Football: The day that cricket ran out of control

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The Independent Online
CRICKET was in a state of disgrace and chaos last night after Muttiah Muralitharan, the prodigious Sri Lankan off spinner, was no-balled for throwing. That controversial and contentious decision by the umpire Ross Emerson in the one-day match against England in Adelaide caused a 15-minute delay while the outraged Sri Lankans, particularly their captain, Arjuna Ranatunga, argued. Although the game eventually continued, it degenerated into a mean-spirited contest with a series of unsavoury verbal and physical exchanges.

The result of a sensational match, in which Sri Lanka successfully chased a target of 303 with two balls and one wicket left, was almost incidental. Except that it was the 26-year-old Muralitharan who came in with two overs left and hit the winning run. He has been the subject of a whispering campaign in Australia and although the Sri Lankans said they were surprised, it had become an open secret that Emerson would call him in this match, as he had done on Muralitharan's last visit three years ago.

After the game ended the match referee, Peter van der Merwe, immediately contacted the chief executive of the International Cricket Council, David Richards, to discuss what action should be taken. He was expecting to talk about all the incidents, from the throwing call to the barging which occurred between players in the closing stages.

It is impossible to see how the ICC can avoid both making a swift and decisive declaration on Muralitharan's action and handing out punishments to players involved in the confrontations which followed. None the less, they might, of course, manage.

Alec Stewart, the England captain, may be one of those summoned to explain himself. He admitted that he told Ranatunga while England were fielding: "Your conduct today has been appalling as a country's captain", and also conceded he had been involved in a couple of occurrences where shoulders were brushed. Other England players looked to be in push and shove contact with Sri Lankan players - Darren Gough appeared to be obstructed by Roshan Mahanama and then feigned a head-butt at him in response, but whoever was culpable overall it was unsatisfactory behaviour regardless of the pervading tensions.

Stewart said it was the most unpleasant game in which he had ever played but added that there had been a lot of pressure in the last 90 minutes. "Some things happened which I don't want to see happen, not just in an international but on any cricket field."

The England captain was deeply critical of his Sri Lankan counterpart for his leading role in the delay to the match. Ranatunga could be seen, surrounded by his team-mates, wagging his finger at Emerson. "When the umpire makes a decision you accept it and get on with the game," Stewart said.

Perhaps so, but it must have been a hard call for the Sri Lankans to take. It came after Muralitharan's 10th ball when Nick Knight pushed a single on the off side. The delivery did not look much different from the nine which had preceded it but Emerson, at square leg, lifted his arm to signal a no-ball, raised a finger to Murali as if to say, "That's your first throw", and then put a hand into an elbow to indicate what he perceived as Murali's bent arm.

Despite the air of expectancy it was difficult to take in what had happened at first. Ranatunga argued and at one point it seemed he would lead his players off the field and concede the match. Urgent phone calls were made to Sri Lankan officials and play resumed. Reaction to Emerson's call was swift.

Sri Lanka's manager, Ranjit Fernando, said it was one man deciding to play God but insisted afterwards that the Sri Lankans would continue with the tournament. They will, however, be making some observations on Emerson, who is due to stand in their match in Perth on Friday.

Commentating on Australia's Channel 9, Ian Botham said the decision was bizarre and unnecessary since Muralitharan had been cleared by an ICC panel and had taken 200 Test wickets. "It does nothing for the game of cricket. It was one man's moment of glory."

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