Cricket: Sri Lankan minister's Murali rage

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LAKSHMAN KADIRGAMAR, the Sri Lankan foreign minister, said yesterday in Canberra he was very disappointed at the hostile reception Muttiah Muralitharan, the Sri Lankan off-spinner, had received in Australia.

On Thursday, Arjuna Ranatunga, the Sri Lanka captain, revealed that Muralitharan may not tour Australia again because of the adverse publicity and crowd heckling the spinner had received as a result of his unusual bowling action.

Kadirgamar, a devoted cricket follower who is on an official visit to the Australian capital, also called for an independent international body to be set up to rule on the legitimacy of bowlers' actions. "I always am sad to see a sportsman who is trying to do his best on the field of play getting a really rough handling from a foreign crowd," Kadirgamar said.

"In the case of Muralitharan, I don't think anybody will say that he has done anything particularly objectionable. He's been a quite a moderate player - he's a serious young man devoted to his game."

Muralitharan's bowling action came into the international spotlight when the Australian umpire Darrell Hair no-balled him seven times for throwing, fondly labelled "chucking" in Australia, during a Test match in 1995.

He was reported to the International Cricket Council but was cleared to keep playing after the sport's ruling body said his action was not illegal. However, Australian crowds have heckled his every appearance at the crease during this series, screaming "no ball" every time he rolls his arm over.

"As for the chucking controversy, my understanding is that there ought to be some kind of international body that can resolve it," Kadirgamar said. "I'm very much in favour of the matter being resolved one way or another decisively."

Steve Waugh, the Australia one-day captain, has seen a specialist over his hamstring problem and will miss the Carlton & United matches against Sri Lanka tomorrow and England on Tuesday.

With Michael Bevan out of the Sri Lanka match through a groin injury and Ricky Ponting suspended and facing an Australian Cricket Board hearing on Monday following his nightclub incident, the hosts are not without their problems.

After the second day of England A's scheduled match against Mashonaland had been washed out yesterday, the match was abandoned and two one-day fixtures re-arranged in its place.

These were designed to give both sides some meaningful cricket, yet they arrived at the Old Hararians ground for the first match to find that the bowlers' run-ups were still too wet for play.

At the moment play was due to start, England A were on the outfield for the official team picture. The photographer had to arrange them at a certain angle because of the bright sunshine bathing the ground.

When the four-day match was abandoned, the players moved to the Harare Sports Club for a net session in perfect weather. However, later in the afternoon the sky turned gun-metal grey as a prelude to a spectacular storm.

While there has been not a word of criticism from the England management, locals have been voicing their concern that the problematic run-ups were not covered when the heavens opened. They also feel that more could have been done to find an alternative venue when it became clear that Old Hararians would not be playable.

The plan now is for another inspection today and if this ground is still unfit, the teams will go to South Harare where they completed the first one-day match of the tour last Saturday against a Country Districts XI.