February 26, 2001

Umpiring controversy overshadows Sri Lankan innings win

In the end it all proved too much. For four days England played with commitment against a noisy Sri Lankan team, in sapping heat, on a puffy pitch, with umpires who were woefully inconsistent and sometimes awful. It was a frightful experience and it finally broke England's resolve.

When they started this morning, with the reassuring presence of Michael Atherton and Graham Thorpe at the crease, they would have retained realistic hopes of batting out the day on a pitch that, though spinning like a top, wasn't as volatile as had been expected before the game.

Those fanciful hopes were dashed as England lost Atherton, Thorpe and Graeme Hick before the lunch interval. In the afternoon session they then capitulated, losing their last five wickets for 13 runs to lose the game by an innings and 28 runs.

Once again, the umpiring decisions of Peter Manuel and A.V Jayaprakash dominated the minds of the players, the media and especially the supporters. Some English fans booed the umpires last night as they left the field and a small band tried to hunt them down later in their beachside hotel. Today, they hooted with glee at every decision turned down and growled with frustration whenever the finger was raised.

They did not have to wait long for action too, as Michael Atherton failed to add to his overnight score of 44. He was caught behind in Chaminda Vaas's first over of the day. A.V Jayaprakash raised his finger as Atherton lingered, suspicious as to whether it had carried to Sangakkara. Television replays confirmed that it was close enough to warrant a trial by television.

Alec Stewart and Graham Thorpe batted for an hour as they added 22 runs. It was trench like stuff, a squirted single here, a guided edge there, but at least Stewart was not as sticky as he had been in the first innings. He even hit four boundaries in his 34 not out, including two off Muralitharan, a feat that only Trescothick had previously managed in this match.

But Jayasuriya's regular rotation of his bowlers finally paid dividends, as Kumar Dharmasena ended Thorpe's two-hour resistance as he trapped him lbw with a quicker delivery. Graeme Hick then re-opened the perennial debate about his selection with another failure as he was caught at second slip off Jayasuriya for six.

England went into lunch on 174 for five before another blunder from Jayaprakash precipitated the final decline. Craig White prodded forward to Muttiah Muralitharan in the 103rd over of the innings and offered a simple bat-pad catch. Jayaprakash ruled not out and the Barmy Army wailed with delight. The next ball White tried to sweep a full-length ball. It struck him outside the line of off stump, but the dreaded finger went up nevertheless.

It was all downhill from there. Caddick was bowled around his legs by Jayasuriya, Ashley Giles was pinned to his stumps by the beguiling Muralitharan, Robert Croft edged on to his pads, but was sent off anyway, and Darren Gough swung hopelessly, first ball, to be bowled.

Dav Whatmore was delighted with his team's performance: "I thought it was a fantastic effort, with a controlled amount of energy throughout those four and-a-half-days. The taste of victory is always sweet, but particularly so against an England side that has shown signs of improvement recently."

Not everyone agreed with the phrase "controlled amount of energy." The Sri Lankans are being accused of pressurising the umpires through excessive appealing.

Sanath Jayasuriya can't see what all the fuss is about: "I spoke to the players after the Match Referee spoke to us yesterday morning about excessive appealing. I don't think there is a problem there. The players are human beings and they are used to appealing in these conditions where the ball is turning and keeping low."

The Match Referee, Hanumant Singh, did not agree. He has fined Muttiah Muralitharan, Russel Arnold, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara 25% of their match fee for "unnecessary appealing and running towards the umpire in jubilation before the decision is given."