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Rewind 1999: The birth of Mahela Jayawardene and the demise of Ross Emerson

If there was ever a game of cricket that could give you a sense of both the bitter and the sweet, it would be the encounter between Sri Lanka and England played at the Adelaide Oval on the 23rd of January, 1999.

YellowMonkey’s blog titled A monkey at the cricket has brilliantly captured every noteworthy moment from that eventful day. Click here to read the piece in full. A few excerpts below.

Ten years ago, on this day, one of the most ill-tempered cricket matches in recent years took place at the Adelaide Oval. Rather prophetically, an article by Mike Coward of The Australian was published on the day of the match, entitled “Muralitharan deserves an apology, not idiot’s jeers”.

The umpires were Ross Emerson and Tony McQuillan, who had presided over the last match in which the off spinner had been called.


Ross Emerson No-Balls Murali for throwing.

Ross Emerson’s fate..

What made Emerson’s call so controversial was that the ICC had, as a group, cleared Muralitharan to bowl, and that in effect, Emerson was unilaterally overruling the decision. While on-field umpires retained the right to no-ball bowlers, in the case of bowlers already being cleared, it was generally meant to deter the occasional deliberate and blatant throw, rather than the standard delivery generated by a controversial action.
Following the match, Emerson was stood down and never officiated in an international match again. Soon after, it was revealed that Emerson was on stress leave from his day job and ACB Chairman Denis Rogers mused of a linkage between the sick leave and Emerson’s performance, prompting the umpire to sue.

The birth of a future Sri Lankan captain..

Amidst the chaos, two sublime centuries were almost forgotten. The first was by Graeme Hick, then in the midst of a golden run of three centuries in four ODIs, the other innings being an unbeaten fifty. One imperious flick over the mid-wicket region went for six and rolled all the way outside the ground, across the asphalt entrance and across King William Road. The other was the work of a 21-year old emerging batsman by the name Mahela Jayawardene, who brought up his maiden ODI ton. Given Emerson’s bitter comments about Sri Lanka having an unfair advantage through Muralitharan, it was ironic that their eventual win was made possible by a rudimentary and entirely preventable error on his part.

The bitter sweet..

Emerson had a reputation as a showman, but he had yet to finish for the night. With the score at 3/111, Jayawardene was caught short of his ground with a direct hit, but Emerson, who had a penchant for trusting himself on close run outs, turn down the appeal with his naked eye. The correct decision would almost certainly have ended the match with the loss of Jayawardene, who had been scoring at faster than a run-a-ball, but the young batsman brought up 50 from just 43 balls, conjuring up Sri Lankan hopes of a spectacularly improbable victory with scintillating play behind the wicket.
In gifting Jayawardene a life, Emerson could have inadvertently and launched the career of one of the leading players of our time and one of Sri Lanka’s greatest. Quite ironic that for one of the worst umpires in recent memory, one of Emerson’s worst blunders unquestionably became his greatest contribution to the sport.

Hilal Suhaib

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