Sri Lankan called for throwing

Cricket: Australia 234-3 v Sri Lanka
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Australia 234-3 v Sri Lanka

Muttiah Muralitharan, the Sri Lankan off-spinner, was no-balled seven times in three overs for throwing by Darrell Hair, the Australian umpire, during the first day of the Second Test in Melbourne yesterday.

Hair no-balled Muralitharan, the highest wicket-taker in his country's short Test history, on the fourth and final balls of his fourth over, the second, fourth and sixth balls of his next over and again on the second and sixth balls of his sixth over.

Muralitharan, whose action has been under close scrutiny throughout the tour had not previously been no-balled for "throwing". He was removed from the attack by his captain, Arjuna Ranatunga, and he looked distressed but, shortly before tea, Ranatunga called on Muralitharan, in his 23rd Test, to bowl two overs from the other end - which he did without incident.

The last player called for an illegal bowling action in a Test match in Australia was Ian Meckiff, the Australian fast bowler, against South Africa in Brisbane in December 1963 and the most recent case was in February when Henry Olonga, the Zimbabwean fast bowler, was called in a game against Pakistan.

The action by Hair comes after years of whispers about his action on the international circuit. According to a statement issued by the International Council after the day's play, the first indication that the authorities were concerned came during Sri Lanka's home series against India. Peter Burge, the match referee, then spoke privately to several members of the previous administration of the Sri Lanka Board about his doubts.

The statement also revealed that when Sri Lanka toured New Zealand in March the referee, Barry Jarman, was "so concerned" that he arranged for slow motion videotape of the bowler's action to be taken, with the footage forwarded to Sri Lankan officials through the ICC.

A further incident occurred during the Champions' Trophy tournament two months ago in Sharjah, won by Sri Lanka.

By detailing its past concerns over Muralitharan's bowling action dating back three years, the ICC was making absolutely sure they were seen to be backing Hair's ruling.

Asked if Muralitharan's Test future was under threat because of the umpire's decision, the Sri Lanka team manager, Duleep Mendis, said: "Naturally, it is. If it continues, we have to do something about it." The dramatic events came just 24 hours after the Sri Lankans were exonerated by the ICC of ball tampering during their defeat in the first Test two weeks ago.

Australia made their way to 234 for 3 with David Boon finishing unbeaten on 93, his highest first-class score of the season. When the Australian captain and opener Mark Taylor fell for seven it was his first score below 40 in Tests and limited-overs internationals this season.

(First day of five; Australia won toss)

AUSTRALIA - First innings

M J Slater c Wickramasinghe b Vaas 62

*M A Taylor b Wickramasinghe 7

D C Boon not out 93

M E Waugh b Muralitharan 61

S R Waugh not out 2

Extras (lb4, w2, nb3) 9

Total (for 3, 90 overs) 234

Fall: 1-14 2-116 3-219.

To bat: R T Ponting, I A Healy, S K Warne, P R Reiffel, C J McDermott, G D McGrath.

Bowling: Wickramasinghe 22-7-52-1 (w2, nb1); Vaas 22-8-35-1 (nb1); Hathurusinghe 5-0-8-0; Muralitharan 18-3-58-1; (nb1), Gurusinha 2-0-8-0; Silva 18- 4-57-0; De Silva 3-0-12-0.

SRI LANKA: *A Ranatunga, P A De Silva, A P Gurusinha, C Hathurusinghe, R Kaluwitharana, R S Mahanama, M Muralitharan, H P Tillakaratne, W P U J C Vaas, K J Silva, G P Wickremasinghe.

Umpires: D Hair and S Dunne (NZ).