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August 4, 2003
Retired New Zealand umpire Steve Dunne has spilled the beans about his silence during the Muttiah Muralitharan throwing controversy at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1995.
Dunne, has written a book, 'Alone in the Middle: An Umpire's Story' with Otago Daily Times sportswriter Brent Edwards which is due to be published by Penguin New Zealand next week.
An extract was published in the newspaper today and contained Dunne's side of his controversial silence during the match. He recounted that he was standing at square leg when Muralitharan came on to bowl and was called for no-balls by Australian umpire Darrell Hair.
Hair walked across to Dunne and said to him: "Those no-balls were not for foot faults."
Dunne described the mounting tension and said in hindsight his view was: "Here was a cricket controversy of the first magnitude." Dunne said Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga left the field and then came out and put Muralitharan on at Dunne's end.
"The atmosphere was electric. When spinners bowled, my method had always been to stand as close to the stumps as possible, because the closer you got the more likely you were to be able to pick up a bat-pad nick. I would have got a better view of Muralitharan's arm by standing back, but I elected not to change the habit I had formed - and which had served me well - during my umpiring career.
"There were many thoughts going through my mind. What do I do? Do I support Darrell Hair because he has called Muralitharan and do I call him as well? Or do I support what I believe, which was what we had discussed and decided at a conference in Coventry earlier this year?"
That conference had decided in the case of a suspect action that the matter would be reported to the match referee who would have the action filmed and sent to the International Cricket Council.
That had been the procedure followed during a tournament in Sharjah where Muralitharan had been playing and where he was the subject of a discussion between Hair, Dunne, English umpire Nigel Plews and match referee Raman Subba Row.
"Nigel, Darrell and I were unanimous in our belief that Muralitharan had a problem," Dunne wrote. "We told Dav Whatmore [coach] what we'd done and said that Sri Lanka should take remedial action because Muralitharan could have problems down the track.
"The short answer was that, during that dramatic day in Melbourne, I stuck to what had been agreed on and did not call him. The atmosphere between Darrell and me when we returned to the dressing room at stumps was, needless to say, cool. I have great respect for Darrell as an umpire and person. He is someone I've always got on very well with and still do."
Dunne continued by saying calling a player for throwing was virtually saying he couldn't play the game, and that was too "Godlike". He said he came under pressure from the media for not backing Hair up, but he countered by believing he had done the right thing.
"My argument was that he had played in about 30 Tests at the time, he had been watched by numerous umpires, and only one had called him. They were now telling me I was wrong by not supporting that one and disagreeing with the others."
Dunne recalled at the end of the match, the match referee, New Zealander Graham Dowling, had called him into his hotel room and asked why he hadn't called Muralitharan for throwing. Australian captain Mark Taylor had implied in his match report that Dunne was more concerned about standing in the next World Cup.
"That was absolute rubbish and made mWorld Cup.
"That was absolute rubbish and made me very angry," Dunne said. "I still wouldn't call Muralitharan for throwing if I was umpiring him today. As I said before, I don't believe it's possible to do so with the naked eye and I wouldn't want to play God. But I would report him to the match referee on suspicion that his action might not be fair. He is a unique bowler, in more ways than one, and I suspect that problems he poses both to officialdom and opposition batsmen won't go away. They lie in the too-hard basket. It is not his fault, but he has caused more arguments than any player of the past decade. We don't seem to be any closer to a solution now than when Darrell Hair first called out 'no ball' in 1995."
Dunne also recalled the evening he stood in a one-day international in his home town Dunedin when Pakistan fast man Shoaib Akhtar unleashed a torrid display of fast bowling. Dunne, and his fellow umpire Doug Cowie, reported Akhtar to match referee Ranjan Madugalle because they weren't completely happy with his action.
"I might as well make my position clear about Akhtar. I don't believe he is a chucker, despite the fact that I, along with Doug, signed the report asking for his action to be investigated. I've seen the subsequent report produced by the University of Western Australia and it explains what he does with his arm, and that he doesn't throw," Dunne said.