The no-balling of Muttiah Muralitharan January 31, 1999

Emerson has few regrets after the decision 'that came from the heart'

Ross Emerson took his three young children to the Perth Water Slides on Friday, as far away from the WACA and another confrontation with the Sri Lankans as he could find in his home city and the perfect place to begin the rest of his life.

The umpire at the centre of the latest crisis to hit cricket has experienced too much trauma and real danger to become worked up about the week that could end his involvement in the first-class game.

Emerson is a man alone. For the last week the cricket world has been in a stampede as players and officials have sought to distance themselves from him. Yet the umpire who rocked the sport by deciding to call Muttiah Muralitharan for chucking in Adelaide last Saturday has no regrets. His decision, he insists, was something that "came from the heart".

Emerson is not prepared to go into detail about the events of the last week; about the shameful behaviour of Arjuna Ranatunga, the Sri Lanka captain, that shattered the calm of the Adelaide Oval; about the revelation that he has been on sick leave from work at the Ministry of Fair Trading in Perth for eight weeks; about the decision to stand him down for Friday's rematch between England and Sri Lanka. And he will not comment about the arrogant way in which Ranatunga chose to bulldoze through the International Cricket Council's code of conduct by threatening to drag cricket through the courts if he was suspended. Emerson is not prepared to jeopardise what little chance he still has of officiating in an international match again - but it is clear that he feels let down, angry and bitter.

"I can't imagine why you've rung me," he laughed when he was tracked down on Friday just as Muralitharan was preparing to bowl his first ball at the WACA. While umpire Peter Parker stood in the square leg position that was supposed to be occupied by Emerson, the former policeman was spending the day with his young family and was doing his best to get away from it all. "I'm not thinking about cricket today," insisted Emerson. "When you've been through as much as me you learn to compartmentalise your life."

Emerson's colourful background is the key to understanding the man. For whatever is felt about his motives for repeating his public humiliation of Muralitharan of three years ago and about his reputation as being confrontational, cocky and a 'grandstander', it is clear he has lived a fascinating life.

It is one that saw him driven away from his Sydney home by death threats during a distinguished career as a police officer. He was even praised in the Australian parliament as a "very fine officer" for his part in investigating internal corruption in the New South Wales force. More recently, however, his life has suffered a new setback in Perth where the cause of his "stress-related" condition remains a mystery. It is said that Emerson has clashed with his superiors over their failure to prosecute companies he has investigated and is furious with them for revealing that he was away from his desk. He plans to return to work this week for yet another showdown with his employers, after which he will discover whether he still has an umpiring future.

Emerson, approaching his 45th birthday, has never officiated in a Test match and almost certainly never will. After a stormy meeting with Denis Rogers, chairman of the Australian Cricket Board, on Tuesday, even his place in Shield matches may now be in doubt. Apparently, the pair parted on poor terms after Rogers told Emerson he was standing him down from England's match on Friday, ostensibly on health grounds but surely related to the events of Adelaide.

But not everyone has turned against him. Since the events of last weekend, Emerson, whose brother-in-law is the former Australian fast bowler Terry Alderman, has received a number of messages of support, including a call from Geoff Marsh, the Australia coach. He also received words of encouragement from several England players who witnessed at first hand his bitter confrontation with Ranatunga. All this is likely to count for little, though. It is almost certain that the ACB and the ICC will decide that to re-appoint such a controversial figure would be simply too much trouble.

Emerson, who shot to prominence when he called Muralitharan for throwing seven times during his first international umpiring appearance at the Gabba three years ago, is not the only official nursing private grievances. Darrell Hair, the Australian who started the Muralitharan ball rolling in the Boxing Day Test of 1995 at Melbourne, is still waiting to hear when he will be called to account by the ICC for bringing the game into disrepute by calling Muralitharan's action "diabolical" in his autobiography.

The only communication Hair has had from the ICC since he was charged was a fax at home telling him not to wear his ICC National Grid panel jacket until the hearing. Australia will have one umpire at this year's World Cup, with Hair in theory the hot favourite to fill the place. Do not be surprised, however, if Daryl Harper, of South Australia, gets the nod instead.

Law 24.2 stipulates that an umpire must call a bowler for chucking if there is any doubt in his mind that a delivery is legal. Looking at it in cold terms, it is easy to see why Emerson and Hair felt it necessary to no-ball Muralitharan. But they are paying a heavy price for their conviction.

England, meanwhile, arrived in Sydney last night after their thumping victory over Sri Lanka on Friday with David Graveney, the manager, saying he felt "more emotional about watching that England victory than any other game". Graveney added: "We had lost a couple of games and we had had a demanding few days. Then, at 34 for four, we were looking down the barrel. To then win by the margin we did was extraordinary."

England have been given the next two days off by Graveney, now that they are on the brink of qualifying for the final of the triangular series, and they will be back in action at the SCG on Wednesday. Graveney will spend the time briefing the England and Wales Cricket Board about his observations on the Adelaide affair.

"I am fully confident as a result of all this that the regulations of the ICC will be altered to try to keep lawyers out of disciplinary hearings," he said. "The situation has to be moved on from here."