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CRICKET / INTERVIEW/MUTTIAH MURALITHARAN

A complete team-man

Muralitharan was unfortunate not to have got the world record in Australia. But according to the Sri Lankan, even more disappointing was his team’s defeat in the Test series. By Rex Clementine.

AP

The new ball was due and Mahela (Jayawardene) wanted me to bowl with the new ball. I bowled an off-spinner to Paul Collingwood, but it didn’t spin and he was bowled. That probably skidded off the pitch.

December 3, 2007 will be remembered for a long time by all Sri Lankans, for it was on this day that the nation’s most favourite son, Muttiah Muralitharan, reclaimed the world record for the most number of wickets in Test cricket from Australia’s Shane Warne. Muralitharan held the record briefly in 2004 before Warne overhauled him. And now that Warne has retired, there appears to be no bowler in sight capable of surpassing the Sri Lankan.

The Sri Lankan Government issued a commemorative stamp in honour of the bowler, while the country’s cricket board presented him a Peugeot car on the day he broke the record.

In this interview to Sportstar, Muralitharan spoke of his world record, the sentimental importance of it happening at his hometown in front of his family, and a host of other issues.

The excerpts:

Question: It’s been a long wait for you for the record. Many people expected you to break the record in Australia. How special is it to do it in your hometown?

Answer: When I started playing, I never thought I will come this far. I thought something like 50 Tests will be fine, but I have been able to play for 16 years now. It’s good to get the record here. My mother was there along with my wife and son Naren. It’s really pleasing to do it in front of them. I have played a lot of school games too on this ground, especially against Trinity College. It was on this ground that I got 100 wickets in a calendar year as a schoolboy and to achieve the world record here is priceless.

Was it disappointing not to have got the record in Australia?

It was disappointing, not just the record but we were badly beaten in that series. I thought the Australians played really well and they deserved to win. I also had a few catches put down and it didn’t help the cause. More than the record, what I was concerned about was helping the team win a Test there as we had the nucleus to do it this time around. The defeat taught us a few lessons and I am sure we’ll be a better side for the experience.

Tell us about that dismissal of Paul Collingwood in the first innings to break the record.

I was surprised that it happened in the first innings itself. I equalled the record on day two with four wickets. I was a bit nervous that day and bowled about nine overs without taking a wicket. Then the new ball was due and Mahela (Jayawardene) wanted me to bowl with the new ball. I bowled an off-spinner to Paul Collingwood, but it didn’t spin and he was bowled. That probably skidded off the pitch. I was very relieved to get the record. There was some pressure and it was good it all happened in the first innings.

You held the record for a brief period in 2004, and now you have it again. Which of the two moments is very special?

It has to be this one, I guess. When I held the record briefly in 2004, Warne too was playing and I kept on saying that one of us who plays longer will have the record. He stopped during the last Ashes series and I continued to play and I got the record. It will stay with me for a while unless someone like Anil Kumble continues to play for a long time. If he plays long enough he will probably get the record. Anil is a great bowler and as a team we have lot of respect for him.

You were part of Sri Lanka’s World Cup-winning team too. Which of these moments are more special for you?

It has to be winning the World Cup. How can you even compare the two? The world record is nothing much when compared with the World Cup victory. It’s something unique and I will remember that forever. It was a very special moment. We were a young team and we were over the moon when we won the World Cup. It was a great team effort. I always believe that whatever the individual record you get, it comes to you in the process of helping your team to achieve something.

What about the role Arjuna Ranatunga played in your career? He came to see you breaking the world record as well.

He’s been amazing. You have to give a lot of credit to Arjuna as he helped us to achieve a lot as a team. He was my first captain and personally he’s my favourite captain too. He did a lot of things for me and for the whole team. I will never forget the incidents of the Boxing Day in 1995 where I was called for throwing. He put his own career at risk in protecting me and I have a lot of respect for him.

Who are the best batsmen you have bowled to? They say left-handers generally played you well?

It has to be Brian Lara. He played me really well in the home series in 2001. We had a battle going on and Brian was brilliant. Andy Flower was another player who was difficult to bowl to and so was Graham Thorpe of England.

Is playing against England something special? There have been some keen contests between the teams.

They are a good side and we have enjoyed the battles. One of my best Tests was when we beat them at the Oval in 1998. That was our first win in England, and we did it against all odds. Then there was the Test at Lord’s last year which we were going to lose for sure, but in our second innings we showed a lot of fight and went on to draw the match. In the same series we won a Test at Trent Bridge.

The contests between the two sides have been so intense that there have been some verbal exchanges too. The most famous one was when former captain Nasser Hussain called you names.

These things happen at the heat of the moment. I don’t have any problems with Nasser. We get along pretty well even today. Whatever that’s said in the middle shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

You are a regular in the Lancashire line-up; you are what Wasim Akram was to them 10 years ago. How do you describe your Lancashire experience?

It’s been quite good. I have enjoyed it and the Lancashire management has been very good to me. They’ve got a fine set of players, particularly Freddie Flintoff. We narrowly missed winning the Championship this year and won about five games. Given Sri Lanka’s international calendar, I don’t know whether I’ll be able to play for them, but if there’s an opportunity when there’s no international commitment I definitely will.

What are your future plans? People say you will go on to get 1000 Test wickets. Is it possible?

I am going to be 36 next year and I am bowling a lot of overs. I want to play both forms of the game. We only play seven to eight Tests a year and if we don’t play you can lose interest. So I’ll play one more season and reassess things. I can’t say I will take 1000 wickets or whatever. If you don’t enjoy the game it’ll be difficult.