Island Cricket

Sunday, October 21, 2007

As Symonds seethes, Murali gears up for hostile reception Down Under

THE conversation turns to crowd behaviour, and Muttiah Muralitharan's eyes grow distant. He has been down this path too many times. A man adored or, at least, admired in almost every other part of the cricketing world, Murali still can't quite reconcile with the fact his popularity in Australia ranks somewhere between drought and Dicko.


Revealed, discovered: no longer concealed Muralitharan

"It will be the same," Muralitharan says. "Nothing will change. One or two guys shout something, then a few others have a few drinks and it happens. There is a point you can take it, and there is a point where it goes overboard. That's the point I don't like. You can say some things and that's OK, but if you keep on going and going when I go to the boundary, it's too much. But I have to put up with it."

As with Australia's recently completed one-day series in India, the topic of crowd behaviour this summer will almost certainly claim airtime and column inches that might otherwise be devoted to athletic themes, such as the small matters of Muralitharan's first Test series in Australia since 1995 or his assault on Shane Warne's Test wicket-taking record.



But these are the times we live in. The monkey taunting of Andrew Symonds by sections of the Vadodara and Mumbai crowds over the past week all but overshadowed the deeds of Mitchell Johnson, who claimed a combined eight wickets in those matches to effectively bowl himself into the Test squad.

And despite the best efforts of Cricket Australia, which presumably will not replicate the shameful level of apathy displayed by its Indian counterpart this week, it would appear naive to imagine that Muralitharan will not find himself in the crosshairs of a bigotted spectator at some point over the next few months.

Muralitharan blames much of the animosity in Australia on Prime Minister John Howard, who publicly queried the Sri Lankan off spinner's action in 2004. As appealing as usurping Warne's record in Australia would be, you get the impression Muralitharan would be just as content to see Kevin Rudd trump the polls next month.

"That was the only reason why I avoided the [2004 Test] tour," he says. "I didn't want to get into an argument with a head of state speaking about me. I am just a cricketer. For him to talk about my action, it was not proper. Other people can talk, the public always have talked a little bit badly about me, but I don't care that much."

When talk returns to the cricket, Muralitharan is animated and expansive. Though he will not say it directly, Murali is clearly intent on exacting revenge on the Australian public this summer, employing his most controversial of bowling actions to take the nine wickets needed to overhaul their beloved Warne and his world record of 708 Test scalps.

The relationship between Muralitharan and Warne has steadily eroded since 2005, when the Australian leg spinner engaged in post-tsunami charity work. Warne's subtle digs at Murali's 163 "cheap" wickets against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe have irked. To overtake his record on his home soil, therefore, would be a major symbolic triumph for Muralitharan.
"We're not friends," he says. "We say 'Hi' if we see each other, but that's about it. Those are his own views about cheap wickets. Whether people buy it or not, I'm not sure. I can't help it. If Sri Lanka has the fixture, I have to play it. I have done well against other people, as well, there's no doubt about it.

"Maybe people can say they're cheap wickets, but still you have to bowl and take wickets. If it's so cheap, then a lot of bowlers can take the wickets.

"I would love the record to happen in Australia. It's important to me to go past that. I have always said that whoever plays longer will have the record. My goal is to play until 2011 and see how far I get. That's the way I'm thinking, to finish with a good number of 1000."

And what of the prospect of playing the first Test series against the Australians in the post-Warne and McGrath era? "We might have a good chance," he says. "We have to play well - not just well, bloody well - to beat them.

"It's the toughest task to ask to [go there and] beat them. It's not easy, but it's possible."

Courtesy of The Sydney Morning Herald


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