The players of England and Sri Lanka were told at the end of an acrimonious day's play in the second Test here yesterday that the next person to misbehave in this three-match series would be severely punished. Matters came to a head between these two bitter rivals when Nasser Hussain was reported to Clive Lloyd, the match referee, after it was alleged he had aimed foul and abusive language towards Muttiah Muralitharan.
The incident occurred after lunch, when Muralitharan walked out to bat. On his way out to the middle, the Sri Lanka No 11 claimed that the former England captain made a statement aimed at him that allegedly contained the words "cheating" and "chucker", both preceded by an expletive.
Hussain, flanked by the England coach, Duncan Fletcher, was called to a hearing which lasted 40 minutes after England had closed on 163 for 4, a deficit of 219 runs. Muralitharan was joined by his captain, Hashan Tillakaratne, and Dinusha Fernando, the batsman at the non-striker's end when the alleged remarks were made.
Hussain denied the allegation and television evidence did not back up the Sri Lankan claims. Hussain's defence appears to have rested on the fact that he was talking to a team-mate and the alleged remark was overheard by Muralitharan.
"Having looked at what happened when Muralitharan arrived in the middle it was obvious that something had been said to him," Lloyd said. "We had a look at the video evidence and there was nothing to show Hussain had made that statement, so we have had to exonerate him from the charge.
"Hussain denied he said certain things to Muralitharan because it was a situation when the team were in a huddle. It is a case of one person's word against another, but if I had seen or heard anything he would have been in trouble. He is an ex-captain and I would expect him to know the rules. People have to realise that even when you are not speaking directly to an individual, if you make remarks towards that individual you can still be done under the code."
This is not the first occasion that Kandy has witnessed unsavoury incidents between these sides. It was here in March 2001 that Sri Lanka and England played out an ill-tempered match that will be remembered as much for the behaviour of the players as England's victory.
Lloyd said at the start of this series that he wanted no repercussions from 2001. However, yesterday's events have pushed his patience to breaking point. "I want to make it quite clear," he said, "that having looked at situations in both this and the last Test I am very disappointed with the behaviour of both teams. I had a word with both managements this morning, warning them about their behaviour. But as of now all bets are off. Anything that is done or said to contravene this code of conduct will be dealt with very harshly.
"I will not be cautioning anybody any more. I will be dealing with them rather seriously. They are professionals and they should show some integrity. Some of the guys are young and some are seasoned professionals, and I think the old ones should set the right example. We cannot allow the players to tarnish the game because there are a lot of young people watching on television.
"No individual has the right to swear at or abuse another, and as long as I am a referee this will not happen."
If Hussain had been found guilty it would have been deemed a "level two" offence under the International Cricket Council's code of conduct. The punishment is a fine of between 50 and 100 per cent of the match fee and/or a ban for one Test or two one-day internationals.
Ashley Giles, who was involved in another controversial incident involving Muralitharan later in the day, bowling out the Sri Lankan after the umpires initially gave him not out, said: "It's difficult. We are in a high-pressure situation and at times you might say things you regret. But if you are on the other end of them, you take them on the chin and get on with your work."Reuse content