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Chronicle of an acrimonious tour filled with all the twists of a detective novel: A Sri Lankan's Diary

By Andrew Jayasinghe

APRIL 1998: Settled down in Australia after living for seven years in Singapore. Singapore was a good country to live in, especially to work in . I did miss the cricket though. It is but a novelty and a game that is struggling in that country. The hard working Chinese folk are unable to see the point of 22 people spending five days playing a slow game. It is definitely not for them, they need the fast and the furious and soccer is a firm favourite. It was hard for me as I grew up playing it all the time and every where as a few of our neighbours' windows would attest. Sri Lanka did win the World Cup during this period but I only managed to see the last half of that final match. It did rekindle my interest after a few barren years though. Australia in now in winter and there is no evidence of any cricket, it is all Footy. Disappointing really.

October 1998 : In the United States for a while, on company business. Lonely times, cricket on the web during the off times keeps me occupied following the travails of Sri Lanka on tour in England. After a disappointing beginning where the whole team was dismissed for 59 against Glamorgan they play really well to beat South Africa and England in limited over cricket and the one-off test against England. A wonderful performance by Sanath, Aravinda and Murali. I enjoy what the English press write about Sanath and Murali. These blokes may be the fairest ever, they write so well and are clearly unbiased. It is difficult to think that any team could travel to any country and have a level playing field such as in England. Some controversy about Murali by fuelled by David Lloyd. The English authorities put it where it belongs. (Garbage bin) ("Australia Watching?")

November 1998 : Back home in Australia. Sri Lanka plays really poorly losing all the matches in Sharjah . They will come over in the summer and it is a time to watch them play. Hopefully there will be no controversy. The BCCSL chairman comes over to visit to ask for the trouble free tour . Clearly Murali is in mind. The ACB agrees. ("Do they really?")

Early December 1998 : Hair again, with his ill timed (well timed for him) tripe/book. The BCCSL protests to the ICC . The ACB says Hair has stepped down on his own accord due to personal reasons. ("Am I to believe them ?")

Late December 1998: Ashes tour. The Poms are hounded. I am surprised by the intensity of the press attacks and all the hype. The English had lost before they started . I feel sorry for them , actually supporting them !. Hick, such a brilliant batsman, playing like a wreck. How will Sri Lanka cope I wonder ? Time for Sri Lanka to arrive. Looking at match appointments. Isn't Peter Van der Merwe the man who reported two Indian spinners? This is surely no a coincidence. Well, Emerson is umpiring some matches as well. Well really, looks like the ACB wants a controversy-free tour!!

January 5 : Sri Lanka in Adelaide in a warm-up match with Australia A. Watch Aravinda get a fifty and get out. I watch till the Sri Lankan innings are over. I feel uncomfortable, at first match after years. Sri Lanka win the match after a poor showing at Perth.

January 8 : Aravinda is injured. We are in trouble. Hopefully they will find the depth with their other batsmen.

January 11 : Sri Lanka loses three matches in a row. Clearly struggling to adjust to the different conditions. Arjuna bats first in all three.

January 21: Sri Lanka wins after they decide to chase. The press pack goes wild about the next match in Adelaide. The much publicised Emerson-Murali clash. This is sick!

January 23: Finally, a match played in Adelaide. I come in when Vas and Pramodya are bowling to Stuart and Knight. Fifteen overs are nearly up when Murali starts to bowl. The First over is uneventful but for a few hooligans shouting "No Ball" as has been happening through this tour, nothing from the umpire though. Now the tension eases. Murali's second over. Hey, there is something going on now. There seems to be some confusion. Arjuna is talking to the umpires. Oh no, Emerson has done it! He has called Murali. I am shocked and also angered. Never been so angry. I and another Sri Lankan guy in the stand call for Arjuna to take the team off and go back home. Well, he can't hear me. Arjuna seems to be taking the team off. The Sri Lankan team seems to be walking off. No, they stop at the boundary. Confusion reigns. I shout for them to leave. The lady next to my wife tells her that they will ask for the money back . I will not!

Well, the Sri Lankans are back to playing again. Hick and Fairbrother pummel Murali. Feeling sorry for him. Sri Lanka start in their customary style, Romesh and Marvan back in very quickly. Sanath plays a blinder and gets out. Mahela and Arjuna carry through. Finally they win it. Exhilarating stuff.

January 24: Sri Lanka loses after a fine short pitched spell by Mcgrath. Pretty sad really.

January 25: Controversy fills the news. If the Australian Press is to be believed Ranatunge has brought the game into disrepute. Emerson was merely doing his job. What ho! This is a new twist. Many "has been" Aussie umpires talk about Emerson's courage. Courage? I thought it was ignorance and grandstanding. Emerson is a new hero. ACB refuses to stand down Emerson for the next match come hell or high water.

January 26 : Australia Day. My list of honours differs from the normal. England plays Australia today. Ranatunge hearing is adjourned. In a "completely and absolutely unrelated " incident ACB stands Emerson down. This is strange. He was suffering from a stress related illness months before. What next, will we have axe murderers standing as umpires?

January 27 The press is awash with condemnation of Ranatunge. Some call for a six-game ban, some for life. They stop short of asking for his head on a platter. Emerson is a hero. A few discerning writers see both sides. One not so discerning says "It is a sad day for cricket when he saw Arjuna flanked by two lawyers going in to the hearing". I will tell you when the sad day started. It started when knowing the consequences Emerson was appointed to have some fun.

January 28/29/30: A lot of crap is written about Arjuna, on how he gets under Australian skins, on how he has destroyed the game etc. Well here is a man in the twilight of a distinguished career who has the moral courage to stand up to what is clearly wrong knowing full well that he will suffer. I think it is about time the BCCSL stood up for him.

January 30 : I think it is about time this tour ended. All the ill feeling and animosity that is being generated has no right to be associated with a cricket tour. You wish for masterly performances with the bat and the ball. This is really too much. I am sure Ranatunge will be punished. He seems to be the usual cheery self on the way to the hearing . No news all day. I have a suspicion that Ranatunge has a fairly strong legal case. A few epitaphs are written for Arjuna.

January 31: All hell breaks lose. Arjuna has been suspended and fined. The sentence has been suspended. The press sees another black day for cricket. Clearly the lawyers have found holes in the case. The umpires have filed the report late. Did they forget as they were boasting about what was done by destroying a brilliant bowler's career at a local pub, getting too drunk to file a report . one wonders. Nothing is said about Emerson's "stress related" condition . It is clear from ACB's protestations that this had absolutely nothing to do with the verdict.!! (I believe them too!) I think that if there are holes in the laws of cricket that are inconsistent with the laws of a country it is time they are fixed. I feel from the deafening silence about actual facts there were some who did not do their jobs. (Possibly an endless list) Sri Lanka lose to England at Perth. This was always likely but a disappointment nonetheless. It is a wonder that they have a heart to play after the travails of the week before.

January 31: A must win game for Sri Lanka, One Australian writer labels the Sri Lankan fans as one eyed for not agreeing that Murali chucks. That dear sir is an opinion. If he thinks he can judge over all the highest technology the world has to offer what has been termed by scientists a visual illusion he cannot be one eyed but should possess a complex eye of a garden fly with the brains to go with it. He also says that Ranatunge is no saint. I agree, Arjuna more than any other Sri Lankan cricketer is like the abrasive competitive cricketers the Australians are. Clearly he is not a beer swilling Machismo, so he gets on the Aussie nerves. Aravinda is injured again and on a wicket where the Sri Lankans were expected to sit down and die they play a good game. Sri Lanka loses while dispelling the theory about the weakness against the short ball but more importantly Sanath is injured. Murali has groin strain. They look like a camp of the walking wounded. The final is out of reach and clearly they should rest the key players for the World Cup.

This is probably my least enjoyable season of cricket. It is even less enjoyable than when Sri Lanka used to lose all their matches in the early eighties. Yet I tell myself it is only cricket. It is only a game. That is what I thought earlier. I am not sure any more.