In our #RetroLive series, we rewind to classic matches to bring you the ball-by-ball commentary and match coverage as if the games were happening live, for the first time.
Sri Lanka 303 for 9 (Jayawardene 120, Jayasuriya 51, Wells 2-30) beat England 302 for 3 (Hick 126*, Fairbrother 78, Jayasuriya 1-42) by one wicket
Once again, all eyes were on Muttiah Muralitharan. Just as they had been at the beginning of a foul-tempered and engrossing contest, and again during a seminal mid-innings stand-off – one in which Adelaide witnessed scenes of mutiny seldom seen on a cricket field since the Bodyline series reached its boiling point at this same venue in January 1933.
But this time, for Muralitharan, it was with a bat in hand. With men camped all around him, with the scores tied, and with just his wicket remaining if Sri Lanka were to pull off a victory that – even allowing for their seminal triumph at the 1996 World Cup – would count as one of their most hard-fought and cathartic of all time.
In the end, there was only one way to take on the moment, head on, as Sri Lanka had been doing all evening. A scuffed slog off Vince Wells fell inches out of the reach of Adam Hollioake at cover, for a scampered single, to prompt scenes of rare jubilation. On the face of it, the shot merely secured another two points to draw level with Australia in the Carlton & United Series. But in the minds of all Sri Lankans, the moment was vindication after a night in which their champion bowler had been subjected to treatment that was little short of victimisation.
On an ordinary night, all the plaudits would have been heaped on Sri Lanka’s latest batting protégé, the 21-year-old Mahela Jayawardene. His vast appetite for runs has already been showcased on his home grounds in Colombo and Galle, but his rare stomach for the fiercest of battles has now been seen in all its glory, as he anchored a daunting 303-run chase with a gutsy and classy 120 from 111 balls, his first overseas hundred.
But this was a contest dominated by pettiness, bitterness, spite and bile – not least in the fraught closing overs, when – with wickets and runs being traded like a run on the bank, Darren Gough feigned a headbutt at Upul Chandana after feeling, with some justification, that he had been barged off the ball while attempting a run-out.
Mark Butcher speaks about his dismissal to Muttiah Muralitharan when England played Sri Lanka in 1998.
Chandana clearly dropped his shoulder while setting off for a quick single, but Gough’s appeal for obstruction was turned down by the umpires, Tony McQuillan and, not least, Ross Emerson – a man whose focus on the minutiae of the contest was by that stage already miles away, as he had already shown in failing to turn to the third umpire for a clear run-out opportunity in the 18th over, when Jayawardene had just 33 to his name.
For if Muralitharan was the focus of the fury, then umpire Emerson and Sri Lanka’s captain Arjuna Ranatunga were the grandstanding lead actors. It was Emerson who tripped the contest into anarchy in the 18th over of the day by no-balling Muralitharan for throwing, just as he had done on the last occasion he had stood in a Sri Lanka fixture at Brisbane in 1995-96. But it was Ranatunga’s response – at once magnificent and malignant – that conferred the night’s events with the sort of grotesque beauty that will only be truly appreciated in hindsight.
Ranatunga proved to be a key player in the chase. He made a belligerent 41 in a vital fifth-wicket stand of 86, one that helped Jayawardene keep his composure as England threatened to turn the screw in the middle overs, but moreover contributed to England losing theirs – at one stage, an incensed England captain, Alec Stewart, was overheard denouncing Ranatunga’s behaviour as “appalling” after getting his ample body in the way of another shy from the outfield.
But that role was nothing compared to the brinksmanship that Ranatunga instigated after Emerson’s interjection. Sri Lanka had been on a war footing from the moment they won the toss and chose to bowl, with their captain scotching any suggestion that Muralitharan might be rested to avoid the impending controversy. “He has been cleared the world over,” he told Channel 9’s Ian Chappell. “Why should I worry about one or two umpires?”
Why indeed? And for the opening 17 overs of the contest, it seemed as though the pre-match chat might be lost in the midst of a fiery batting display, as Stewart came swaggering out of the blocks with a 33-ball 39, an innings that was cut short by a sharp low catch from Ranatunga himself, intercepting a fierce clip at short midwicket off Chaminda Vaas.
Despite the premonitions, Muralitharan’s first over, the 16th of the innings, passed without alarm, as Emerson watched the bowler’s elbow from square leg as closely as the world seemed to be watching and waiting for his outstretched arm. But to widespread relief, he kept his counsel for a succession of offbreaks, as Nick Knight was limited to a solitary single with a punch into the covers.
However, after drinks had been taken at 87 for 1, Emerson torched Adelaide’s tranquility with what appeared to be an arbitrary interjection, four balls into Murali’s second over. His loud cry of “no-ball!” was accompanied, moments later, by a point and an unequivocal tap of his forearm, leaving the crowd in little doubt about what he believed had just transpired.
Whether the delivery was a chuck was clearly a matter for the umpire’s opinion, but whether the delivery had been noticeably different to anything that had come before was a question that left Muralitharan nonplussed, and Ranatunga incensed. Sri Lanka’s captain strode up to Emerson, finger wagging like Mike Gatting versus Shakoor Rana 12 years earlier, and after a lengthy and robust discussion, he then turned to England’s batsmen, Hick and Knight, gesturing that he was taking his players from the field.
For the next 12 minutes, Adelaide Oval was the centre of a diplomatic stand-off, as hasty phone calls were made on the outfield, including to Thilan Sumathipala, the chairman of Sri Lanka Cricket, while Peter van der Merwe, the ICC match referee, joined the melee in a bid to get the contest restarted. England’s batsmen, meanwhile, just stood and waited on the edge of the square, baffled bystanders in a situation had ballooned way beyond their remit.
After what had seemed like a terminal delay, Muralitharan did eventually resume his over, apparently with the instruction to bowl legbreaks only – a mode of delivery that restricts any flex in the elbow. But when, just two balls into his resumption, he served up another offbreak that Emerson declined to call, what remained of the umpire’s authority gave way beneath him. “So what is it, just guesswork for the umpire?” interjected Ian Botham on commentary.
That same delivery brought up England’s hundred, with Hick now settling into another stately innings, following his scores of 108 and 66 not out in his previous two games. But any hope that the focus might begin to return to the cricket soon evaporated when Ranatunga, displaying the sort of diplomacy of which Lord Palmerston might have approved, signalled to Muralitharan to mark out his run-up for a switch to Emerson’s River End of the ground.
What followed was childish, demeaning, and engrossing, as Emerson first refused Muralitharan’s request to stand closer to the stumps to allow him to come round the wicket to Hick. He then carried the quarrel into the start of Muralitharan’s subsequent over, as Ranatunga came marching back into the thick of things, scratching the umpire a new mark behind the stumps, and informing him “You are in charge of umpiring, I am in charge of captaining.”
By now it was turning into a public humiliation for Emerson, but Muralitharan wasn’t having the easiest day of it either. In consecutive overs, Hick reminded the Sri Lankans where their true adversary lay, as he clouted a brace of sixes over midwicket, the second a monster that bounced off down the walkway and out into the parklands beyond the perimeter fence.
It took a run-out to drag Sri Lanka’s focus back onto their opponents, as Knight’s serene innings ran into a run of dot-balls from Jayasuriya, the fourth of which induced a suicidal single to mid-on, where Muralitharan himself was on hand to fling down the stumps. Knight was dismissed for 45 from 74 balls, another tale of what might have been from a player who has made starts in five of his six innings this series without producing the big one.
Nasser Hussain didn’t last long, falling a touch unluckily on the paddle sweep to hand Jayasuriya his 150th ODI wicket, but Neil Fairbrother’s canny eye for a gap was just the foil that Hick needed as England began to accelerate into an imposing finish. The pair added an unbroken 154 in 21.2 overs, a supreme acceleration that encompassed Hick’s second century of the week, completed with a nudge into the covers from 109 balls, and a grandstand finish in which Vaas in particular was taken to the cleaners. After conceding 38 runs in his first eight overs, he leaked that many again in his final two, including consecutive sixes, launched by Fairbrother over the picket fences at midwicket.
With Wickramasinghe getting the treatment as well, England had added 53 runs in their last three overs, to turn a tricky chase of 270-odd into a teeteringly challenging one. That looked doubly daunting when Adam Hollioake ran out Romesh Kaluwitharana without facing a ball, and triply so when Marvan Atapattu slashed Alan Mullally to slip for 3. And after Jayasuriya’s familiar top-order onslaught had been sawn off by the ever-ebullient Darren Gough, Robert Croft’s timely extraction of Hashan Tillakaratne with the arm ball left Sri Lanka’s hopes resting on their oldest stager and his youngest apprentice.
But on some nights, the context counts for everything. And after everything they had stood for in facing down an existential threat to their champion bowler, Sri Lanka – battling on in the image of their captain – weren’t about to give this one up in a hurry. And, for all that England were mere bystanders in the evening’s most bitterly fought contest, the identity of the game’s final matchwinner could hardly have been more exquisite.
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