We are not presenting a mathematical expression but Muttiah Muralitharan’s wicket tally in international cricket. Ever since the former off-spinner made his international debut in 1992, he has stridden cricketing arenas the world over and has been one of the finest ambassadors of Sri Lankan cricket.
Muralitharan, who happens to be the highest wicket taker in cricket history and the first to cross the 1000-wicket landmark in international cricket, visited Kolkata last week to fulfil his commitment to Cricket Association of Bengal regarding the Vision 2020 camp, an initiative aimed at grooming budding cricketers from Bengal.
Vision 2020 program, the brainchild of former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly, roped in Muralitharan as the project’s spin bowling consultant last year. The camp is also supported by the expertise of VVS Laxman and TA Sekar.
In the midst of his busy schedule, the Lankan legend was able to spare some time to express his views regarding the legitimacy of the ‘doosra’, Sri Lankan cricket’s future and the highly anticipated Masters’ Champions League with cricfit.com correspondent, Ritam Basu at the Salt Lake JU campus ground. He spoke in his trademark soothing voice.
Q: How do you find the youngsters here in India? Since you have also worked with Cricket Australia as a high-performance coach, what is the basic difference between the two systems?
Murali: See. Over here, we are training the younger boys, but in Australia, I trained the senior men, who play test cricket. So, these guys need to learn a lot and have a long way to go.
Q: It has been 4 years since you retired from the international circuit. How has life been after retirement?
Murali: (gives a smile and proceeds to say) I think I retired at the right time and played T20 cricket until last year. Then, last year I decided to stop playing all forms of cricket. Now, I do a little bit of spin coaching. I am happy with what I am doing at the moment.
Q: There have been occasions in the past where people have raised question marks over Muttiah Muralitharan’s action, but each time that happened, you bounced back. What kept you motivated during that tough phase?
Murali: (response confidently) I knew I was not doing anything wrong. I was tested everywhere. I am not afraid of being tested. So, whenever the bowling action committees want to take my test, they are most welcome. I always believed that I was bowling legitimately.
Q: You were a member of the victorious Sri Lankan side, which lifted the World Cup in 1996. Tell us how Sri Lanka captured the World Cup and what role did your captain play?
Murali: Arjuna (Ranatunga) was a very successful captain and he was a senior player at that time. We used to listen to him a lot. He had a plan and a good team too as we were playing in the sub-continent. Our spin attack was good and our batting was very strong. We planned accordingly and everything worked in our favour. The experienced players and also the junior ones played very well in the tournament and everything fell in place. Hence, we won the World Cup.
Q: Since you come from Kandy, you have observed Kumar Sangakkara closely. Many people want to know this. What has enhanced his performance as a batsman in the last 5 years or so?
Murali: Determination and hard work. These two things have driven him in the last few years. He wants to be the best in the world, and he has always worked very hard to achieve his goal. So, his determination and perseverance have made him the world’s best batsman.
Q: How did you come across the idea of bowling the ‘doosra’?
Murali: Saqlain (Mushtaq) started it and we all followed. I support bowlers bowling the ‘doosra’ because they should always have variations in store. Nowadays, batsmen play so many shots and in order to stop them, you need variations.
Q: Are you in favor of the ‘doosra’?
Murali: Definitely. Spinners need to have variations.
Q: While you were playing, the world was divided over the greatness of three batsmen- Tendulkar, Ponting and Lara. Which of these batsmen was more challenging to bowl against?
Murali: All these batsmen were top-class batsmen and you can’t separate them. It is pretty hard to judge from them. All these 3 players are legends of the game and you can’t say that this guy is better than the other two. I have played more matches against Lara and he used to play me really well.
Q: As Sangakkara and Jayawardene have called time on their respective careers, what is the future of Sri Lankan cricket like? Are good youngsters coming up through the ranks?
Murali: Every team has great players but then, somebody has to retire. It is the basic philosophy of any sport. You play for 10-15 years and then retire. The game will keep on moving and the youngsters will do well. It won’t happen suddenly and will take some time. Even Kumar (Sangakkara) and Mahela (Jayawardene) didn’t blossom from day 1. They took their time. Similarly, the youngsters in Sri Lankan cricket will take their time and one of them may go on to become the world’s best player. You never know.
Q: Last year, as many as 5 off-spinners were reported for illegal bowling actions. Is it fair to allege off-spinners all the time?
Murali: It is very hard to detect ‘chucking’ correctly. It is impossible. Some left-arm spinners are there and they are called as well. Off-spinners are more prone to be caught. If you are not bowling within the ‘15 degree’ regulation, the ICC says that you cannot bowl. So, they need to be checked properly and if they are not bowling according to the ICC rules, they won’t be able to bowl.
Q: You played under MS Dhoni during your stint with CSK. What sort of an influence does he have on the dressing room? Tell us something about him.
Murali: Dhoni is a very calm and composed figure. He is one of the best captains I have ever played under. In the first 3 years of my IPL career, I had a great time with CSK. He is a very cool man and I have never seen a captain like that. He doesn’t get upset very quickly. These qualities make him great and he is one of the best captains India has had.
Q: You had many interesting duels with Shane Warne in the past. What kind of a relationship do you share with him?
Murali: Shane Warne is one of the greatest bowlers to have ever played the game and everyone respects him. He is from Australia and I come from Sri Lanka. So, we belong to 2 different parts of the world. I admire his bowling and respect him too. Normally, great players respect each other.
Q: Are you looking forward to the Masters’ Champions League T20?
Murali: Yeah, of course. Sachin spoke to me and wanted me to participate. I have given my consent to it. It will be interesting and fun. I will get a chance to play against some of the retired greats, something that we missed after our respective retirements.
Q: Both Harbhajan Singh and R. Ashwin have been included in the Indian test squad for the solitary test against Bangladesh. How do you find the idea of including two off-spinners in the same team?
Murali: That’s not a big issue. In my own career, I played alongside Kumar Dharmasena. Harbhajan and Ashwin are totally different bowlers. Maybe they are off-spinners, but they are different bowlers. They are actually the 2 best spinners in India right now and should play the test match together.
Q: As a player, you played against V.V.S Laxman. Now as a coach, you are training the players alongside him in both Sunrisers Hyderabad and Vision 2020 camp. How has this experience been so far?
Murali: I remember playing against Laxman for the first time in 1998. He scored 89 in Cuttack and I know him since then. He is a gentleman and we are good friends. Vision 2020 asked me to be their spin bowling consultant and I was happy to accept the proposal. Later, Sunrisers also asked me to be their mentor and coincidentally, Laxman was there too. We have enjoyed each other’s company. Laxman is a great player and a great thinker of the game. He has opened an academy in Hyderabad and wants to develop young Hyderabadi cricketers. Both of us are trying hard to push the growth of Bengal cricket.
Q: What kind of a roadmap should Sri Lankan cricket follow from here to achieve success in the near future?
Murali: Sri Lanka Cricket has appointed Mahela Jayawardene as the chief consultant and he knows nicely what he should do. Too many cooks spoil the stew. It would be better if he is allowed to decide what will be good for Sri Lankan Cricket. He is a wise man. So, let’s wait and see what he does.