When Arjun Ranatunga Put Everything On The Line To Save Muttiah Muralitharan's Career
Muttiah Muralitharan, the highest wicket-taker in cricket, was once accused of chucking by Australian umpires despite being cleared by ICC.
In the year 1992, the cricketing world was taken by storm by a young blooming spinner from Sri Lanka. With an unorthodox action and a magical spin, 20-year-old Muttiah Muralitharan showed promise of taking spin bowling to new levels. However, the cricket giants ployed against this future legend, and then, one man risked everything to save the spinner's career - Arjun Ranatunga.
Muralitharan was accused of 'chucking' while bowling by the umpires and was then put on probation, which put him out of the ground. International Cricket Council then probed into the matter and performed a comprehensive investigation into Muralitharan's bowling action. ICC cleared the off-spinner's action of all wrong-doing.
In the year 1995, 23-year-old Muralitharan was still fairly new to the scene. At the time, ICC rules stated that one cannot straighten their arm after bending it while bowling. It was completely up to the on-field umpire's decision to judge this.
In a test match against Australia in 1995, Australian umpire Darrell Hair started calling no-balls while Muralitharan was bowling, maintaining that the Sri Lankan bowler was chucking. After a number of such calls, Sri Lankan captain Arjun Ranatunga started bowling Muralitharan from the other end.
However, umpire Darrell Hair boldly stated that he can still call it a no-ball even if he wasn't officiating. After the match, Sri Lankans tried to call for deliberations with umpire Darrell Hair to deal with the matter properly. Although ICC allowed it, Cricket Australia denied and stopped it.
In the second match as well, the same incident kept on happening. This time there was a different Australian umpire, Ross Emerson, who even took things a step further. Even though the issue was specifically with Muralthiran's off-spin, umpire Emerson started calling no-balls on Murali's leg-break as well. Clear as day, it is physically impossible while bowling leg-break to move the arm like that.
Muralitharan was finally taken off the team as Sri Lanka went on to lose the series by 3-0. It is noteworthy that this umpiring by the two Australian umpires was termed the 'worst umpiring I've ever seen' by the legendary Australian batter Sir Don Bradman.
Cut to three years later, Muralitharan underwent extensive testing at the ICC and was declared to have a completely legal action. However, Australians decided they knew better and decided to deal with things on their own.
The Australian Tri-nation series was going on between Australia, Sri Lanka and England in 1999. On one hand, the Australian Cricket Board continued bad-mouthing Muttiah Muralitharan as a chucker. Moreover, they used to refer to captain Ranatunga as a 'savage'.
Prior to the 8th match with England, which was to be officiated by the umpire Ross Emerson, the umpire received a call from the Australian cricket board to 'maintain the standards he had set before', indirectly asking him to obstruct Murali's bowling with no-ball calls.
Emerson, encouraged by ACB, called a no-ball for Muralitharan while standing at square leg! For a long time, the Sri Lankan team and Muralitharan had been suffering from these accusations. Even now, after the ICC ruled the bowler clear of any wrong-doings, had to face arbitrary umpiring.
Arjun Ranatunga walked straight to the umpire in all his rage, telling the umpire while his finger pointed at the umpire, reciting the ICC rules. Ranatunga, after all his arguing made no difference, then gave the umpires a look, went to the English batters to say goodbye, and took his team back to the pavilion.
Nobody expected that Ranatunga would walk away with his team in the middle of the match, not even ACB. Yet, the Sri Lankan captain was quick to pull the trigger against wrong-doings. The Sri Lankan team were walking off the field as the match referee rushed to the field to stop this. A number of phone calls were made between Sri Lankan & Australian cricket boards.
With some rigorous diplomacy, a compromise was reached. Murali was allowed only to bowl leg-breaks in the match while umpire Emerson was to stand down as the match was to continue. However, Ranatunga have had enough as he went to Murali and told him to bowl whatever he wanted to. Murali did bowl the off-spin while the umpire Emerson had no other option than to just silently watch.
Ranatunga went on to stick it to the umpire as he brought Muralitharan to bowl from the end where Emerson was officiating, indirectly daring him to take action. Emerson couldn't call any no balls, so he raised a different issue. Ross Emerson stated that Muraltharan's run-up's starting mark was too close to the wickets. On this, Ranatunga walked straight to the umpire and told him, "You are in charge of umpiring, I am in charge of captaining. My bowler will ball from wherever he wants".
When the match ended, Sri Lanka and Australia cricket boards were at a full-scale war! Arjun Ranatunga was suspended for 6 matches along with 75% match fees. Later on, when Arjun was asked whether he could have 'rested' Muralitharan for that match, the Sri Lankan replied that 'The whole world had cleared him, why should he worry for one or two umpires.
This is a tale of how Arjun Ranatunga put everything on the line to save a youngster's career. This youngster went on to hit the winning runs in the match with Emerson umpiring at square leg. Muralitharan now is a legend spinner, who has the most number of test wickets by a bowler in international cricket. All this was courtesy of a 'savage' captain, who stood up firmly against injustice and wrong-doings.
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