Former international umpire Darrell Hair says he “wouldn’t have been doing my job” had he failed to call Sri Lankan spinner Muttiah Muralitharan for throwing.
It was 25 years ago today that the cricket world was plunged into chaos, when Hair no-balled Muralitharan seven times during the Boxing Day Test at the MCG.
The 68-year-old Hair, who retired from international umpiring more than a decade ago, found himself at the centre of one of the most controversial summers in recent history, when Sri Lanka visited Australia in 1995-96.
Muralitharan, at the time just 23-years-old and nowhere near the bowler he was to become later in his career, had his action cleared the following May.
Hair, and other umpires, had previously raised concerns about Muralitharan’s action with the ICC, with those reports forwarded to the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka (BCCSL, now Sri Lanka Cricket).
Those reports apparently fell on deaf ears, leading to Muralitharan being no-balled on Boxing Day.
“You try your best to say that it had to stop, or had to change,” Hair told Wide World of Sports.
“You understand it’s a drastic step to take but when you feel like nothing is going to change, if six or seven wickets fall and you know those balls were illegal, in my mind I wouldn’t have been doing my job.
“I would have felt that I wasn’t doing the job that an umpire should do, if I’d just let it go.”
Hair remains adamant the responsibility for enforcing the laws of the game rests with the on-field umpires.
“That’s what was on my mind at the time,” he said. “If he was allowed to take wickets in matches when I was umpiring, it wouldn’t be right.
“Nearly every umpire I umpired with had concerns, they just weren’t willing to take the final step. But if you’ve got concerns, it means something is wrong and it should have been dealt with.”
Hair called Muralitharan from the bowler’s end, with Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga then switching the off-spinner to the other end, where New Zealand’s Steve Dunne was umpiring.
Muralitharan bowled 38 overs for the innings, finishing with 1-124 as Australia recorded a 10-wicket win.
Hair defended his decision not to call Muralitharan from square leg.
“I just found it was easier to get an idea of someone’s action from the bowler’s end,” he said.
“I know you’ve got other things to think about but that was my preference. People said there was a long-held tradition that the umpire at square leg has called a bowler for throwing but there’s also a long-held tradition that you don’t throw!
“Sometimes when you’re at square leg, it might be easier to see a change in a fast bowler’s action but the way he bowled was a little bit different.
“But he bowled a lot of legal deliveries and you can see the difference in the legal ones better from the bowler’s end.”
Australia’s captain at the time, Mark Taylor, admitted his team was “shocked” at the events of Boxing Day 1995 but noted Hair’s actions were consistent with his responsibilities as an umpire.
“My interpretation of the old no-ball law was that the onus was on the bowler to prove his action was legal,” Taylor told Wide World of Sports.
“It was worded along the lines of, ‘If in the opinion of the umpire, there’s a straightening of the arm, the umpire should call no-ball’.
“Whatever people think about Darrell Hair, he was doing what he thought was right. We all thought Murali’s action was unusual but under the law that Darrell was interpreting, he wasn’t sure the action was legitimate, so he called him.
“He did exactly what he should do.”
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