Cricket: `The General' in mood for fight

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The Independent Online
HE IS known as The General. This is because when Arjuna Ranatunga leads Sri Lanka he struts about as if he was Napoleon. Napoleon was not a diplomat either.

Thus, on the eve of his appearance before the match referee, Peter Van Der Merwe, two days after an apparent series of breaches of the game's code of conduct, Ranatunga effectively told everyone where they could shove it.

A different fellow, with a more uncertain view of himself and his place in the game, might have kept silent until after the hearing. But Ranatunga could not resist speaking to the television station in Adelaide the day before he met Van Der Merwe.

He steadfastly refused to apologise or to express regrets for his unprecedented behaviour on Saturday towards an umpire he clearly did not respect so much as scorn. "I feel I was standing by a colleague of mine, who is the best bowler Sri Lanka has produced," he said. His manager, Ranjit Fernando, could hardly have acted with more decorum.

Ranatunga played the key role in Saturday's match at Adelaide Oval between England and Sri Lanka. It was Muttiah Muralitharan, the off-spinner, who was no-balled for throwing, but it was Ranatunga who waded into battle on his behalf.

He argued with the umpire, Ross Emerson, lecturing him before leading his players to the perimeter of the pitch for 15 minutes while negotiations about continuing the match took place.

When play resumed he put Muralitharan on at Emerson's end and insisted the umpire stand where Ranatunga wanted by constantly scratching a line in the soil. Emerson said at one point: "I'm the umpire, I'm in control," which at that point was a patent exaggeration.

Ranatunga then took gamesmanship to its brink to mastermind the defeat of England with a wicket and two balls to spare. He looked as unruffled as ever as he spoke in his hotel room to Channel 7. The people who appointed umpires, he said, should appoint the people to do a job.

There had been no intention of staging a walk-off, he insisted, which is not what it looked like to anybody watching. "We never wanted to stop the game, that's for sure."

Only snatches of the interview were shown and the full version will go out on Sunday, when Ranatunga will have been dealt with. This is probably just as well since he was clearly in no mood for contrition.

Ranatunga, who has led Sri Lanka in more than 170 one-day internationals and wields much broader power than that of captain, said it was impossible to go back to the way things were. Sri Lanka may as well go back to playing friendlies if they changed their style.

Arguments of a similar conciliatory nature submitted to Van Der Merwe may not exactly constitute a plea for leniency. But Ranatunga, ever smiling, is serious about this and clearly wanted to go down fighting for Murali. As good generals do.

Ricky Ponting, the Australian batsman, has appeared before the Australian Cricket Board to face disciplinary action for being involved in a drunken brawl in a Sydney bar. Ponting was given a suspended fine of A$5000 (pounds 2,000) and banned for another game in addition to the two-matches he has already missed.