Arjuna in Battle and under Duress 1999

Andrew Fidel Fernando, courtesy of The Cricket Monthly, at ESPNcricinfo …..where the title is “Arjuna Versus”

 This is an unique image… and if I am not mistaken the bloke on the left side of the taxi is Lionel, an avid supporter in Sri Lanka and everywhere those days. The day on which this photo was taken is a puzzle because it is daytime and could not conceivably have occurred on the day of the match because it was, I think, a day-night game.

VISIT CRICKETIQUE for full article at

 An unprecedented finger-wagging confrontation between Umpire Emerson and Captain Arjuna Ranatunga at Adelaide Oval during the ODI match vs England on 23 January 1999 — the incident which led to disciplinary charges against Arjuna Ranatunga

 Arjuna leads team to the fence after the first stand-to confrontation

Michael Roberts

I was Adelaide Oval that day. Though I had a ticket in the Western stands, when the confrontation occurred I was located near one of the Lankan cheering parties at the tree-lined grass embankment on the south-eastern corner of the ground [seen over Arjuna’s shoulder in Pic 2] –– chatting with the English journalist Michael Henderson with the intention of picking his brains for an article that I had in view. That project was scuttled because Henderson rushed off to get closer to the developing contretemps (with the power of his press pass).

The Adelaide Friends of Sri Lanka Cricket had organised a dinner for the SL cricket squad on the 24th January night at a restaurant in Gouger Street that was a stone’s throw from the Hilton Hotel where the team was staying. I was President/Dogsbody of the AFSLC at that point and  had been assisted in the organization of this function by ‘Hewan’ Hewanpola, Susantha Katugampola, Sujeeewa Kamalasuriya [alas, struck down by the tsunami at Unawatuna in 2004], Arjuna Upasena and others. As chief ‘honcho’ I had the privilege of sitting beside Manager Ranjit Fernando, and Captain Arjuna at a central table which included the English cricket reporter Ted Corbett as my invitee.

I mention all this because it placed me in a situation where I had some access to inside information. In fact, both Ranjit and Arjuna left the function after the email to attend a crisis-meeting in Fernando’s room  at the Hilton with Thilanga Sumathipala, Quintus de Zylva and David Cruse from Melbourne in order to work out strategies to counter the indictment of Ranatunga.

 Emerson asked to stand back

On reflection one can say that it was a happy coincidence that the Board of Cricket for Sri Lanka (as it was known then) was headed at that moment by Sumathipala – a street-fighter if ever there was one. Ranjit Fernando is no pushover either. In a recent email note Ranjit Fernando indicates that during and after the match they had been buoyed by the favourable reactions from the TV commentary team amidst the hostility of the Australian crowd. Tony Grieg was, he says, “the catalyst.” “He went wild on TV, chastising Emerson …. and then there was Botham and even Mark Nicholas in sympathy with Murali. I was interviewed immediately over TV and radio and despite the vociferous antipathy towards Lanka on the ground, we were encouraged by the support from far and wide.”  This included advice from the legal eagle Lakshman Kadirgamar, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister at that moment, who contacted them on the phone at the Hilton and offered advice.

The team was also buoyed by their victory in the match. So much so, that Murali—the centre of the storm — proceeded “to dance and sing at the AFSL gathering with no cares whatsoever.”

The first tribunal was in Adelaide – on either Monday the 25th or Wednesday 27th. It was Dr. Quintus de Zylva’s wide range of contacts and Sumathipala’s readiness to provide the funds that enabled the beleaguered team to hire two young lawyers for the ICC hearing. Taken by surprise Van der Merwe, the ICC Referee, postponed the adjudication for Perth,

  Van der Merwe

This gave the SL defence team more time for preparation. Tony Greig attended one informal pow-wow at Dr Tilak Chandratilaka’s house in Perth — Tilak being Sumathipala’s son-in-law [info direct from Tilak when we roomed together at Melbourne subsequently on cricket business].  Let Ranjit’s recent note complete the story: “The hearing at Perth became a high profile event with the ICC too retaining lawyers and setting up a court room like environment for the hearing (whereas all ICC disciplinary hearings are usually held round a table). The ICC lawyers tried their best to discredit Arjuna who was tough as ever. All credit however must go to Match Referee Peter Vandermerwe who did not permit any tough tactics by the lawyers and treated Arjuna with the greatest respect coming from one fine captain to another. Even at a time when he was on the opposite side his great gentleman qualities never deserted him. This was cricket the gentleman’s game at its best. This was also an occasion when Thilanga was at his best.”

To cut a long story short, Arjuna Ranatunga eventually received a suspended six-match ban and a fine of 75% of his match fee. More or less tiddlywinks. In my surmise there must have been some secret under the counter understandings for such an end-result.

A fuller account of this tale [without some of the fresh details above] can be found in the segment “Saving Arjuna Ranatunga” on pages 10-22 of my article “Saving Murali” which is Chapter 5 of Incursions & Excursions in and around Sri Lankan Cricket, (Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2011 ,… ISBN 978-955-53198-0-5)

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 Sumathipala Fernando  Greig


Michael Roberts: “Righteous Blindness. In Cricket and In War,” 10 February 2016,

Michael Roberts: “Beheading Murali: Cricketing Fundamentalists in Australian Cricket, 1995-1998,” 2 October 2014,

Muralitharan: Muralitharan as Teacher: Overcoming Strife in Life, Cricket and Politics,” 10 July 2013,

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