Island Cricket

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Diaries down under | Sanath Jayasuriya

As I wrote in last Tuesday’s edition of ‘The Island’ about the Warne-Murali trophy, Cricket Australia has agreed to name the Test series played between our two countries after those two great spin bowlers. It was exclusively reported in this paper and now we are all preparing to bring home the Warne-Murali trophy.

The cricket careers of Murali and mine took off at the same time. He’s three years younger to me and I had already played for Sri Lanka when he came into the side, but wasn’t a prominent member of the side. Murali’s first match was in 1992 August and although both of us were pretty young and yet to establish our places in the side, he started calling me ‘Sanath aiya’ and Murali has now played over 100 Test Matches and still calls me ‘aiya’.

People also ask why Murali was never made captain or vice-captain. The simple answer is that he never wanted to be a captain.

We are the best of buddies. He’s been there during good and bad moments of my career, always cheering me up, always telling me that at times what I think impossible could be done. I have been a faithful friend of his, too, and over the years, during long tours, we have spent a lot of time chatting about cricket and life.

Murali’s work ethic has been exceptional. From the very first day he joined the side, he worked hard on his game. He always wanted to improve and he’s been an example of what hard work can do to your game. He’s also a very fast learner. He depended a lot on off-breaks to get his wickets, when he came into the scene and after seeing other international bowlers benefiting from variations, Murali tried to vary his deliveries too. The doosra was a result of that experiment and the his variation has made him hard to pick and unpredictable. Murali plays mind games with batsmen before eventually getting them out. There’s no batsmen in the world who has not been foxed by Murali. Occasionally, he gets me too at the nets and we do have our battles at practices.

He’s been one of my best mates and I cannot recall any serious disagreements with him.
There’s one man who deserves a lot of credit for sticking his neck out no matter how severe the consequences looked when Murali was in trouble. Arjuan Ranatunga was our mentor when we joined the team and the things that he has done for us and the team itself are immense. I don’t think any other captain would have gone the distance that Arjuna went to protect Murali.
On both occasions Murali was called for throwing, by umpires Darrel Hair and Ross Emerson, our captain was right behind the man whose integrity was questioned. Arjuna showed great leadership qualities on both those occasions and Murali is indebted for the amount of trouble Arjuna took. The whole team was behind Murali and the administrators at that time stood firmly behind us too, but it was Arjuna who showed us the way. He taught us not to be intimidated and took Australia’s establishment head on.

The first occasion Murali was called was on the Boxing Day in Melbourne in 1995. I wasn’t playing in that game and was watching things unfold in the dressing room.

There was talk that something was going to happen on that tour. But we didn’t expect that to be the occasion in front of over 50,000 people. The no-balling of Murali overshadowed the occasion. I had made my ODI debut in Melbourne on the Boxing Day in 1989 and the Boxing Day is the biggest day of Australia’s cricket calendar. We knew the significance of the day and to have our main bowler called for throwing was a massive drawback.

When Hair stretched his hand out signaling no-ball, I thought it was for overstepping, but on the second instance it hit me that this could be more serious and it just deflated us all. It was there that Arjuna showed us all what a tough man he is. Murali felt it at that moment, but he’s strong enough and wasn’t overly bothered.

After the day’s play, we discussed with the team management the course of action that needs to be taken. We had Duleep, an experienced guy, as the Manager and we took the right procedure. It was decided that he should continue to remain in Australia.

By 1999, Arjuna knew what exactly to do if it happened again. And as you all know, it happened again. This time it was Ross Emerson in Adelaide and Arjuna interrupted the game. I was fielding at mid-on and when Emerson called no ball, Arjuna called the two umpires and spoke his mind out and fielding so close to the wicket, I could get a first hand experience of all that unfolded. I must say, I have nothing but respect for the great man and hats off to Arjuna.

It’s not an easy decision to take. Arjuna was prepared to fight to the hilt and he carried on regardless of the consequences. He was determined not to let the Aussies get on top of us and was firmly backed by Ranjit Fernando, our manager on this tour. Honestly, I don’t know how I would have reacted as the captain in such a situation. His extreme reaction helped to finish off the tension between Australian umpires and Murali.

Things have changed remarkably in Australia these days. People have been supportive of Murali and in Brisbane when we played the warm- up game whenever Murali came onto the field there were applauses, something that we have never experienced here. But then, you never know some of these spectators, things might change again if he takes a few wickets and it’ll be all back to square one. We have to just wait and see and be prepared for anything.

When I was the captain, we enjoyed an excellent run both in Tests and ODIs and I must say that the high percentage of success I enjoyed as captain wouldn’t have been possible without Murali. He’s a captain’s dream, a player who never gets tired. However bad the situation, Murali wants to bowl and be involved in the game. He could bowl about 30 overs a day, or even more if the situation demanded and he did all that without ever complaining.

Lot of people wonder why he has remained our number 11 batsman after 15 years of international cricket. But look, he’s got a Test 50 to boast about and gives the spectators some entertainment with a few big shots. I can tell you that his batting is steadily improving and nowadays the bowlers in the nets, including yours truly, is getting a taste of my own medicine.

People also ask why Murali was never made captain or vice-captain. The simple answer is that he never wanted to be a captain. But don’t underestimate his cricketing knowledge. He’s got a sharp brain and comes up with clever tactics when we need them. With the amount of cricket he has played and with his experience in county cricket, he regularly feeds his input to the man in charge on the field. He’s got brilliant ideas, but it’s just that he never wanted to be the man in command.

I told you that the situation in Australia has changed and that people have started to appreciate his brilliance. There was more evidence for it in today’s function conducted by Cricket Australia at the posh Sofitel Hotel here in Brisbane. I am writing this column on Monday evening after the function, which was attended by abut 500 people. There were corporate sponsors of Cricket Australia, both teams and many other invitees and all the players enjoyed the occasion.

Ian Healy was the host and at one stage he called up Murali onto the stage to speak a few words. Adam Gilchrist from the Australian side was called up too. Both of them were asked a few questions by Healy. Murali was asked about the struggles he went through after being called for throwing and on a host of other issues. In front of all those corporate people, I am happy and proud with the way Murali handled the interview. He made us all proud.

Naturally, Murali is looking forward for the occasion, but there’s no undue pressure on him and the occasion hasn’t had any unwanted strain on him. He cracks a joke or two in the dressing room and comes up with tactics for various batsmen and he’s full of energy.

Personally I feel he will break the record, but more than that, he wants to achieve something more. He has always told me that we need to win a Test Match in Australia and he knows that this is the best time to do it. Having played for so long, he wouldn’t like to retire without helping the team win a Test Match in Australia and our fortunes will depend a lot on him.
Our preparation has been hampered by the injury to Sanga. He’s an important cog in our wheel and we’ll feel his absence. He’ s been doing his rehabilitation work and should be alright for Hobart.

It was disappointing to lose the warm-up game, but more importantly it was vital to get some practice going into the first Test. We played at the Allan Border field and this was the first time they had played a game there after relaying the wicket. There was lot of grass on the wicket and the ball moved right from the start to the third day. It wasn’t easy.

We lost too many wickets too early and it was only after the fifth wicket we had a decent partnership going. Prasanna (Jayawardene) batted well together with the tail. Even in the second innings we collapsed and this time Vaasy bailed us out with a back to the wall 80 odd. It was a very good Queensland side as well as they had a few Test players, ex-Test players and a few future prospects and even they struggled to reach the 140 odd target losing six wickets.
Although we lost the game, there were quite a few positives that came out of the game.

Maharoof was impressive with the ball and was a bit unfortunate as well to not to get a few more wickets. The other major positive was Vaasy’s effort with the bat. He’s looking really good.
So it’ll be a big day for us on Thursday. All of us are excited, hopefully we could fulfill the dream of beating Australia in Australia in a Test Match this time around.

This is Sanath Jayasuriya signing off.
Courtesy The Island (Sri Lanka)


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