Adam Gilchrist's image as his nation's most untarnished cricketer took a blow late today when he was charged by the Australian Cricket Board (ACB) with making statements detrimental to the sport.
The ACB's decision to act against Gilchrist under its code of player conduct followed comments yesterday in which he suggested that Sri Lanka's Muttiah Muralitharan possessed an illegal bowling action.
Speaking as a guest at a function before an Australian Football League match in Melbourne, the Australian wicketkeeper-batsman raised doubts about the legality of the action employed by the record-breaking Sri Lankan off spinner.
"Technically, if you read the rules, I think he's not quite within them," he said when directly questioned about the delivery style that has yielded Muralitharan a total of 412 Test wickets.
"If you read the laws of the game, there's no doubt in my mind that he and many others throughout cricket history have (thrown the ball).
"It's amazing when you do go to the subcontinent and you do see so many young bowlers in the nets and they all run in and they've all got similar actions and they obviously do not worry about it.
"(If) a junior ... has an action like that out here, it's just corrected as quickly as possible. I'm sure there are other people that say Brett Lee throws the ball at different times. It's such a fine line."
Muralitharan has been the centre of controversy on each of Sri Lanka's two most recent tours of Australia. In 1995-96, he was no-balled by umpire Darrell Hair for throwing in the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne, and subsequently suffered the same fate at the hands of umpires Ross Emerson and Tony McQuillan in a one-day international match in Brisbane.
Three years later, a decision by Emerson to no-ball the spinner from square leg sparked dramatic scenes in a limited-overs contest between Sri Lanka and England in Adelaide, and all but prompted a walk-off by the Arjuna Ranatunga-led Sri Lankans.
The validity of Muralitharan's action has since been upheld as part of an exhaustive review process conducted by the International Cricket Council.
ACB chief executive, James Sutherland, revealed today that he had spoken with Gilchrist about his comments.
"After reading the statements attributed to Adam, I rang him and asked him to provide me with more details about the accuracy of the comments and how they came to be in the public domain," said Sutherland.
"After considering Adam's explanation, I have issued a charge under the ACB Code of Behaviour. An ACB Commissioner will determine whether Adam's comments are in breach of the code," he added, in a brief statement that provided a further signal of the ACB's determination over recent years to crack down on any disciplinary lapses by its players.
As well as possessing the highest Test batting average of any current player, Gilchrist is one of Australia's most marketable cricketers. His wholesome image was also widely identified as one of the key factors in his replacement of Shane Warne as national vice-captain in August 2000.
The imposition of any form of punishment would represent a major blow to his distinguished record in the game.
A date for his hearing has yet to be set by the ACB.
* In a further development late on Monday night in Australia, Gilchrist revealed that he had rung Muralitharan to apologise for the remarks and said that he regretted that they had become the subject of such public focus. The wicketkeeper-batsman told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that he was disappointed that a journalist had recorded the comments at what he had believed was a private lunch in Melbourne on Sunday. Sri Lankan cricket officials added that they bore no grudge over Gilchrist's comments, with team manager Chandra Schaffter affirming from England that Gilchrist's apology had been accepted by Muralitharan and his teammates.