Sa’adi Thawfeeq, in The Nation, 5 August 2012
Cricket Australia has finalised their home international fixtures for the forthcoming summer Down Under where Sri Lanka will be one of three countries making a tour there. Sri Lanka arrives after Australia has completed a three-Test series against South Africa. The most interesting aspect of the Sri Lankan leg of the tour is that Cricket Australia has deemed it fit to give Sri Lanka a full three-Test series after a lapse of 17 years and also a Test match to coincide with Boxing Day at their most sacrosanct venue the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).
The last occasion Sri Lanka played at this hallowed venue only brings back bitter memories for it was here on December 26, 1995 that Australian umpire Darrel Hair no-balled Sri Lanka spinner Muthiah Muralitharan for ‘chucking’. The funniest part of this incident was that Hair had officiated in a one-day match at Sydney against Muralitharan prior to the Test and not seen anything wrong with his action where the spinner bowled ten overs. The consensus of opinion was that Hair had timed his no-ball to gain maximum mileage in front of a massive 55,000 crowd and during an event of such magnitude as the Boxing Day Test. The reason why he did that is best known to him.
If Hair thought that he could put an end to Muralitharan’s budding career (he was playing in his 23rd Test) with his pre-meditated move to no-ball the bowler out of the game he was in for a rude shock. Although Hair may have gained maximum publicity at the height of the Muralitharan no-ball controversy it was to later cost him his career as an umpire and eventually forced him out of the game. If Hair thought by calling Muralitharan during the Boxing Day Test would thrust a ‘nobody’ like him into the limelight and cast him as a true Australian hero to some he was totally wrong.
Sadly it didn’t work out that way. Hair faced several issues in his controversy ridden career which eventually forced him out of the game (notably the ball tampering affair against Pakistan when he decided to award the 2006 Oval Test to England) whereas the innocent, honest and humble Muralitharan survived the ordeal and thrived in his career to become the greatest wicket-taker Test and One-Day International cricket ever produced.
Sri Lanka’s other Tests on the 2012-13 tour to Australia is at Hobart (first Test) and at Sydney (third Test). Melbourne and Sydney are venues where Sri Lanka will receive a great amount of support from expatriate Sri Lankans and the pitches are also spin-oriented.
Since 1995-96, Sri Lanka has toured Australia twice in 2004 and again in 2007-08 but on both occasions they were granted only a two-Test series which they lost.
This tour to Australia could be a once in a life-time opportunity for some of our top cricketers nearing the end of their illustrious careers to perform well and possibly secure a maiden Test victory Down Under, something which they have not been able to achieve since the first Test side toured there in 1987-88 under Ranjan Madugalle. After 14 years they won a Test match in South Africa last year when under the captaincy of Tillakaratne Dilshan, Sri Lanka beat the hosts by 208 runs at Durban.
Players in the calibre of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene have often spoken of not getting enough opportunities to play Test cricket in countries like Australia and South Africa regularly. Although Sri Lanka has made tours to Australia often they have been mostly for one-day internationals and rarely Tests. This upcoming tour is one big opportunity for cricketers like Sangakkara, Jayawardene and others of making that dream come true with a Test win Down Under which would leave Sri Lanka with only India as the last frontier to conquer.