Cricket: Stewart called to Ranatunga hearing

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The Independent Online
ALEC STEWART, the England captain, who may or may not consider himself fortunate to have avoided being charged by the match referee, today stands before him to give evidence in the Arjuna Ranatunga case, writes Stephen Brenkley. The hearing, twice postponed, was finally rearranged to take place at the WACA ground in Perth, less than 24 hours before England and Sri Lanka meet on the cricket pitch again.

The last game between the sides in the Carling & United series last Saturday was an extraordinary affair. The Sri Lankan off-spinner, Muttiah Muralitharan, was no-balled for throwing by umpire Ross Emerson and the match degenerated into a thoroughly embittered affair.

Ranatunga first argued with Emerson by wagging his finger at him (a gesture which was reciprocated), held up the game for 14 minutes and then told him where he should stand. As the match, which Sri Lanka won by one wicket with two balls remaining, grew tense in the closing stages, players grew ever more fractious and started barging into each other. Stewart, who had already been picked up on the stump microphone telling Ranatunga that his behaviour was appalling, was one of the bargers.

Only the Sri Lankan captain was later charged, though in a routine twist for this saga it emerged shortly before the second adjournment that Emerson had been absent for eight weeks from his full-time job, as an investigator with the Western Australia Ministry of Fair Trading, with a stress-related condition. He was immediately withdrawn from standing in tomorrow's game, when it was widely suspected he would call Murali again. Sri Lanka are expected to use Emerson's condition in presenting Ranatunga's case today.

Graeme Hick, who was batting at the time of the call, the delay, the later argument and indeed throughout the rest of the innings, has understandably been called. Stewart's requested presence by the International Cricket Council competition referee, Peter Van Der Merwe, is harder to fathom. Nick Knight was the other batsman at the time of the no-ball.

Perhaps they simply want Stewart to elaborate on his description of his counterpart. Hick, interviewed yesterday, could not elaborate on what Ranatunga said to him when he placed an arm round his shoulder but said the delays while the Sri Lanka captain scratched a mark in the ground near the stumps, to indicate where Emerson should stand, were frustrating. "I don't think it was necessary really," Hick said.

Lawyers will be present on both sides at today's tribunal. Sanath Jayasuriya will accompany Ranatunga. But also present will be the umpires, Tony McQuillan and Emerson. Do not rule out Ranatunga telling Emerson where he stands.