World Cricket Tsunami Appeal January 11, 2005

Murali magic on an unforgettable night

Muttiah Muralitharan took the ball to a unanimous cheer © Getty Images

Occasionally sport has a significance that transcends nationality, politics, and religion. A fortnight after the Indian Ocean tsunami that claimed more than 150,000 lives and left millions more injured and homeless, a limited-overs game took place at the MCG. It involved players from Australia, New Zealand, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and England - all providing their time and energies free of charge. It depended on hundreds of volunteers, a myriad of sponsors, the attendance of 70,101 fans and a telecast into 122 countries. It was history in the making.

The tsunami appeal was the idea of Tim May, the former Test offspinner who is now the chief executive of the Australian Players' Association. The theory? Stage a star-studded match with proceeds going directly to the disaster-affected areas. The practice? Apparently not as complicated as it sounded. "I started making a few calls to players," said May late last week. "I was amazed by the response. Everyone I talked to wanted to be a part of it."

By the time the coin toss took place, courtesy of the prime minister John Howard, it was clear that crowd numbers were massive. By the time the teams had gathered around the pitch for a minute's silence, there was only a smattering of spare seats, and those, according to ticket agencies, had been snapped up days ago. By the time the game got underway, beneath a perfect Melbourne blue sky, there wasn't a player, politician, official or spectator who didn't seem excited and privileged to be in attendance.

We'd come to see the local heroes Gilchrist, Hayden, Ponting, Warne and McGrath. We'd come to witness the magic of imported talent such as Lara, Sehwag and Jayasuriya. And we'd come to welcome back fondly an offspinner from Sri Lanka who, after a plethora of chucking allegations, had vowed never to play here again. As the bowling change was announced and Muttiah Muralitharan took the ball from the City End, the cheer was loud and unanimous. If there was one, identifiable human face of this incomprehensible tragedy, it was his.

The game itself proved to be a one-sided affair, involving the mandatory slap-dash, wham-bam, towering sixes and pointless stumpings. But along the way it also provided elements of the extraordinary. Stars from India and Pakistan in the same team. Steve Waugh, with that still-familiar Charlie Chaplin waddle, took the field to a standing ovation. Brian Lara and Ricky Ponting shared a scintillating partnership, high-fiving each other at regular intervals. And Glenn McGrath, who will dine out on the experience for years, was promoted to No. 6 ahead of Matthew Hayden.

By the time the ICC World XI had cruised to a 112-run victory, the stats were in. Over A$14million had been raised through ticket sales, related telethons and at-the-ground wheelie-bin collections. The players' shirts, as well as the coin used for the toss, were being auctioned on eBay, and Warnie's shirt was already attracting bids of over $150,000. The unmeasurable stat was the palpable spirit surrounding May's brainchild.

"None of these cricketers had to do this, and none of the fans had to come," said the Reverend Tim Costello as he received the cheque on behalf of World Vision. "Why did they? Because they're part of this wave of compassion. We have begun to give hope to those who are still alive and to say to them you are not alone. We will see you through this. We will stand by you until the job is done." Occasionally, sport can surmount the sum of its parts.

Christine Davey is a freelance writer based in Melbourne.