that Emerson, despite a statement picked up by the stump microphone, was not in control. Having been so certain in making the biggest call it is possible to make, he proceeded to mess up smaller matters - allowing too many balls in an over, signalling a six when it was four, failing to call for the third umpire when a man was shown to be run out - which is not the way round it should be.
As for poor Muralitharan, he is showing an admirable depth of character and will. He has been under unfair, whispered scrutiny here for a month. Those who claim to be able to judge such fine points now say his top spinner is suspect, though it was not one of those for which Emerson called. Some say that all finger spinners must chuck the odd one. Fifty years ago Murali might have been called but the slow motion replays available today confirm only that his action is unusual and beautifully supple, not that it is illegal.
The least the ICC can do is act quickly by convening its illegal deliveries panel. But there was no immediate sign of that. All these nine good men must do (Doug Insole is the England delegate, Michael Holding the West Indies' one) is adjudicate on the ball Emerson declared with such a fanfare was illegal. If they support the umpire's judgement, Murali must be sent for remedial action, if not then Emerson must be.
And the game? Well, that was a humdinger. England made 302 for 3 in 50 overs having been 94 for 1 when Emerson made his historic intervention. Graeme Hick scored a sublimely judged hundred, which included four sixes, three of which were hoisted off Murali. Neil Fairbrother's support (78 in 84 balls) was invaluable and they put on 154 in 129 balls.
No side had ever made so many in Australia to win a one-day match and only four others had ever done so elsewhere. Sri Lanka joined them. Sanath Jayasuriya gave them an electrifying start but when swift wickets fell the game seemed to be up. They were, as they confirmed later, inspired by Murali's position. Mehela Jayawardene compiled a hundred as assured as Hick's and if his strokes did not exude such power his timing was enviable. He was the man shown to be run out after Emerson failed to consult the third umpire.
Sri Lanka kept losing wickets, the atmosphere was tense and the behaviour dreadful. Finally, Muralitharan was there batting. They needed one to win. Three balls left. Destiny was screaming. He got just enough bat on Vince Wells's delivery. Murali deserved that. In the ruckus he had shown spirit and guts. The right stuff.
Sri Lanka won toss
N V Knight run out
(Muralitharan TV replay) 45
(117 min, 74 balls, 3 fours)
*A J Stewart c Ranatunga b Vaas 39
(45 min, 33 balls, 6 fours)
G A Hick not out 126
(166 min, 118 balls, 5 fours, 4 sixes)
N Hussain c Tillakaratne b Jayasuriya 5
(7 min, 7 balls, 1 four)
N H Fairbrother not out 78
(86 min, 71 balls, 4 fours, 2 sixes)
Extras (lb2 w4 nb3) 9
Total (for 3, 212 min, 50 overs) 302
Fall: 1-64 (Stewart) 2-139 (Knight) 3-148 (Hussain).
Did not bat: A J Hollioake, M A Ealham, V J Wells, R D B Croft, D Gough, A D Mullally.
Bowling: Vaas 10-0-76-1 (nb2) (6-0-27-1, 2-0-11-0, 2-0-38-0); Wickramasinghe 9-0-71-0 (w1) (3-0-26-0, 3-0-13-0, 2-0-17-0, 1-0-15-0); Jayawardena 4- 0-24-0 (w1) (one spell); Muralitharan 7-0-46-0 (nb1 w1) (2-0-9-0, 3-0- 20-0, 2-0-17-0); Jayasuriya 10-0-42-1 (1-0-5-0, 5-0-17-1, 4-0-20-0); Chandana 10-0-41-0 (w1) (one spell).
Progress: 50: 31 min, 43 balls. 100: 96 min, 109 balls. 150: 128 min, 176 balls. 200: 162 min, 236 balls. 250: 198 min, 285 balls. 300: 211 min, 302 balls. 15 overs score: 86-1.
Hick's 50: 73 min, 56 balls, 1 four, 2 sixes. 100: 152 min, 109 balls, 2 fours, 3 sixes. Fairbrother's 50: 66 min, 57 balls, 2 fours.
S T Jayasuriya c Fairbrother b Gough 51
47 min, 36 balls, 6 fours, 2 sixes
R S Kaluwitharana run out (Hollioake) 0
5 min, 0 balls
M S Atapattu c Stewart b Mullally 3
11 min, 12 balls
H P Tillakaratne b Croft 28
80 min, 48 balls, 1 four
D P M Jayawardena lbw b Wells 120
153 min, 111 balls, 9 fours
*A Ranatunga c Wells b Gough 41
68 min, 51 balls, 2 fours
W P U C J Vaas run out
(Hussain TV replay) 5
14 min, 6 balls
U D U Chandana c Fairbrother b Wells 25
31 min, 18 balls, 1 four, 1 six
R S Mahanama run out (Fairbrother) 13
20 min, 11 balls, 2 fours
M Muralitharan not out 2
14 min, 4 balls
G P Wickramasinghe not out 2
6 min, 2 balls
Extras (lb9 w4) 13
Total (for 9, 229 min, 49.4 overs) 303
Fall: 1-3 (Kaluwitharana) 2-8 (Atapattu) 3-68 (Jayasuriya) 4-137 (Tillakaratne) 5-223 (Ranatunga) 6-235 (Vaas) 7-269 (Jayawardena) 8-288 (Chandana) 9- 298 (Mahanama).
Bowling: Gough 10-1-68-2 (6-1-43-1, 2-0-8-1, 2-0-17-0); Mullally 10-0- 61-1 (w1) (7-0-40-1, 3-0-21-0); Hollioake 5-0-45-0 (2-0-22-0, 2-0-15-0, 1-0-8-0); Ealham 10-1-48-0 (w2); Croft 10-0-42-1; Wells 4.4-0-30-2 (one spell each).
Progress: 50: 35 min, 47 balls. 100: 65 min, 88 balls. 150: 110 min, 155 balls. 200: 149 min, 211 balls. 250: 191 min, 260 balls. 300: in 227 min, 296 balls. 15 overs score: 108-3.
Jayasuriya's 50: 43 min, 34 balls, 6 fours, 2 sixes. Jayawardena's 50: 49 min, 43 balls, 4 fours. 100: 140 min, 100 balls, 6 fours.
Result: Sri Lanka won by one wicket.
Man of the match: D P M Jayawardena.
Umpires: R A Emerson and A J McQuillan.
TV Replay Umpire: S J Davis.
Match Referee: P L van der Merwe.
Compiled by Jo KingReuse content