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Emerson's moment of fame

SO Muthiah Muralitharan has been called again for throwing. Nothing new there, the man in question Ross Emerson has done it before. So has the man who stood with him, Tony McQuillan. Their hero, Darrel Hair, the one who wrote a premature biography, led the way. And as usual, there seems to be more heat than logic being applied to dissect the situation.

The Sri Lankans and their supporters are up in arms and see the whole episode as a plan to tarnish the reputation of a bowler who has been a key part of their ascent to the pinnacle of one-day cricket; Australians seem to feel that only umpires from their country have anything remotely resembling guts. The issue runs deeper than this and there are certain facts which are being conveniently being omitted in all this media coverage.

To go back in time a bit, Emerson called Muralitharan in Brisbane in 1996. So did McQuillan. Hair had opened the innings, literally speaking, by calling Muralitharan at the MCG in 1995; all the matches were part of the same tour, Sri Lanka being the third team to compete in the one-day series that is traditionally played as part of the Australian summer programme.

On that occasion in 1996, Emerson called Muralitharan when he was bowling leg-spinners. And anybody with any knowledge of cricket would be aware that you cannot throw a leg-break. This means that Emerson's act was a premeditated one. This does not do wonders for his reputation but he was never questioned about this. Many people have pointed to the fact that Emerson has called an Australian bowler in the domestic competition for throwing, apparently feeling that this means he is some kind of individual with more than 20-20 vision, one of the rare few who can spot a throw. It means nothing of the sort; in fact, it could indicate that he has a bee in his bonnet about throwing.

On Saturday, Emerson at square-leg called Muralitharan's 10th delivery of the day. Uptil that point and even after the Lankan team had come back and continued the match, Emerson could not find a ball to call. That strikes me as rather strange. Is it possible that a man who bowls seven overs throws just one delivery? Does he have such a range of balls to bowl? When McQuillan observed Muralitharan from square-leg, he apparently did not see anything wrong with his action. How come? Was it a combination of one incompetent umpire and one competent umpire out there in the middle?

One must point out here that Emerson, with his amazing vision, was unable to rule on a run-out (that of Nick Knight) without referring to the third umpire; it was clear to all, except the visually impaired, that Knight was a good many inches short of the crease. McQuillan's sight was also remarkable; Hick got an edge the size of a meatloaf and was caught behind but he could not see that one.

Why did Emerson not stand back when Muralitharan came back and bowled? Umpires normally adjust their position according to the bowler's needs. Instead, he stood in a position which obstructed the bowler's path. He then had to be asked to move a bit forward, something which led to more unnecesary exchanges with players. Will the Australian board quiz him about this un-umpire like behaviour? The Sri Lankan captain goes before a disciplinary committee soon, and rightly too, for all his finger-wagging; I think Emerson should have to explain this latter part of his conduct to a panel as well.

There is one more point to be considered. Hair came out with his book just before the Sri Lankans arrived in order to capitalise on the fact that he was the sole umpire to call a bowler in international competition for over three decades. He was checkmated by his own board and asked to opt out of matches involving Sri Lanka. He had no choice but to obey his employers.

Understandably, he must have been angry. He probably sees himself as a knight in shining armour, one of the few men in the umpiring world who is trying to weed out chuckers. One does not fault him on this score; we all have our little delusions which help to make life worth living. Anger over Hair's chastisment would probably not have been confined to the man alone; the entire umpiring community would have been annoyed over this laying down of the law.

To my mind, the very fact that the Australian board went ahead and posted Emerson and McQuillan -- both men who had called Muralitharan -- in a game was a way of challenging the pair. In short, saying to them, " you know the way the wind is blowing, let's see if you have the guts to challenge it". And the board must have felt that they were more or less certain to abide by what it wanted. Remember, the talk about Muralitharan began much before the Sri Lankans even set foot in Australia.

Emerson chose to thumb his nose at the board. Whether the delivery he called was thrown or not only expert judgement can tell. That is for minds which are far more technical than yours or mine, dear reader. I guess folk like Mike Holding and Kapil Dev will be able to give a fair idea; they are two members of the august committee that decides on the fairness of a bowler's action.

As per the relevant law, Emerson has the right to call any bowler for throwing if he thinks the bowler has contravened the law and its footnote which defines throwing. This is not a subjective thing; there is an objective criterion outlined. He can also report the bowler to the match referee, the latter would pass on the report to the ICC and then this august body would have to act. Emerson chose to have his moment of fame. Whether he has to soon start looking for alternative employment, we will, I hope, know fairly soon.