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WHIMPRESS ON 'THE CONTROVERSY' - Part 3
Sri Lanka v England (ODI), 23 January 1999
There was a prophetic feel about Mike Coward's article, 'Muralidaran
deserves an apology, not idiot's jeers' published in the Australian
of the morning of the match. He argued that Sri Lanka's 'most famous
and infamous bowler' needed to understand that the taunts, barbs
and cheap shots directed at him came from an unknowing element in
the cricket community. In a harshly worded statement about the twin
cultures of cricket Coward wrote, 'Limited over cricket may be a
necessary evil but that doesn't mean we have to cop it or its crass
culture without comment'. He also quoted Sri Lankan captain Ranatunga
as having observed that whereas there was sympathy for Muralidaran
in 1995-96, now he noted 'overt hostility'. Coward added, 'Cricket
has a lamentable record in a time of crisis. Such is its conservatism
it cannot stand confrontation.' Confrontation was only a few hours
In some respects the pairing of umpires Ross Emerson and Tony McQuillan
hinted at confrontation because it was the same pairing that had
presided over the match in Brisbane three years before when Emerson
had followed Darrell Hair in calling Muralidaran for throwing. Now
after weeks of heated discussion and debate about the legitimacy
of Muralidaran's action, controversy erupted in the eighteenth over
of the England innings in the match at Adelaide Oval. Emerson revived
the chucking problem by calling Muralidaran from square leg for
throwing the third ball of his second over of the match.
Confontation was epitomised by Ranatunga, Emerson and McQuillan
becoming involved in a heated exchange which lasted for several
minutes. Ranatunga then led his team to the boundary, called his
team's management on to the ground and looked as though he was prepared
to concede the match. Match referee (and former South African captain)
Peter van der Merwe also entered the field as the English batsmen
observed the scenes in amazement. While the arguments continued
for ten minutes Muralidaran was consoled by team-mates. When England
resumed at 1-96 the spinner reverted to bowling leg spin.
Subsequently, the Sri Lankans showed they would not go quietly
and Ranatunga challenged Emerson by switching Muralidaran to the
other end. Further confrontation followed when the umpire refused
to let the bowler run between him and the stumps in operating round
the wicket. One of the most dramatic limited over international
games ever was won by Sri Lanka when it reached an improbable victory
target of 303 runs.
The main difficulty for the ICC was now how to deal with Ranatunga
for breaching at least three code of conduct regulations.
1.1 The captains are responsible at all times for ensuring that
play is conducted within the spirit of the game as well as within
1.3 Players and team officials must at all times accept the umpire's
decision. Players must not show dissent at the umpire's decision.
1.4 Players and team officials shall not intimidate or assault
an umpire, another player or spectator.
The Australian's journalist Malcolm Conn noted in an article on
25 January that, Emerson might be a 'cowboy' and a 'grandstander'
but he was the umpire, his decision was final and must be accepted
without question. The trouble was (as Alan McGilvray might have
said) the game was no longer the same.
A Sri Lankan bowler with a doutbtful action was making his second
visit to Australia after being called here on the previous occasion.
He was again called and his captain contested the umpire's call.
Ranatunga had been told by the Sri Lankan Board of Control to seek
its advice if the bowler was no-balled. The contesting was part
of a plan of action. Although an Australian editorial thought Ranatunga's
action amounted to 'thuggery' and the facts were simple, they were
not. They were part of an historical continuum and involved a lot
of leftover questions from the previous tour.
After the 1995-96 tour Muralidaran's career was in jeopardy and
this led to an analysis of his bowling action by the University
of Western Australia and the Hong Kong University of Science and
Technology. Both reports concluded that his action was legal. The
University of WA photographed his action from six angles at 1000
frames per second and found little problem from some angles, thus
concluding that his 'throwing' was an optical illusion. In Hong
Kong Muralidaran spent three and a half days under a highly technical
examination which revealed that he was unable to fully extend his
bowling arm and therefore incapable of straightening it. The outcome
was that the ICC exonerated him before the 1996 World Cup and did
not re-examine him for two years during which time he enjoyed consistent
success around the world, including a phenomenal performance of
taking 16 wickets in a Test match at The Oval against England in
August 1998. In that time umpires had plenty of opportunities to
complain but had not done so. Quite reasonably the Sri Lankans and
Muralidaran must have taken that silence for support. Yet after
200 Test wickets he was again being queried. While the manner of
the protest might have been ugly, it was a legitimate question to
ask how many times he could be tried.
Since then, of course, Muralidaran has gone on to astonishing success
without further queries by umpires: at the World Cup in England
in 1999; in six games for Lancashire that season when he captured
66 wickets in six games, and in 2001 when he took 50 wickets in
seven matches; but above all in Test cricket where, despite the
blip of being accused by the great Indian spinner Bishen Bedi of
having the action of a javelin thrower, he, at the age of 29, reached
400 wickets in just 72 games. If he has had more than usual difficulties
in Australia he might take some solace from the judgement of Sir
Donald Bradman in notes from conversations with Tom Thompson between
1995 and 1998 and relayed via his website at www.bradmancopyrightmaterials.com.au:
Murali, for me, shows perhaps the highest discipline of any
spin bowler since the war. He holds all the guile of the trade,
but something else too. His slight stature masked a prodigious talent,
and what a boon he has been for cricket's development on the subcontinent.
It is with this in mind, and with the game's need to engage
as a world sport, that I found umpire Darrell Hair's calling of
Murali so distasteful. It was technically impossible of Umpire Hair
to call Murali from the bowler's end, even once! Why was his eye
not on the foot-fall and crease?
I believe Hair's action - in one over - took the development
of world cricket back by ten years. For me, this was the worst example
of umpiring that I have witnessed, and against everything the game
Clearly Murali does not throw the ball. No effort in that
direction is made or implied by him. His every effort is to direct
the ball unto the batsman! Murali wants to bamboozle, to trick through
flight and change of pace.
That through this ordeal he has remained both composed and
modest rings further truth in his favour.
His is the stuff of our greatest slow bowlers, and for me
is one, like O'Reilly, Warne or Trumble; who are game breakers.
They detect and then imagine the batsman's weakness, perhaps in
an over or two. What a weapon for any captain. To have the discipline
to contain, and then bamboozle!
Reproduced with permission from the author from his book - Chuckers:
A History of Throwing in Australian cricket (Kent Town, Australia
Bernard Whimpress is curator of the Adelaide Oval Museum.
He has written nine books on sport and contributed to several others,
as well as writing for a wide variety of sports and historical magazines
and journals in Australia and overseas. A current research project
is writing the last ten years of Australian cricket history for
a revised edition of Chris Harte's 1993 book, 'A History of Australian
Cricket'. Bernard is the publisher/editor of the Australian cricket
history journal, 'Baggy Green'. Formerly a sports magazine journalist
and photographer, he holds a doctorate in history from Flinders
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