‘Beheading’ Murali: Cricketing Fundamentalists in Australian Cricket, 1995-98

Michael Roberts


The Western world is in shock as ISIS has gained control of a swathe of territory across Syria/Iraq and set up a caliphate state as a symbol of resurgent Islam of their crusading character; and, thereafter, when ISIS (A) beheaded several Western hostages in chilling video-theatre and (B) called upon like-minds in Western centuries to venture forth on random acts of decapitation in the heart of cities.

Australia has been in the grip of alarm for several days this past week as the ISIS call reverberated and the Federal Police launched precautionary raids on those radical Muslims they had been monitoring. Then, on the night of 23rd September one young Muslim of Afghan descent, Numan Haider, raised the scales by slashing and nearly killing two policemen in the vicinity of a Melbourne police station.

So, references to “Islamic fundamentalism” have ruled the air waves.

foley before

This phenomenon struck a chord in my memory bank. I went back to my own writings. Let me quote from a piece[1] written on 1st January 1996 under the title “Fundamentalism in Cricket: Crucifying Murali.”

In Australia … fundamentalism is not only suspect, it is detested. In this view (some) Muslims are the epitome of contemporary fundamentalism. Yet, reposing righteously in this anti-fundamentalist terrain is a species of fundamentalism. In the sunny field of cricket these purists have assassinated Muttiah Murlaitharan by the book. Their scimitar is both sharp and uncompromising. … Fundamentalists do not know the art of compromise. Their righteous zealotry is piously strict. They go by the Book. Darrell Hair has emerged as the champion of cricket purists. His ruling … has guillotined Muralitharan’s arm and placed the lad on the shelves of history.

Man-of-Match HAIR 001 Pic courtesy of Herald Sun

Darrell Hair was not a maverick. He was carrying out the wishes of a powerful coterie at the heart of the Australian Cricket Board and the Australian team. On the morning of the 26th December 1996 Tim Lane[2] and Graham Halbish[3] were both aware that a momentous act would occur on the field of cricket that day. Grapevine tales in the Australian circuit focus on Bob Simpson, the Australian coach, as a key conspirator demanding such action; while Malcolm Gray and Colin Egar have also been implicated.[4]

Australia at this stage was the ruling hegemon in the cricket world, outmuscling the MCC and Englishmen. Its commanding figures believed that the game of cricket was sullied by the burgeoning phenomenon of “chuckers” — bowlers who threw the ball. In the early 1990s Warnaweera had appeared, persisted and disappeared without being called. Now, in 1995, they were seeing Dharmasena and Murali plying the art of bowling as chuckers, with Murali the most dangerous of them all as wicket-taker.

So, a line had to be drawn in the sand to save the game of cricket from degeneration at the hand of these (Asian) bowlers. Not only was there a touch of Orientalism, in the sense Edward Said, in this brand of thinking, but also more than a wee dram of moral righteousness of the sort that would have pleased Calvinist pastors.

So Murali’s arm had to be — metaphorically — decapitated. When the first burst of action initiated by Hair and others (including Emerson and McQuillan) could not be sustained,[5] a second attempt at ‘decapitation’ was carried out at Adelaide Oval on 23 January 1998 by Ross Emerson acting upon instructions from “a senior Australian official.

arjuna-vs-emerson1 Arjuna Ranatunga admonishes Ross Emerson on field



The failure of these efforts, and the campaign as a whole, should not detract from its significance: namely, the force of moral righteousness and cricketing purism in seeking public acts of “execution.” To these minds, “chuckers” were infidels within the cricketing domain.

Murali’s arm as an ‘infidel’ chucking arm had to be stayed, cut-off. The cricketing gods demanded it.

For more images see Roberts, Essaying Cricket. Sri Lanka and Beyond, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2006,

For Buddhist fundamentalism in Sri Lanka and Burma see https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/full-text-wirathu-and-gnanasara-sign-agreement/

                                         SELECT BIBLIOGRAHY

Abbasi, Kamran 2006 “Wanted: A Radical Rethink on Suspect Bowling Actions,” in Roberts, Essaying Cricket. Sri Lanka and Beyond, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, pp. 179-81.

CNN 2014 “Video shows ISIS beheading U.S. journalist James Foley,” http://edition.cnn.com/2014/08/19/world/meast/isis-james-foley/

Maley, Paul 2014 “Islamic State horror hits home: plot to abduct and behead Australians,” The Australian, 19 September 2014, https://plus.google.com/114281934612203133760

Roberts, Michael & Alfred James 1998 Crosscurrents. Sri Lanka and Australia at Cricket, Sydney: Walla Walla Press.

Roberts, Michael 2006 “Fundamentalism in Cricket: Crucifying Murali,” in Roberts, Essaying Cricket. Sri Lanka and Beyond, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, pp. 4-5.

Roberts, Michael 2006 “Moral Crusaders as Menace to Cricket,” in Roberts, Essaying Cricket. Sri Lanka and Beyond, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, pp. 51-56.

Roberts, Michael 2011a “Currents, Clashes and Issues in Sri Lankan Cricket,” in Roberts, Incursions and Excursions in and Around Sri Lankan Cricket, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, pp. 1-20.

Roberts, Michael 2011 “Saving Murali: Action On-field and Off-field, 1995-2005,” in Incursions and Excursions in and Around Sri Lankan Cricket, Roberts, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, pp. 111-38..

Wijesuriya, Glucka 2006 “Murali and the Bowling Issue,” in Roberts, Essaying Cricket. Sri Lanka and Beyond, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, pp. 4-5.

Roebuck, Peter 2006 “Secret Filming reveals Extent of Bowlers who Chuck,” in Roberts, Essaying Cricket. Sri Lanka and Beyond, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, pp. 321-22.

Suhaib, Hilal 2010 “Ross Emerson admits to no-balling Murali due to orders from the top,” 8 July 2010, http://www.islandcricket.lk/news/60670708/ ross_emerson_admits_no_balling_murali_due_orders_from_the_top

Thuppahi 2014 “Media Tsunami in Australia over Islamic Terror WITHIN … and Beyond,” http://thuppahis.com/2014/09/18/media-tsunami-in-australia-over-islamic-terror-within/

Thuppahi 2014b “Terror Australis,” http://thuppahis.com/2014/09/19/terror-australis/

White, Alex 2014 Unmasked: Aussie jihadists heading into Islamic State terror zones,” Herald Sun, 18 September 2014.

                          FOOTNOTES & CITATIONS

[1] I was watching the match at the MCG on the 26th and got back to Adelaide on the 31st night. I penned this article there and then. It was printed in the Daily News in Sri Lanka but no Australian newspaper accepted it. It has been reprinted in my Essaying Cricket.

[2] Tim Lane told fellow radio commentators ha t morning that something major would take place that day. This story went the rounds once Murali was no-balled.

[3] As they drove to the MCG on the 26th December morning Halbish told Owen Mottau, his mate from the same Prahran Cricket Club, that Murali would be no-balled that day (info communicated by Owen to me).

[4] See Roberts 2011a: 6-8 and Roberts 2011b: 114-17.

[5] This was due to an offer of testing from Daryl Foster of the Biotechnology unit at the University of Western Australia — a friendly gesture that was taken up with alacrity by Duleep Mends and the BCCSL. For details see Roberts


Filed under arab regimes, atrocities, Australian culture, australian media, authoritarian regimes, cultural transmission, discrimination, disparagement, Islamic fundamentalism, jihad, life stories, politIcal discourse, the imaginary and the real, world affairs, zealotry

6 responses to “‘Beheading’ Murali: Cricketing Fundamentalists in Australian Cricket, 1995-98

  1. Andy Sergie

    When cricketers engaged in acts to see the downfall of their teams it is called match fixing. The end result is disgrace, ban and fines and in some instances jail time. What do we call these so called powerful coterie of Australian cricket administrators who fix cricket matches by trying to no ball bowlers. Once the players and the umpires are in the middle everyone else are spectators; just watch the game and enjoy it. What kind of punishment could be meted to those who tried to wipe Muarli from the cricketing scene?

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