I still don't know if Darrell Hair did it intentionally: Muttiah Muralitharan on the controversy that shook world cricket in 1995

During the Benson & Hedges Series 1995-96, Australia, West Indies and Sri Lanka were fighting a tough battle. In the seventh match between Sri Lanka and West Indies, Sri Lanka were bundled out for 102 in 45.2 overs after winning the toss.

Mathew K
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Muttiah Muralitharan

Sri Lanka veteran bowler Muttiah Muralitharan opened up about the controversy that shook the world cricket in 1995. At the ground for Sri Lanka’s historic Boxing Day Test in Melbourne, the world witnessed an ugly scene where umpire Darrell Hair no-balled Muralitharan for chucking. 

Muttiah Muralitharan's legacy

On how he transitioned from being a ‘fast bowler’ to a spinner 

I used to be a fast bowler when I started playing U-9 cricket. I got a lot of wickets and I used to bat also, so I was an all-rounder at that time. When I was about to turn 15, the coach said, ‘Murali, you’re not big enough to be a fast bowler. In U-15 and U-17 cricket, there are bigger and taller boys. Why don’t you try off-spin?' He used to be an off-spinner himself. I just bowled and the first ball, I’m not lying, turned more than anything else. He was surprised, I was surprised, and I became an off-spinner from that day onwards. Every time I bowled, I took a lot of wickets because I bowled with the wrist. Normally, bowlers will go with their fingers, I went with the wrist. It happened automatically. 

On being called for no-balls in the 1995 Boxing Day Test by umpire Darrell Hair  

I was shocked. I still don’t know if he did it intentionally or if he just saw it like that. I couldn’t get an answer to two things. He umpired me in 1994 in Sharjah. He said nothing then. I had not changed my action during that period. A week before, we played Australia in Sydney, he umpired, I bowled 10 overs and he said nothing.  

On the first day of the Test, we lost the toss and were bowling. The first two balls, he didn’t say anything. The third ball he said no ball, so I thought I had overstepped. I didn’t ask anything either. The next ball also, he gave a no-ball. As spinners, we don’t bowl no-balls at all. I went and asked him if I went over, and he said no. He said, ‘You are throwing. In my mind, it is a no-ball’. I was shocked, I had no words.  

I went straight to Arjuna (Ranatunga) and told him that he was saying I’m throwing and you should clarify this with him. The umpire told him ‘In my mind, he’s (Murali) throwing and it’s a no-ball according to the law’. Aravinda (de Silva) came over and we had a discussion. I was told to just bowl and finish the over. I kept bowling and he no-balled me about five times, I can't remember. At that time, I couldn’t think of anything. I was shocked, I didn’t know what was going to happen to me. In the next few days, I asked myself, ‘Why didn’t he call me for a no-ball every time? A man who’s bowling the same way every time, how is one delivery legitimate and the other is not? Till today, I doubt whether it was done intentionally, only he can answer that. 

 On skipper Arjuna Ranatunga’s role during the controversy  

No other captain would have stepped in like the way he did. He thought as the captain, it was his responsibility to protect his players. I don’t think any modern-day captain would have stepped in because even their careers would have been in danger. So, it’s that kind of a risk he took. Along with him, all my teammates supported me. Everyone in the country and the cricket board supported me.  

 On proving his innocence and ushering in rule changes to protect future generation of players  

One good thing that happened was that we asked the ICC to let me prove myself. So, we found out that in Western Australia, they had a human movement centre where they could check if I was doing everything right or not with their technology. Daryl Foster straightaway said they could arrange to check, so I went and tested.  

In that, there was nothing. The movement and everything, ICC accepted that. This was 1995 and then in 1999, (umpire Ross) Emerson called me. That went to an ugly stage, Arjuna wanted to walk out, and I thought I would have to prove myself and test again.  

Then ICC acted to prevent bowlers from getting embarrassed in public, so they made the rule that a complaint needs to be made with the match referee during the game if an umpire doubts a bowler’s action. They’re given 14 days to study the action and come up with a decision. Now, they have about four or five centres in the world.  

Within 14 days you have to send them the footage of everything and they'll see whether everything is right or not. If there’s no problem, you can continue playing. If there’s still a problem, you can remodel your action, test it, and present it to the ICC, and play again. Because of my incident, one thing happened for future generations. They do not have to go through what I went through for 10-15 years. Rules and regulations have been put into the right place. This whole episode is there in my biopic ‘800’. 

 On Harbhajan Singh's emotional reaction upon watching his biopic 

We were premiering my biopic in Mumbai, so I asked (Virender) Sehwag and Harbhajan to come and see it. When we were watching this episode, Harbhajan got really emotional. He said to me, ‘Murali good that they have put it in the movie to show how tough it is for people to prove themselves. I went through this, no Indian cricketer or official understood how much pressure I felt’.  

Muttiah Muralitharan