Cricket: Jury is out on stump microphones

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CAPTAIN'S MEETINGS are not usually the sort of place for a psychological joust, but that did not prevent Arjuna Ranatunga from turning yesterday's gathering into a point-scoring exercise over Alec Stewart. England play Sri Lanka in the opening game of the tournament in 10 days and any early advantage could be crucial.

The main bone of contention, arose over the use of stump microphones and the purpose they serve. Stewart believes they should be "switched on when the bowler delivers the ball and off once the batsman has hit it." Ranatunga, on the other hand, feels they should be on "24 hours a day."

The difference of opinion probably arises from an incident last winter in Australia, when Stewart was heard chastising Ranatunga during an ill- tempered one-day match between the two sides in Adelaide.

Although Stewart said nothing rude - stating that Ranatunga's behaviour had been "appalling for a country captain"-- he has found himself on the back foot.

Ranatunga, who at one stage of the match led his team from the field, following the no-balling of Muttiah Muralitharan by the Australian umpire Ross Emerson, was later fined and given a six-match ban suspended for a year.

As a wicketkeeper, Stewart's proximity to the stumps means that he, along with most other keepers and the odd bowler, have been caught effing and blinding on more than one occasion. Ranatunga, on the other hand, usually fields at mid-off, well out of range of the current technology.

The Sri Lanka captain is a shrewd operator as well as an experienced agent provocateur. "If someone is shouting or sledging in the middle, I think the world should know what's happening," he said.

Unsurprisingly, this was almost the exact opposite to the England view, expressed by David Graveney, who said that the "game might be better served if viewers couldn't hear all that went on in the middle."

The two television companies covering the event, Sky and the BBC, seemed unsure of any specific guidelines over stump microphones.

"I think it is left up to our discretion," said Alan Griffiths, the BBC's cricket producer, a view more or less echoed by Sky's John Gayleard, who could recall nothing specific in the contract though he did say if Ranatunga wanted the mikes on at all times, it was all right by him. Whose viewpoint prevails, will no doubt be decided soon.

If there was consensus from the 12 captains, apart from the impenetrability of the Duckworth-Lewis system of recalculating totals after rain, it was that the tournament should uphold the spirit of the game of cricket.

Presuming that holds up, after today's meeting between umpires and match referees there should not be a repeat of the near farcical situation that arose in Sharjah where 12th men were used to give players, including batsmen who had just scored hundreds, a breather.

n England players could be given six-month "central contracts" if the recommendations of a report released yesterday are adopted. The England and Wales Cricket Board said 15 or 16 England players should be centrally contracted from the start of next season supplemented by a further seven or eight specialist one-day players.

Contracted players would be available to their counties for cup games and some County Championship matches.