Island Cricket

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Murali turns it on, but crowd fails to do so

AS EXPECTED, Muttiah Muralitharan was welcomed to the bowling crease with calls of "no-ball" from a subdued Gabba crowd that was otherwise relatively respectable. As the Sri Lankan crept closer to Shane Warne's world wicket-taking record, it was difficult to believe the cries were motivated by anything other than habit - or envy.

On the opening day of the summer, Murali's artful bowling was a blunt reminder Australia no longer have the genius of his great spinning rival, Warne, to turn to in times of crisis. As Warne settled into his retirement, Murali made Phil Jaques work hard for his hundred, eventually exploiting a lapse in concentration and luring him down the track with a slower ball that turned savagely on a green, first-day pitch. Stuart MacGill, watching from the dressing room and itching to re-start his Test career, would not have been entirely unhappy to see it.

Ricky Ponting was also stumped when Murali angled a ball from around the wicket. The Sri Lankan took a gazelle-like catch, too, skipping several paces to his right to snaffle Matthew Hayden when the big opener miscued to mid-off. He now needs seven more scalps to usurp Warne as Test cricket's most successful bowler.

Murali had not represented Sri Lanka in a Test on Australian soil since 1995, when he was infamously called for throwing by Darrell Hair during the Boxing Day Test. Twelve years on, sections of the crowd yelled "no ball' in unison each time he launched into his delivery stride during his solitary over before lunch.

Both Murali and Cricket Australia had expected as much. Rather than being intimidated by the tough reception, Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene said the team would feed off it.

After a while, the protagonists in the crowd ran out of steam, as Muralitharan went some way towards improving his record in Australia, which, before this match, stood at eight wickets at an unflattering 63.12. As Jaques, who displayed considerable mental strength in resisting him, remarked later, he is a far more mercurial bowler than that.

"He gets some amazing drop on the ball, that's for sure," Jaques said. "He spins it both ways as much as his off break. He bowled really well today, on a wicket that really didn't offer a lot of turn he got it to spin.

"I had a game plan to him and he was good enough to counter that, so I had to go to Plan B. I was just trying to wear him down and try to sweep. He bowled some good balls, got quite a bit of bounce.

"… He sucked me in with the slower ball. I thought I could get to it and he just pulled it back from me a bit. It did me all ends up … but he is a fine bowler."

CA - on high alert against racism at venues - reported nothing more sinister than the unimaginative references to Murali's bowling action. None of the 24 ejections and three arrests resulted from the kind of ugly behaviour seen in India last month, where Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds was subjected to monkey chants, and CA was not aware of any complaints under the "Dob in a Yob" text message system.

"Overall, the crowd's been remarkably well behaved," a spokesman said.

In fact, the crowd of 15,882 was noticeably flat, in stark contrast to the heaving and unruly crowd for the start of last summer's exhaustively hyped Ashes series.

With the mood dampened and the start delayed by drought-breaking overnight showers in Brisbane, this was the smallest attendance for the opening day of an Australian summer since New Zealand visited in 2001-02, with the exception of the 7,644 for an unseasonal October encounter with Zimbabwe in Perth in 2003.

Courtesy SMH

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