Former Sri Lankan captain Aravinda de Silva says he feared Muttiah Muralitharan’s career was over, after the spinner was no-balled for throwing during a Test at the MCG.
This week marks 25 years since umpire Darrell Hair called Muralitharan for throwing during the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne in 1995.
It sparked a furore that threatened to engulf the rest of that summer, with simmering tensions between the two sides continuing all the way through until the World Cup final in March.
The Australian team had first played against Muralitharan in Sri Lanka in 1992, when his action so confused then-captain Allan Border that he famously couldn’t work out if he was facing a leg-spinner or an off-spinner.
Following the Boxing Day Test, Muralitharan was also called for throwing by umpires Ross Emerson and Tony McQuillan in the one-day series.
The controversy of the tour had de Silva, who was then vice-captain of the side, fearing for Muralitharan’s future.
“We all thought that was the end,” de Silva told Wide World of Sports.
“I think even Murali would have thought that. Obviously, he was really down and upset.
“Right throughout the tour, we had a very stressful few months after that, with the cricket board getting involved and legal teams.
“Things were taken into a different level and there were lawyers walking in and out of the hotel. It was very difficult for us to focus on the game and our performances reflected that.”
Muralitharan, who went on to become Test cricket’s all-time leading wicket-taker, subsequently had his action cleared.
But it was just one in a series of incidents that overshadowed Sri Lanka’s tour.
Apart from Boxing Day, Muralitharan was also called for throwing during the ODI series, the team was accused of ball-tampering during the Perth Test, plus there was a dispute over the size of the sponsor’s logo on their playing shirts.
The chaos culminated immediately after the final match of the one-day series, when the Sri Lankan players refused to shake hands with the Australian team.
Remarkably, fate dictated that the two sides would meet in a World Cup final in March, with Sri Lanka prevailing by seven wickets.
Former Sri Lankan opening batsman, Roshan Mahanama, believes the drama of the Australian tour was a factor in the team’s World Cup success.
“From my point of view, these are the sequence of events which helped us win the World Cup, because after fifth incident, that really toughened us up,” he told Wide World of Sports.
“The fifth incident was where we didn’t shake hands after the final ODI. We might not have agreed, but that was the decision that was taken by the captain and the management, and we just followed.
“That was also because there was a remark towards Sanath [Jayasuriya] and that’s why we behaved in that manner. Knowing the player involved, I don’t think it was said in [a racist] manner. It was just in the heat of the moment. I don’t think we even looked at it in that manner but we thought it was uncalled for.
“Those five incidents really changed Sri Lanka cricket to where we became much tougher outwardly.”
Mahanama admits that the fallout from that tour took years to fade.
“It was not the same,” he explained.
“Obviously when you don’t shake hands after a final and there’s a Test to play after that, that’s an indication that it’s not going to be the same.
“When something like that happens, it’s only time that will resolve the issue.
“From that time onwards, between the countries, between the players, supporters, there was a kind of uneasiness and animosity.”
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