LAST summer Mutthian Muralitharan hogged a lot of headlines in Australia. His action was questioned and he was called for throwing during a one-day game by an umpire who was on leave from his job for problems related to stress. A lot of people took him seriously. I wrote about it, asking why this kind of thing happened only in Australia.
It looks like this is going to be an annual feature. I mean both the public trial of a cricketer Down Under and the articles that follow from me! The Pakistan team is now in Australia and their fastest bowler, Shoaib Akhtar, has promptly had his action questioned. No prizes for guessing that one of the umpires involved is Ross Emerson, who faced up to much finger-wagging by Arjuna Ranatunge in Adelaide in January this year. Terry Prue is the other; the duo have apparently raised doubts about Shoaib Akhtar's action after they observed him during a one-day match in Perth.
There are some similarities: Murali was the lone bowler in the Sri Lankan side who could be counted as a match-winner. Shoaib is considered the fastest in the world and could be a problem on the bouncy pitches in this country. He is young and thus would not have the maturity needed to handle this kind of trial outside a court of law. And this kind of questioning could be very upsetting to a man of volatile temperament such as he.
It begs the question: are there competence tests for umpires? Shoaib played in view of the whole world during the World Cup. The best umpires from every country were there -- and in this I would include Steve Bucknor, Srinivas Venkararaghavan and David Shepherd. There was not a murmur about his action. But, as usual, the Australian umpires have more insight than the rest.
The funny thing is, we haven't had any feedback about last summer. Was Emerson right? Or was Murali innocent? The ICC has, no doubt in its wisdom, decided that enlightening people about this is not in the public interest. Is the whole thing being swept under the carpet as usual? What happened to Darrell Hair, the man who first called Murali? Was he rght or wrong? Who decides these things? Or who decides that they should not be made public? If there is some system to handle such incidents, I am sure that they would not recur.
Shortly before the Pakistan team left for Australia, one of their bowlers, Shabbir Ahmed, was left out of the squad because the Pakistani cricketing authorities felt that his action was questionable. This means that people in that country are aware of such problems. It is not as though there is no check on such practices.
What is going on? Will the Indian team face some kind of similar inquisition when they land in Australia? Remember, off-spinner Harbhajan Singh had his action questioned and had some remedial coaching as well. Singh has now returned to international cricket after his action was sorted out; he has been part of the Indian team in the series against New Zealand.
Cricket is a game played to a large extent in the mind. There are cricketers who can cast their personal problems aside and still perform; the prime example which comes to mind is Gordon Greenidge who, if I recall right, put on over 250 with Desmond Haynes on a day when his daughter was in hospital and close to death. Once the team was safe, Greenidge flew off to be with his daughter.
Not everybody has the same professional steel in them. Last summer's incidents upset Murali and the entire Sri Lankan team. The Pakistanis are a volatile lot (remember the Miandad-Lillee incident?) and this will definitely upset them, the fact that one of their pace spearheads has had his action questioned. I have no doubt that if Wasim Akram, one of the finest fast bowlers of the last 15 years, had any doubts about Shoaib's action, he would have guided the youngster and advised him. Former cricketers like Imran Khan and Sarfraz Nawaz would have offered help as well.