The ugly face of cricket (24 January 1999)

24 January 1999

The ugly face of cricket

By Paul Newman

CRICKET was facing a new crisis yesterday after a one-day international in which Muttiah Muralitharan was plunged into a new throwing controversy and the England and Sri Lankan players came dangerously close to physical blows.

Alec Stewart, the England captain, criticised his opposite number Arjuna Ranatunga for his conduct during Sri Lanka's remarkable one-wicket win, earned with two balls to spare in this triangular series match here in Adelaide. Their successful chase of 303 was completely overshadowed by ugly incidents which prompted Stewart to call it "the least enjoyable match I've ever played in".

After the match Peter van der Merwe, the South African match referee, was seeking urgent talks with David Richards, the International Cricket Council chief executive based in London, to receive guidance on how the situation can be addressed before the teams meet again in Perth on Friday.

"Certain things happened that you would never want to see on any cricket field," said Stewart, who was seen to barge into Sri Lanka's Roshan Mahanama shortly after the Sri Lankan had clashed with Darren Gough. "Sri Lanka were under pressure after what happened with Muralitharan but if an umpire makes a decision you accept it and get on with the game. Today that didn't happen. The way Ranatunga went about dealing with the umpire after the no-ball call was out of order. Things got very tense after that."

Stewart was heard by a television stump microphone, in the extraordinary closing stages, telling Ranatunga that "your conduct today has been appalling for a country's captain", and when he was asked to confirm it later he said: "Yes, words were exchanged and they were pretty similar to how you understand it."

The whole sorry saga, arguably the closest England players have come to physical confrontations with their opponents since John Snow pushed Sunil Gavaskar of India in 1974, all revolved around the latest public humiliation of Muralitharan, who was no-balled for throwing by Ross Emerson, the umpire who called him seven times during a one-day international against the West Indies in Brisbane three years ago.

The call by Emerson, standing at square leg, came in the 18th over of the England innings, immediately after Muralitharan had bowled his 10th ball. It was the signal for Ranatunga to become embroiled in the most animated on-field argument with an umpire since the Mike Gatting-Shakoor Rana affair of 1987. After words were exchanged and fingers were jabbed, Ranatunga led his side to the boundary edge for a 14-minute delay while Sri Lankan officials consulted with their board members both in Australia and Colombo. It was the length of that delay which so enraged England.

Meanwhile Ian Botham, commentating on Australia's Channel 9 at the time, launched into Emerson, saying: "Sorry umpire, you are out of order. It's bizarre, it's unnecessary, it's totally out of hand. It's one man's moment of glory."

Ranjit Fernando, the Sri Lankan manager, followed that up by emphasising that Muralitharan has been cleared by the ICC advisory panel on illegal deliveries and added: "Someone out there decided to play god today."

Doug Insole, the England representative on the advisory panel and a spectator in Adelaide yesterday, said: "When we looked at Muralitharan in 1997 it was felt that his action was legitimate."

Stewart was adamant that the consequent bad feeling was a direct result of this incident, the regrettable scenes culminating with Mahanama clearly obstructing Gough as he ran for a quick single in the frantic run chase. Gough and Stewart appealed for obstruction, Emerson turned them down and Gough appeared to aim a butt at the Sri Lankan which he withdrew before contact was made. "That was just Darren Gough being a showman," insisted Stewart, who went on to say that his own contact with Mahanama was merely a brush of shoulders. "I don't call that a collision. What happened two balls before [when Mahanama obstructed Gough] was a collision."

David Graveney, chairman of the England selectors and their one-day manager, appeared satisfied that nothing was wrong with the England players' behaviour on the field and no disciplinary action was forthcoming last night from Van der Merwe. The saga, however, is far from over. Emerson is due to stand again when the teams meet in Perth on Friday.

Source :: Electronic Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk)

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