Part 8
‘Shopping is for Sissies’


by Rex Clementine

 The heated exchanges between Arjuna Ranatunga and Shane Warne are well documented. Here Ranatunga hits one hard back at Warne during the 1996 World Cup final in Lahore. Warne failed to pick up a wicket in the final, as Sri Lanka won by seven wickets.

‘We came here with Backpacks, you with Ball and Chain’, the Barmy Army’s recent mock on the Australian supporters during England’s successful Ashes campaign, a tongue in cheek reminder to the locals that Australia used to be a British colony where the convicts were exiled to.

Even the Cricket World Cup in 1996 saw several similar heated than jovial attacks with the exchanges going beyond players and dragging Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers into the debate.

‘Aussie PM is Keating

Aussies are Cheating’

 This was a banner that was put up by a spectator during the 1996 Cricket World Cup and could have been the reaction to Australia’s refusal to play their World Cup group game in Colombo.

 A month before the tournament, a bomb had gone off in Colombo and citing security concerns, the Australians wanted their game shifted from Sri Lanka.

 The Sri Lankan government tried to do lot of convincing and there was even a promise to provide players security parallel to ones provided to heads of state.

 Despite all the pledges, the Australians were holding their own and Shane Warne in particular was making statements that were sensitive. His comment that a bomb might go off in Colombo while he was shopping was the last straw and Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar hit back saying ‘Shopping is for Sissies’. With that comment all hell broke loose, but Kadirgamar, whose oratory skills were as good as any of his contemporaries world over would go onto turn the cricket world’s sympathy towards Sri Lanka.

 "There was a storm of protest in Australia after I said ‘shopping is for sissies’, Kadirgamar would later recall. A TV interviewer asked me whether I had ever played cricket. I said I had played before he was born - without helmets and thigh guards, on matting wickets that were full of holes and stones and I had my share of broken bones to show it. My friend the Australian Foreign Minister was drawn into the fray and phoned me. We decided to cool things down. A combined India/Pakistan team came to Colombo at very short notice to play an exhibition match in place of the Australian match. It was a magnificent gesture of South Asian solidarity."

 "Against strong security advice I went on to the field to greet and thank our friends from India and Pakistan. When the whole episode was over I sent a bouquet of flowers to my Australian counterpart. Flowers are also for sissies," Kadirgamar continued.

 "While our team was in Australia, I paid an official visit to Australia. My friend the Australian Foreign Minister during the course of a dinner speech invited me to go with him the next day to Adelaide, his home town, to watch the final day’s play. I knew what the result was going to be. In my reply, I said that at the end of the match I did not want to be the one to tell him that Australia had `won by a Hair,. Accordingly, I went back home, as planned, to maintain the good relations that we have with Australia."

 There were quite a few exchanges as well between the players of both teams. Arjuna Ranatunga had been mercilessly sledged when the Sri Lankans were in Australia two months prior to the World Cup. After the Sri Lankan captain requested for a runner during a One-Day International in Sydney, wicket keeper Ian Healy was heard on the stump microphone saying, "You don’t get a runner for being an overweight, unfit, fat c*nt!"

 Having withstood years of abuse, the Sri Lankans had decided that they would give the Australians a taste of their own medicine and Ranatunga was prepared to fight fire with fire.

 "Before the start of the 1996 World Cup final, I made a statement that the Waugh brothers and Shane Warne are over-rated cricketers. The ploy worked as it didn’t go down well with the Aussies and they were speaking a lot about it during the game as we focused on the game," Ranatunga said recently.

 Ian Chappell, the no-nonsense former Aussie skipper in a recent interview narrated an incident which took place after the toss during the Lahore final.

 "Before the match, Ravi (Shastri) had done an interview with Arjuna and I was to do one with (Shane) Warney."

 "The Australians were practising when Arjuna said that Warney was a media myth, and word got around. When Warney came running to me saying, ‘What’s that fat b**t**d said now?’ I thought to myself, ‘This is very smart’. Ranatunga has them worried about him rather than the other way around."

 "Quite clearly, Ranatunga had managed to get under the Australians’ skin. I thought Arjuna was a very smart captain," continued Chappell. "Complaints from Australia about him used to make me chuckle ... if you hand it out, it’s going to come back. Arjuna quite liked it when guys had a go at him."

 The animosity between Ranatunga and Warne that started ahead of the World Cup would go on until the next World Cup and even beyond.

 Days before Sri Lanka arrived in England for the defence of their title in 1999, Shane Warne in his column in the ‘London Times’ reopened the old wound when he said, "Frankly, Sri Lanka — and the game overall - would be better off without Arjuna."  

"Sri Lanka are not as powerful as the side that won in 1996 and as far as I am concerned, the problems stem from their captain. Ranatunga might be a shrewd, experienced leader, but his batting is not what it was and he is terrible in the field," Warne went on to write before admitting "There is plenty of animosity between Arjuna and myself. I don’t like him and I’m not in a club of one."

 After Sri Lanka’s first match of the tournament, Ranatunga was asked for a comment at the post match media briefing. "It shows more about Shane Warne and the Australian culture," he said. "We come from 2,500 years of culture and we all know where they come from," he added.

 The International Cricket Council by this stage had fined Warne for bringing the game into disrepute and when the media pressed Ranatunga to explain his comments about Australian culture, he was cautious, "I will tell you when I retire," Ranatunga added.  

Warne, after retiring published a book ‘Shane Warne’s Century’. He detailed the finest 100 cricketers during his time and Ranatunga was picked as well. "I tried all the ways to leave him out," he went on to say in the book.

 "He doesn’t play the game in the right spirit. He told the umpire where he could stand, ordered his players off the field, got a runner on at least three or four occasions when there was nothing wrong with him," Warne added.

 The former Australian vice-captain went on to remark that Ranatunga would be rubbing one leg, but by the time the physio came back out, it had switched to the other! 

"He milked the system, but having said that, he was a bloody good player – and it annoyed me to put him in! And he gave Sri Lanka a winning culture, which they’ve built on," Warne further remarked.

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