THE Muralitharan affair, chapter 2 has been opened. And predictably enough, it has happened in Australia. CUB one-day series referee Peter van der Merwe has confirmed that there are complaints against the Sri Lankan off-spinner -- all by Australian umpires -- and that he would forward any reports to the ICC. That is Van der Merwe's job. No complaint about that.
Since 1995, when Muralitharan was called for throwing during Sri Lanka's tour of Australia, he has bowled under the scrutiny of umpires from practically every cricket-playing country. None of them -- and in this category let me put Steve Bucknor, Srinivas Venkataraghavan, V.K. Ramasamy and plenty of others -- have seen anything wrong with his action.
English, Indian, Sri Lankan, Zimbabwean, South African, West Indian... umpires of any one of a dozen persuasions have stood in matches in which he has bowled. Are Australian umpires following a different set of criteria when they officiate? Could that also be the reason why they never call either Glenn McGrath or Shane Warne for no-balls under the front-foot rule?
Back to Muralitharan. Last summer in England, he took 16 wickets in a Test as England crashed to defeat. Coach David Lloyd tried to blackball the Sri Lankan but failed. Indeed, Lloyd was pulled up by his own board. As Muralitharan has become more and more of a match-winner, he has attracted more and more attention.
There are some questions here which beg answers. The ICC has reportedly cleared Muralitharan's action. And unless something has changed overnight, the ICC is the worldwide ruling body of the game. Does Australia have different rules to operate by? If we assume that Australia is the sole beacon of morality (remember Mark Waugh's claim to the bribery inquiry in Pakistan?) in the corrupt cricket world, then why is the ICC covering up for Muralitharan?
It is pertinent to remember here that there have been campaigns in times gone by to try and rein in cricketing nations which were gaining ascendancy in the game. It has happened with the West Indies and more than one writer has detailed how the cricket establishment repeatedly changed the laws of the game when the West Indies were threatening to dominate.
The first time in the 1950s, when Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine were bamboozling the opposition, the front-foot lbw law was changed. Not many seasons after that, at Edgbaston, Colin Cowdrey and Peter May used their pads to negate everything which the two spinners could throw at them in a partnership of 411. The spin twins never recovered from this.
The next time the West Indies threatened to dominate was in the 1960s and Wesley Hall and Charlie Griffith were the instruments. A campaign began to label Griffith a chucker (Richie Benaud was in the forefront); it succeeded to some extent but did not daunt the fierce Barbadian. Then the front foot no-ball rule was introduced. The pair were reined in.
The last time the cricketing authorities attempted to rein in the West Indies, their success was limited. Clive Lloyd's four-man pace battery had started its triumphant run and the question of bouncers was raised. Mind you, it had never been a bother when John Snow and David Brown were running amuck, nor when Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson were causing havoc in the ranks of opposing teams. This time, the move met with limited success. By this time, of course, the other cricket-playing nations were not mere pushovers; they had much more of a voice in matters than they had had during earlier eras.
This may or may not be relevant to the Muralitharan affair. But it must be borne in mind that a desire to adhere to the rules is not the only factor that drives people in the game. There are other factors at play as well.