Cricket: 'No-ball" umpire dropped from series

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The Independent Online
ANYBODY DRAWING the names of Ross Emerson and Arjuna Ranatunga in the sweep for the most prominent men of the Carlton & United series might have been tempted to bin the ticket. A little-known umpire and a pre-eminent captain who was past his prime as a batsman was not a compelling combination.

The trawl through waste- paper bins so the prize can be claimed should begin immediately. This unlikely pairing, which first announced itself at the weekend when a picture of both men wagging index fingers at each other went round the entire cricket world, continue to dominate the triangular one-day tournament.

Emerson, the umpire who provoked a crisis in the game by no-balling the Sri Lankan off-spinner, Muttiah Muralitharan for throwing, was yesterday removed from the panel for the rest of the competition. This was not linked to his sensational call during the match last Saturday between England and Sri Lanka, or at least not directly. It emerged that Emerson has been absent from his full-time employment for eight weeks with a "stress-related condition," a fact that may not be lost on the Sri Lankans.

The Australian Cricket Board were unaware of the illness, were clearly astounded when they heard and immediately stood him down from the rest of the series. Since his next match was scheduled to be the England v Sri Lanka match at Perth on Friday, when there was every likelihood of his pursuing his interpretation of Murali's action by calling him again, the ACB may be privately heaving a huge sigh of relief.

As Emerson was being called for not coming clean with the Board, Ranatunga was appearing before the tournament referee, Peter Van Der Merwe, to answer five charges under the ICC's code of conduct. These stemmed from the Sri Lanka captain's behaviour last Saturday after Murali was called. He argued with the umpire, led his players to the side of the ground during a 15- minute delay and then scratched a mark decreeing where Emerson should stand.

Following a hearing lasting 90 minutes a spokesman emerged to say that it had been adjourned to a date yet to be arranged. The weary reaction to this was that a representative of the ICC had once more demonstrated that organisation's propensity for the smack of firm government.

It was the Emerson revelation that was the more startling. The Board could hardly fail to be embarrassed when they learned that a man who had made probably the biggest pronouncement it is possible for an umpire to make on the field had been incapable of working for two months. Emerson, 44, is an investigator with the Western Australian Ministry of Fair Trading.

Denis Rogers, chairman of the ACB, called a hurried a press conference at Adelaide Oval during the interval of the match between England and Australia on Australia Day. "Despite the controversy involved in Saturday's match, the ACB, through myself and national umpiring manager Tony Crafter had already restated in recent days that umpire Emerson would be officiating in this weekend's matches in Perth," said Rogers.

"However, an important new fact emerged last night when it was reported that umpire Emerson had been on leave from his place of employment for eight weeks due to a stress-related condition. As soon as the ACB became aware of this report, chief executive Malcolm Speed met with Ross Emerson this morning.

"The ACB then took legal advice which confirmed that, as an employer, it is under stringent duty of care to minimise the risk of injury or illness to its employees."

The prospect was immediately raised - and while, according to Rogers, the Sri Lankans have not seized on it so far, they surely will - that Emerson was not properly fit to umpire a major one-day international and certainly not to make a judgement on a hugely controversial issue. Emerson told the board that he had received medical advice indicating that his stress condition placed umpiring international cricket matches still within his capabilities.

Doctors who watch the tapes of last Saturday's match when the throwing call was followed in the closing stages by unprecedented scenes of gamesmanship and physical provocation by both sides and a series of umpiring errors may form another opinion. But Rogers and the ACB were not being drawn on that.

The exact nature of Emerson's condition was unknown, though the former policeman is seeking workers' compensation from the WA Ministry of Fair Trading. Rogers said the Board had to satisfy itself with its own medical team that his condition did not affect his umpiring ability.

"He didn't realise the implications of what he was doing," said Rogers. "He understood completely the situation he had put us in. I thought he was quite gracious. He was badly disappointed."

A few hours before this Ranatunga left the ground in the rear of a taxi, his usually impish face showing no emotion. It was not known what had transpired and illumination was hardly much greater after Van Der Merwe had spoken to Sky Sports. He said that certain points had been raised by Ranatunga's legal representatives and he had therefore referred it to London.

Asked when it would be resolved he said it depended on the speed of response and they were also busy with matches. And was it frustrating? "One can't be frustrated. If it takes time, it takes time." Emerson has left the stage. Ranatunga, unlikely as it seems given the weight of video evidence, means to stay around to have the last word.