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Arjuna Ranatunga reignites cricket race row

FORMER Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga has ignited the race debate by revealing he advised champion spinner Muthiah Muralidaran not to tour Australia this summer.

In the aftermath of a racially heated one-day series between Australia and India, Ranatunga — now a member of the Sri Lankan parliament — fears Muralidaran again will be taunted by aggressive Australian crowds in his team’s two Tests in Brisbane and Hobart.

Muralidaran, the man with the most controversial bowling action in world cricket, has had bananas thrown at him at the Gabba on previous tours and boycotted the 2004 Top End series because of potential trouble.

“I tell you very honestly, I told him I wish he wasn’t touring Australia because of the amount of trouble he has had,” Ranatunga said from Colombo yesterday.

“But he wants to go. It was up to him to decide that.

“My personal opinion was that he shouldn’t go. I think Murali is tough enough to go through that and take whatever he gets.”

His warning came as Australian captain Ricky Ponting returned from the sub-continent saying the Indian players should be embarrassed by the fans’ racist abuse and monkey gestures at all-rounder Andrew Symonds.

“They should be (embarrassed) because I would’ve been in Australia,” Ponting said.

He urged local fans to treat the Indian and Sri Lankan sides with respect when they toured here.

“I’d like to see the Australian fans and public treat the Indian team the same way they would any other team,” Ponting said.

“As far as I’m concerned, this whole racism stuff is completely unacceptable in any walk of life, let alone on a sporting field.”

Many commentators believe the Indian cricket team’s arrogant attitude towards Australia and the fiery over-the-top on-field confrontations often involving fast bowler Shanth Sreesanth helped ignite the Indian fans’ racist behaviour.

Ponting admitted he had been surprised by the Indians’ new in-your-face attitude, but questioned if they would maintain their cockiness in Australia.

“They made it pretty clear right at the start of the series they were going to fight fire with fire, so to speak,” Ponting said.

“But I think at the same time for us we know that’s not the way they generally play their cricket.

“We’ve got a lot of cricket against them over the next couple of months and it will be interesting to see how long a lot of that aggressive nature of cricket lasts.”

Muralidaran, who missed the just-completed home one-day series against England because of a bicep injury, will arrive with his teammates in Adelaide tomorrow.

He needs only nine scalps to break Shane Warne’s world record of 708 Test wickets, with the series opener beginning at the Gabba on November 8.

Ranatunga was captain of Sri Lanka when Muralidaran was infamously no-balled several times for throwing by controversial Australian umpire Darrell Hair at the MCG in 1995-96.

He has since endured repeated chants of “no-ball” by Australian crowds during his bowling delivery and was left incensed three years ago after Prime Minister John Howard publicly agreed he was a chucker.

While opinion of his rubber-wristed bowling action has divided the cricket world and has some claiming an asterix should be inked next to his name when he breaks Warne’s record, it is the racial abuse that has hurt the most.

“It’s not the entire crowds that we are hearing and behave like that,” Ranatunga said. “It’s very limited people. Most of the people know the game pretty well and understand it very well. He is a tough little fella. It will give him more motivation to break the record in front of them.”

Ponting said Symonds showed tremendous grace under a torrent of crowd abuse that lasted up until the last ball of Sunday’s final Twenty20 match against India.

However, he said none of the Indian players saw fit to apologise to Ponting for their fans’ extraordinary behaviour.

“I’m not sure if they did to Andrew, but they certainly didn’t with me,” Ponting said.

“It affected him (Symonds), but he didn’t want it to become such a huge issue.”

Cricket Australia is working with its state associations on ways of improving crowd behaviour this summer.

It hopes a new campaign, expected to be released within a fortnight, will hit the mark.

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