Running saga of Ranatunga finally slows to a halt

Cricket Diary
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The Independent Online

Nothing more charact-erised the style of Arjuna Ranatunga than an incidenttowards the end of his magnificent innings in his penultimate Test last week. He clipped a ball off his legs, a trademark shot if ever there was one, and set off at a hurried scamper for the single. Seeing that there was no danger he pulled up midway through the run and ambled the rest of the way, bumping into the South African bowler Nicky Boje as he dropped speed. His chest jutted out and his head tilted upwards.

Nothing more charact-erised the style of Arjuna Ranatunga than an incidenttowards the end of his magnificent innings in his penultimate Test last week. He clipped a ball off his legs, a trademark shot if ever there was one, and set off at a hurried scamper for the single. Seeing that there was no danger he pulled up midway through the run and ambled the rest of the way, bumping into the South African bowler Nicky Boje as he dropped speed. His chest jutted out and his head tilted upwards.

Arjuna deployed this little tactic of sauntering one, less frequently two, throughout his long international career. He would always say that it saved his energy: "Why run when I can walk?" But he knew, as we all knew, how much it got up the opposition's pipe. Many were so irritated by it that they targeted him, trying to ensure that he would at least break into something resembling a trot. It was an especially dangerous ploy for him to adopt because he was usually overweight and was never the swiftest over the ground. In all, he was run out eight times in his 143 dismiss-als and 30 times in his 208 completed one-day innings.

His survival until four months short of his 37th birthday - he starts his final Test today in the last match of the series against South Africa - has been as remarkable as his decision to depart. Until Sri Lanka's limp showing in the 1999 World Cup (as holders) he looked unassailably powerful, and seemed intent on going forever. Yet he made the last of his four Test hundreds in 1993 and was for long enough more liability than asset in the field.

What made him was outlined by his enduring friend and team-mate, Aravinda de Silva, as he discussed the time when they were learning the game as teenagers: "It was Arjuna who rose head and shoulders above all of us... there was a fire in Arjuna, an almost grim determination. He was a leader among us... the best thinker."

He never lost those qualities, and although his Test and one-day international batting averages were only in the mid- thirties, he was much more important than his figures. Aravinda again: "The general feeling in the team is that no one wants to let Arjuna down, for no one has tried harder than him to make us world-beaters... He is the mythically heroic name in Sri Lankan culture."

Few cricketers anywhere - perhaps W G Grace in England, Don Bradman in Australia, Sachin Tendulkar in India - have achieved such status, and all of them had much greater credentials in terms of runs.

If Arjuna's brightest hour was when he hit the winning runs for Sri Lanka to become world champions in 1996, his darkest was in Australia three years later. In a one-dayer against England at Adelaide, the magical Sri Lankan off- spinner Muttiah Muralitharan was no-balled for throwing by the Australian umpire Ross Emerson. Ranatunga immediately led his players to the ground's perimeter, and hasty negotiations ensued via cellphone with Sri Lankan officials in Colombo. The game continued, but was played in disgraceful spirit. Ranatunga was charged with breaching the ICC Code of Conduct - though nobody else was - and brought in the lawyers.

It was a misjudgement, and an unedifying sight. It played into his opponents' hands and was the beginning of his end as a player. But he was the first player to appear in his country's first Test and their 100th. He intends to become a politician. Watch for the slow singles.

Naturally, the Professional Cricketers' Association have a website. "Created by players for fans," it proclaims. In case we expect too much, they insert an early disclaimer: "What may be lacking in terms of grammatical excellence and faultless spelling will be more than made up for by the exclusive insight into the heart of the game." A quick browse at random produced this from Gloucestershire's latest match report: "Disappointed to have lost as it was a game we could of (sic) won... if we would of (sic) batted better at the front of our innings we could of (sic) brought home the points."

You can see what they mean about insight into the heart of the game. All right, they owned up to possible syntactical shortcomings, but you might have thought they could spell correctly one of the greatest names in the history of the game, who is a member of their Hall of Fame.

Who is F S Truman? Maybe they think Jim Carrey starred in the film of his life.

BOOK MARK

Hedley Verity died 57 years ago last Monday. He had been shot 11 days earlier during an attack by his regiment, the Green Howards, on a German position on the plain of Catania in Sicily.

The story of Verity, his great cricketing career and his tragic end, are told in the reissued and very readable biography by Alan Hill, Portrait of a Cricketer (Mainstream, £14.99). When we think of the dearth of English spin now, the Yorkshireman's name is always mentioned. He did not take up slow left-arm bowling until he was 24, did not play for Yorkshire until he was 25, yet finished top of the English bowling averages in his first season in 1930 and, as it turned out, in his last in 1939.

His like as a man, let alone a spinner, is no longer around. "In all that he did, till his most gallant end, he showed the vital fire, and warmed others in its flame."

Man in the middle

It is frequently said of the English game - actually it is mentioned ad tedium - that there are too many players hanging on into middle age at the expense of the young and bold. Almost as often, it happens that when these old lags are identified they turn out to be solid pros, full of enthusiasm and wisdom and fully worth their place. Such a man is Graham Rose, who scored the 10th century of his 15-year career on Thursday. He began at Middlesex, has long since been a stalwart of Somerset, is in his 37th year and this season averages 49 with the bat and 27 with the ball. He can teach these young shavers like Marcus Trescothick a thing or two.

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