But attention on him was rapt. Something was anticipated in this match. It had been a dreadful, open secret all over Australia. After he bowled his 10th ball the square-leg umpire, Ross Emerson, revealed it to the world. He called Muralitharan for throwing and raised his arm horizontally to signal the no-ball. He did it with a flourish.
All hell broke loose and it did not subside. The match between England and Sri Lanka was delayed for 15 minutes - Emerson's 15 minutes of fame, it was said - and although it was to resume, it became ugly and ended in acrimony.
Players were pushing each other and those from both sides were guilty. It came as no surprise to discover that the match referee, Peter Van Der Merwe, was seeking urgent consultations with David Richards, the chief executive of the International Cricket Council in London. He was to chat about the no-ball and what followed. Some answers are expected some time today.
The match contained some glorious batting. Graeme Hick made a majestic century, Mehala Jayawardene responded with one of equal merit for Sri Lanka. And with two balls left it was Muralitharan who won the match for Sri Lanka with an off-side prod which looped off the outside edge and narrowly spiralled over cover. Sri Lanka had made 303 for 9, the fourth- largest winning score in all one-day internationals and the highest in Australia.
Nobody should begrudge Muralitharan that moment. Whether his action meets the requirements of the law or is illegal - and an ICC panel and countless senior umpires have judged it to be fair - it took a big heart and a robust will to come out in such a tense atmosphere and win the match for his side.
The tone and ill-temper of the match were probably inexcusable, as the ICC should find, but were shaped by Emerson's call of no-ball. Afterwards Alec Stewart, the England captain, who was hugely competitive in England's effort and should not be surprised to find himself summoned before the match referee, was critical of Arjuna Ranatunga, the Sri Lanka captain. But his humanity found some kind words for Muralitharan. "It's a sad day when a bowler is called," he said. "A very special bowler with 200 Test wickets.
"Something ought to be done for players like him. It would be if he was playing for England."
Emerson had no-balled Murali several times when Sri Lanka played Queensland in a match in Brisbane three years ago. He had done so from the bowler's end. Maybe that was why Ranatunga put Murali on at the other end yesterday. The umpire there, Terry McQuillan, had also called Murali in Brisbane, from square-leg.
If it was a ploy to fox Emerson it did not work. He thrust out his arm, gestured with a finger and pointed to a bent elbow. Ranatunga was furious. He walked up to the umpire and wagged his finger. Perhaps he was seeking an explanation but it looked as though he was doing something more. It was understandable, but unacceptable.
Ranatunga looked briefly as though he was leading his players from the field, which would have meant forfeiture of the match. But he was met at the perimeter fence by his management. Negotiations appeared to ensue. Play restarted. Murali finished his over with a couple of leg spinners which Emerson did not call.
The bowler was then put on at Emerson's end. Ranatunga requested that the umpire stand over the stumps while Murali bowled round the wicket. This meant that Emerson could not see the action from behind, as he could have done if Murali had run between him and the stumps as normal, and so he could not now call him.
It was an effective and justifiable strategy by Ranatunga but the umpire thought not. "I'm the captain, I can tell you where to stand," said Ranatunga. "I'm the umpire, I'm in control," said Emerson. The misguidedness of that remark was to be evident later.
England, whose momentum was slowed at first, batted extremely well. Hick was marvellous. His unbeaten 126 took 113 balls and he and Neil Fairbrother put on 154 from 129.
Still, there was an air of unreality about it. Emerson was applauded off the field at the break by a crowd who have been influenced by insidious media coverage this past month.
After making the big decision, the umpire simply had to get all the small things right. He allowed seven balls in Darren Gough's second over. When Jayawardene was on 33 he had to scurry for his ground. A direct throw hit the stumps but Emerson declined to call in the third umpire. Television replays immediately showed Jayawardene to be out. Stewart put his arm round Emerson's shoulder, which did not seem appropriate. "I suggested he had had a hard day so far," said Stewart.
The match grew in intensity. Ranatunga was at his irritating best, walking singles, trying to invoke overthrows. Sri Lanka kept losing wickets, but on a flat pitch maintained the rate. It was gripping but not wholesome. When Roshan Mahanama appeared to swerve into Darren Gough as the bowler went to gather the ball Emerson turned down an appeal for obstructing the field. Gough feigned a head butt towards Mahanama.
At 288 for 8 Murali came in. He stroked a quick single. With two overs left Sri Lanka needed 13. Mahanama got two fours down to fine leg. Then he was run out by a cool Fairbrother. Vince Wells was entrusted with the last over. There was nearly a run out but instead it was an overthrow and then with two balls left Murali essayed a shot as primitive as his bowling is magical. It swirled over cover. Game over but not forgotten.
There is mileage and punishment in it yet. The ICC may convene their illegal deliveries panel, who can recommend that bowlers seek remedial action. They may decide to embrace the notion for umpires.
Sri Lanka won toss
N V Knight run out (Muralitharan, TV replay) 45
(Taking quick single to mid-on, direct hit; 117 min, 74 balls, 3 fours)
*A J Stewart c Ranatunga b Vaas 39
(Clipped to short mid-wicket; 45 min, 33 balls, 6 fours)
G A Hick not out 126
(166 min, 118 balls, 5 fours, 4 sixes)
N Hussain c Tillakaratne b Jayasuriya 5
(Swept to backward square-leg; 7 min, 7 balls, 1 four)
N H Fairbrother not out 78
(86 min, 71 balls, 4 fours, 2 sixes)
Extras (lb2, w4, nb3) 9
Total (for 3, 212 min, 50 overs) 302
Fall: 1-64 (Stewart), 2-139 (Knight), 3-148 (Hussain).
Did not bat: A J Hollioake, M A Ealham, V J Wells, R D B Croft, D Gough, A D Mullally.
Bowling: Vaas 10-0-76-1 (nb2) (6-0-27-1 2-0-11-0 2-0-38-0), Wickramasinghe 9-0-71-0 (w1) (3-0-26-0 3-0-13-0 2-0-17-0 1-0-15-0), Jayawardena 4-0-24- 0 (w1) (one spell), Muralitharan 7-0-46-0 (nb1,w1) (2-0-9-0 3-0-20-0 2- 0-17-0), Jayasuriya 10-0-42-1 (1-0-5 -0 5-0-17-1 4-0-20-0), Chandana 10- 0-41-0 (w1) (one spell).
Progress: 50 in 31 min, 43 balls. 100 in 96 min, 109 balls. 150 in 128 min, 176 balls. 200 in 162 min, 236 balls. 250 in 198 min, 285 balls. 300 in 211 min, 302 balls. 15 overs score: 86-1.
Hick 50: 73 min, 56 balls, 1 four, 2 sixes. 100: 152 min, 109 balls, 2 fours, 3 sixes.
Fairbrother 50: 66 min, 57 balls, 2 fours.
S T Jayasuriya c Fairbrother b Gough 51
(Uncontrolled shot to short midwicket; 47 min, 36 balls, 6 fours, 2 sixes)
R S Kaluwitharana run out (Hollioake) 0
(Responded to ludicrous call, direct hit; 5 min, 0 balls)
M S Atapattu c Stewart b Mullally 3
(Diving catch to keeper's right off drive; 11 min, 12 balls)
H P Tillakaratne b Croft 28
(Played over top of straight ball; 80 min, 48 balls, 1 four)
D P M Jayawardena lbw b Wells 120
(Beaten by swinging ball; 153 min, 111 balls, 9 fours)
*A Ranatunga c Wells b Gough 41
(Drove slower ball to short midwicket; 68 min, 51 balls, 2 fours)
W P U C J Vaas run out (Hussain TV replay) 5
(Direct hit from short point; 14 min, 6 balls)
U D U Chandana c Fairbrother b Wells 25
(Clipped to mid-on; 31 min, 18 balls, 1 four, 1 six)
R S Mahanama run out (Fairbrother) 13
(Ludicrous single to short mid-on; 20 min, 11 balls, 2 fours)
M Muralitharan not out 2
(14 min, 4 balls)
G P Wickramasinghe not out 2
(6 min, 2 balls)
Extras (lb9, w4) 13
Total (for 9, 229 min, 49.4 overs) 303
Fall: 1-3 (Kaluwitharana), 2-8 (Atapattu), 3-68 (Jayasuriya), 4-137 (Tillakaratne), 5-223 (Ranatunga), 6-235 (Vaas), 7-269 (Jayawardena), 8-288 (Chandana), 9-298 (Mahanama).
Bowling: Gough 10-1-68-2 (6-1-43-1 2-0-8-1 2-0-17-0), Mullally 10-0-61- 1 (w1) (7-0-40-1 3-0-21-0), Hollioake 5-0-45-0 (2-0-22-0 2-0-15-0 1-0- 8-0), Ealham 10-1-48-0 (w2), Croft 10-0-42-1, Wells 4.4-0-30-2 (one spell each).
Progress: 50 in 35 min, 47 balls. 100 in 65 min, 88 balls. 150 in 110 min, 155 balls. 200 in 149 min, 211 balls. 250 in 191 min, 260 balls. 300 in 227 min, 296 balls. 15 overs score: 108-3.
Jayasuriya 50: 43 min, 34 balls, 6 fours, 2 sixes.
Jayawardena 50: 49 min, 43 balls, 4 fours. 100: 140 min, 100 balls, 6 fours.
Umpires: R A Emerson, A J McQuillan TV Replays: S J Davis. Referee: P L van der Merwe
Man of the match: D P M JayawardenaReuse content