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King Murali says 1000 Test wickets still possible

Rex Clementine in Wellington

When Shane Warne leaves the cricket field, Muttiah Muralitharan will be the undisputed king among the world’s leading spinners. Not that when Warne was around he was taking the second place, his record was better than that of the leg-spinner and his cricket career had a clean slate not involving any public scandals whereas Warne had been plagued by drug, sex and match fixing scandals over the last 14 years. In many ways, Murali was above Warne and 2006 was his most successful year as he picked up an astonishing 90 wickets in just 11 Tests at an average of 17. The off-spinner was picking up ten wicket match bags at a such rate that if there had been one more Test Match he could have reached the magical three figure mark in a calendar year, which no other bowler in the history has achieved.

Muralitharan’s previous best year was 2001 when he picked up 80 wickets in 12 Tests. His effort this year was special as he had come after a serious shoulder injury that had ruled him out for nine months. After completing an extremely successful year, the off-spinner spoke to ‘The Island’ exclusively on a successful year and various other issues.

Records have been so common for Muralitharan that he doesn’t get carried away now when you remind him that he has broken yet another record, but when you say that no other bowler has managed 50 Test wickets this year, he looks up and asks, ‘oh really?’ ‘What about Shane Warne?’ Murali hits back quickly. "37 before the Perth Test, we inform him."

This year, Sri Lanka has been playing most of its Tests away from home and he’s managed to get wickets in all conditions. There have been seven Tests away from home this year and Sri Lanka has won four and the hero for the tourists on most occasions was Murali.

"It’s very pleasing. When I get wickets like that people must be thinking that it’s quite easy. No it’s not. It’s tough and it’s a lot of hard work. It’s a good feeling as I have been able to contribute to team’s victories by taking so many wickets," Murali said.

In all, Sri Lanka has won six of its 11 Test Matches this year. It could have been easily more than that as Murali did the spade work, particularly in Edgbaston this year, where he ended up with another match bag of ten wickets before the batsmen threw the game away. Missed opportunity certainly, but what Murali realizes is that the team is in a rebuilding process and the occasional tumble will be there during that period.

One thing that Murali tried out in New Zealand was to bowl round the wicket and that paid off as he picked up a few wickets bowling that way.

He has declined to bowl round the wicket in Sri Lanka and has a theory for adopting the strategy away from home.

"These wickets don’t spin as much as the ones back in Colombo. So the options to get wickets are more as the ball only turns that much, particularly leg before decisions. In Sri Lanka if you tried that, the options of taking wickets are not very high. So it depends on conditions.

There’s a theory that I don’t like bowling round the wicket, it’s not so. It all depends on the conditions," Murali explained.

Two Test series are pointless

Only England and Australia stick to playing five match Test series nowadays. Even countries like South Africa and West Indies, who have played full Test series previously seem to be contend with playing short Test series while packing the tour itinerary with more and more ODIs. This year, Sri Lanka played a three Test series only against England while the ones involving South Africa, Pakistan, New Zealand and Bangladesh were just reduced to two match affairs.

Murali feels that these two Test series are doing no good for any team.

"It’s pointless actually," Murali said. "There’s nothing to gain by playing two Test Matches. Unlike years before, Tests are producing results these days and if one team wins the first Test and the other team comes back to win the second Test, the series is shared. They seem to be encouraging more and more ODI games, that’s good, but that shouldn’t be happening at the expense of Test cricket. We should at least play three Tests in a series," Murali pointed out.

Crowe’s remarks

Martin Crowe’s remarks on the bowler’s action when Sri Lanka won the second Test came as a bitter pill to swallow for Sri Lanka’s captain Mahela Jayawardene, who blamed the Kiwi for making allegations when his country was losing. But Murali has gone through so much of hassle in the last few years that he doesn’t care about comments of individuals anymore.

"Well what can I say?" he wondered. "That’s up to him and the ICC actually. I have been checked enough times and when these talk re-emerged in Australia early this year I went and did a check on my own. Most people don’t understand the science behind these tests. I am not interested in replying individuals. My consciousness knows that I am doing the right thing and that matters to me a lot," he said.

Young talents

Since Tom Moody took over as country’s cricket coach, the former Australian all-rounder has been trying out various young players and they too are repaying the faith. Muralitharan was thrilled with Chamara Silva, whose unbeaten 152 was crucial in Sri Lanka squaring the series.

"He’s a fantastic talent. For him to come up with such a special effort early on in his career is remarkable. He was great to watch and I enjoyed every bit of his knock the other day. He’s a very nice person too. Very calm and quiet and at the dressing room after he put us in a winning position he went about doing his day today things in usual fashion and he’s a down to earth chap," Muralitharan said.

Murali was so touched by Chamara’s effort that soon after the last New Zealand wicket fell in Wellington- caught Chamara Silva bowled Muralitharan- he took off a stump and rushed to present it to the rookie as a memento. "I just wanted to give him a souvenir. I have got so many mementos. He was fielding in the deep and I thought it’s nice to grab a stump and present to him. That was his second Test and he was the Man of the Match, so just wanted to tell him well done."

"Upul Tharanga has done reasonably well too in the international circuit and Farveez Maharoof has been there for sometime with us as well. With their talent they’ve put us in match winning positions occasionally. Out of the lot Chamara Kapugedara has to prove himself. Mere 20s and 30s won’t do. He’s got opportunities and he’s got to make most of them. To remain on the top he’s got to perform.

After World Cup

Muralitharan also confirmed that he wouldn’t play all one day international competitions after the World Cup and hoped that it will prolong his career. "The workload is huge and there’s no point in playing each and every ODI competition or tournament. I’ll just cut down on the ODI matches. It’s not that I don’t like one-day cricket, but it’s just too hectic. There are couple of other spinners and the selectors should take a look at them as well."

"I am really impressed with Malinga Bandara, he’s done a good job for us. Even Rangana Herath was doing well when I was injured and Upul Chandana has come up with some good efforts at ‘A’ team level."

A few years ago, spin rival Shane Warne predicted that Murali will end up with 1000 Test wickets. After missing almost one year’s cricket due to a serious injury, can Murali achieve something that’ll be hard for any other player to even get closer.

"It’s a tough one. I am 34 now and if I go on for another five years without an injury that’s possible I guess. But it’s depends on my form and how I feel and lot of other things. We’ll see," Murali says rather optimistically.

Charity work

Despite his busy schedule, Murali also has been involved in lot of charities. The bowler is an UN ambassador to eleviate poverty in the Asian region and has been travelling to many parts of the island helping the underprivileged. On his own way, he also promotes a charity that he set up with philanthropist Kushil Gunasekara and team-mate Chaminda Vaas.

"I have been doing what I can. Sportsmen are loved back at home and it’s nice that lot of my team-mates joined me in doing the little we did. It was nice to set an example and use the funds that we raised for a good cause.

The feeling that I get when I see a smile on those people whom we helped to build houses is great. It’s a grater feeling than what you get when you get a ten wicket match bag," Murali added.

Muralitharan is not only a sporting icon; he’s also an example for people in other walks of life who say a lot but do very little.

-The Island Sports-

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December 25, 2006 - Posted by | South Asia, Sports, Sports News & Opinion, World News

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