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Murali’s Deja vu Continues Down Under

By Orin Davidson
Like most champions, Muttiah Muralitharan has had to face setbacks on the path to greatness.

His latest failure in Australia has come at the wrong time in a fabulous career, which saw Australia consolidate their position as the world's best team with another emphatic series victory over Sri Lanka.

Muralitharan has churned out wickets all over the world but has found Australia a graveyard for success.

He had a final chance to set the records right and silence the doubters, but it was deja vu all over again for one of the cricket world's most prolific wicket-takers.

Murali ended the two match Test series with four wickets at a cost of 100 runs each, which was hardly reflective of the man his compatriots expect to be soon crowned greatest spin bowler of all time.

It therefore was an understatement to view Muralitharan's performance as a disappointment.

For one thing he was expected to finally to break the jinx that made his displays ordinary Down Under. And more importantly Murali was expected to stuff the Australians in their face by taking away Shane Warne's world record in their own backyard.
Before the series the Sri Lanka Board had expressed its concern over the prospect of a total blackout of press coverage of the series by the world's three main news agencies - Reuters, AP, and AFP, over the unprecedented accreditation dispute.

The Board felt that Muralitharan's world record feat would've been diluted, as he needed only eight wickets to crown himself world record holder for the second time, and for many decades to come, compared to the first occasion in 2004.

Such were the lofty expectations.

The fact that those expectations were not met has taken some of the gloss off the spin wizard's reputation.

It left Murali vulnerable to speculation of him not being better than Warne.

Most people agree that the best apple on the bunch is the one that tastes sweetest to the core.

In cricket it is similar. The best player of his type is considered the one who can perform best in different conditions all around the world and against all types of opposition.

Spinners must prove just as effective on pitches that are not cracked up as opposed to ones that are smooth as those in Australia.
And against batsmen woeful and those competent.

Warne has done it everywhere and against all types.

But Murali has proven himself all over the cricket world except Australia.

Yet the fact he has not done better Down Under is not due to physical inability, rather it has more to do with state of mind.

In Australia, the said batsmen he failed against, were the same ones and others better than the current lot, he has mesmerized in Sri Lanka. And on pitches that are dissimilar to the ones in Sri Lanka, like those in England and South Africa.

The difference is that the Australian environment is tough to succeed in for any player and the Sri Lankan is no exception.

Australians believe their team and players are the best in cricket, thus they have been making life difficult for Muralitharan, who has been stealing much of the thunder they believe belong to Warne.

His unorthodox action has provided much fuel for the Aussies to terrorize the off spinner. And he has allowed the criticism and other negative behavior get to his head.

Former Aussie captain Steve Waugh called it mental disintegration.

It made Australia the worst place for Murali to play and he has never gotten over the flack and the two occasions he was called for throwing by Australian umpires.

All along he never made a serious attempt to prove himself tougher than the toughest by fighting off the Australian flack.

Instead, Muralitharan has resorted to complaining and playing as little cricket there as possible.

The Sri Lankan Board and the fraternity has not helped the player either, with its approach.

They have encouraged Murali’s reticence instead of encouraging him to fight fire with fire and take it all out on the Australians on the field there.

It has amounted to Muralitharan making a mere two Test tours there and another few for limited overs competitions.

Following Sri Lanka’s 2-0 defeat, ex Sri Lanka captain Arjuna Ranatunga proved how counter productive the fraternity has been to its greatest player ever.

He said Muralitharan wasted his time going to Australia this time around and should've stayed at home instead of endure another hostile experience.

Ranatunga went on to shoot himself in the foot by proclaiming Muralitharan better than Warne because he never had the cushion the latter enjoyed with the exploits of Glen McGrath and Jason Gillespsie, in the same interview.

He obviously doesn’t subscribe to the tenet of one proving himself in all situations of adversity and those favorable, at the same time.

According to Ranatunga, Warne's victims were those of the lesser batsmen after the two fast bowlers completed the harder tasks at the top.

That may be accurate, but the proof in the pudding lies in the caliber of batsmen the bowler snares, because the best ones are not necessarily the numbers one, two or three. The tough nuts are the ones who pose the greatest threat and they happen to appear any position in the top half.

Both Warne and Muralitharan have high success rates against the best, but the only difference is that the latter has not done it as well in Australia.

The batsmen there are tough and the pitches fast and true, which provide the ideal platform for spinners to test their mettle.

A great spinner of the ball will be helped by the fast pitches and the atmosphere does not prevent him from looping it and varying the pace.

Muralitharan has all those qualities but unfortunately he has not played enough in Australia and in his few visits, he and his team were never prepared properly.

This last series, Sri Lanka merely went through the motions and Murali followed the script.

Constricting the series to merely two Tests did not help.
The practice of some Boards scheduling two Test rubbers is counter productive. It is why some teams treat them with scant regard.

If anything else the least the International Cricket Council (ICC) could do to respect its position as a world ruling body is mandating that all Test series be no less than three games. It would at least provide the best format for a winner.

And at the same time force teams like Sri Lanka to take such competitions more seriously.

Muralitharan, thus was not motivated to come out firing at Brisbane and Hobart.

An opportunity was lost for him to erase an important blot on his career.

When he eventually breaks Warne's record at home against England within the next five weeks, there will be much celebration in Sri Lanka.

But the lingering memories of Muralitharan's stats in Australia will not go way.
Orin Davidson Column Homepage

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