Ross Emerson vs Sri Lanka

illustration by Delaney Kuric 

-January 5th, 1996- 

Muttiah Muralitharan was a center-piece figure to the new and improved Sri Lankan squad. He shocked the world in 1992 in his debut against Australia with his unconventional bowling action. Because of an unusual hyperextension during delivery, a bend in Murali’s arm created the illusion of an illegal bowling action. However, this was not called into question until four years after Murali’s debut.

On January 5th, 1995, debut Australian umpire Ross Emerson no-balled Murali for an illegal bowling action during a One-Day International game against the West Indies. Murali obliged and bowled a different way, but Emerson continued to no-ball him.

An unrest began to unravel amongst the team and amongst the Sri Lankan population. Sri Lanka’s best bowler was being called into question by what seemed like the entire world. Since the first time he was no-balled during the Boxing Day test a month earlier, Murali had been marked by some as a cheater. Opposing fans sent hate mail and yelled obscenities on the field. A few opposing fans even threw bottles and other debris at the team as they walked on the field.

After Ross Emerson no-balled Murali, the International Cricket Council opened up an investigation to study Murali’s bowling action. He passed all tests and was cleared to play internationally.

Ranatunga and the rest of the Sri Lankan team rallied around Murali and supported him throughout it all. The people of Sri Lanka did the same. It didn’t matter than Murali was Tamil--on the field and at home he was Sri Lankan.

Although he was cleared to play in 1996, Murali was no-balled again by Ross Emerson in 1999, instigating another investigation. Murali was cleared again and later ended his career holding the world record for the most wickets in both test and one-day cricket, widely regarded as the best Test bowler in the history of cricket. Ross Emerson never umpired again, later admitting that he was pressured by an unnamed Australian official to no-ball Murali.