I wrote this article, filed at the innings break in England’s ODI against Sri Lanka at Adelaide Oval, for the 23 January 1999 edition of the daily email publication Cricinfo365. The complete day’s edition is sourced from archive.org’s Wayback Machine here.
There had been rumours bubbling for weeks, dismissed mainly as media beat- ups, that suspicion was being cast over Muttiah Muralitharan’s bowling action on the Australian tour. Stories hit the back pages last week that he had been reported to the ICC in one of the first matches of the tour, stories that were finally denied by the ICC. In the Australian papers this morning, the rumours were starting again, as Ross Emerson and Tony McQuillan – who called Murali in a one-day game in 1996 – were back together again to umpire a Sri Lankan game.
And then, in Muralitharan’s second over of the day, it happened.
The fourth ball of the 18th over of England’s innings at Adelaide Oval in the Carlton & United One-Day Series, Muralitharan bowled around the wicket to Nick Knight. There was a call of “no ball!”. It was not from the
bowlers end for over-stepping, but from umpire Emerson at square leg.
Emerson tapped his elbow to indicate what the call was for. He had called Muralitharan for throwing the ball.
A tense period followed, as captain Ranatunga approached Emerson in heated discussion. Mutual finger-wagging reminiscent of Shakoor Rana and Mike Gatting in 1987 ensued. And after a minute or so Ranatunga led his team towards the gates, apologising to England batsmen Knight and Hick was he went. Were Sri Lanka conceding the match? Was this indeed the end of the tour?
A lengthy on-field discussion took place which included match referee Peter van der Merwe, Sri Lankan manager Ranjit Fernando and Australian Cricket Board officials. Mobile phones were brandished as telephone calls were made to the BCCSL in Colombo.
Finally, the Sri Lankan team resumed their places in the field.
Muralitharan completed his over bowling leg-breaks, and then was removed from the attack, to be changed to the opposite end, where Emerson was standing at the bowlers crease. He bowled another five overs in two separate spells with his leg-breaks without further call.
The drama wasn’t quite over. There was further heated arguments between Emerson and Ranatunga as Muralitharan was bowling around the wicket and wanted the umpire to move slightly because it was in the way of his run-up.
Umpires will often comply with such a request, but this time Emerson refused.
The drama, an unsavoury reminder of 1995-96, over-shadowed a critical eighth game in the Carlton & United One-Day Series. Arjuna Ranatunga, playing despite a slight calf strain in Thursday’s win against Australia, won the toss and put England into bat. Both sides fielded unchanged elevens from their last games.
England started off at more than a run a ball, with Stewart (39) and Knight (44) adding 64 for the first wicket in 10.1 overs. Knight was dismissed from a sharp run out by Muralitharan about half an hour after The Big Fracas.
After Nasser Hussain fell for 8, Hick and Fairbrother dominated the remainder of the England innings. England scored 302 for 3 in their fifty overs, Hick smashing 126 from 118 balls and Fairbrother 78 from 71 balls.
For the first time on tour, there was no significant heckling of Muralitharan as he commenced his first over. After the interruption following the no-balling, there was more of a feeling of subdued silence, except for the Sri Lankans applauding and encouraging Murali.
In a television interview late in the England innings, Sri Lankan manager Ranjit Fernando said that there was no serious consideration to Sri Lanka withdrawing from the match.
Sri Lanka’s innings was due to begin as we went to press.