Muttiah Muralitharan was plagued by no-balls for chucking while playing against Australia in the past © Getty Images
Muttiah Muralitharan’s appointment as the coaching consultant of Australia strikes one as shocking when it is observed in the background of the relationship the legend enjoyed with the country. Arunabha Sengupta wonders whether the move can be translated as an admission that the furore over his action was largely fabricated.
It has to go down as one of the most spectacular exhibitions of volte-face. Muttiah Muralitharan, the man the Australians forever loved to hate, who was never really acknowledged as great without oblique hints at his bent elbow, has now been invited to be a coaching consultant for that very Australian team ahead of this year’s Test tussle with Pakistan in the UAE.
He was labelled a chucker. Contemporary opponents, former players and even the Prime Minister John Howard dubbed him a cheat. Australian umpires called him for throwing – in a Test match at Melbourne and then in a One Day International at Adelaide, prompting captain Arjuna Ranatunga to almost take his team off the field. He was cleared by the International Cricket Council (ICC) after biomechanical analysis, parts of which were conducted at the University of Western Australia, but it did little to clear his name in the southern land.
And now, out of necessity, the letters of the label have been rearranged. The man branded ‘cheat’ has been reshuffled in the consciousness of the Australians and has been asked to ‘teach’. The man who could hardly run in to bowl in the land without the crowd chanting ‘no-ball’ in a cruel partisan chorus, has now been asked to show Nathan Lyon what to do to get wickets in hot, sun baked conditions with turn on offer. Admittedly, Murali is not teaching him the doosra, but he is guiding him with the same arm that was put under unforgiving microscopes across the stretch of Australia.
The coach of the national team, Darren Lehmann, has voiced the once scandalous words, “Muttiah Muralitharan is a true great of the game” going on to add – “his involvement with the Australian team will bring enormous benefits.” One wonders how Darrell Hair will react to such endorsement. Or for that matter Ross Emerson. Of course, one cannot just stop with Australia – the look on Bishan Singh Bedi’s face will be most interesting as well.
It is not the first time that a cricketer has forged a relationship with a country where he had not been the most popular of personalities. Fred Spofforth was called ‘The Demon’ and many Englishmen vouched that he had the evil eye, but he settled down in the Mother Country and became a respected writer on the game. Harold Larwood, the most hated bowler in Australia after the Bodyline series, later found shelter and solace in that very country. Tony Greig was the sworn enemy of the Australians during his playing days, but eked out a rewarding career as a commentator based in the land.
If we look at the other side of the story, Ricky Ponting and Andrew Symonds joined forces with Harbhajan Singh for Mumbai Indians (MI) in the Indian Premier League (IPL). However, Murali’s appointment goes beyond all these examples. The legend has been contracted to share the tricks of that very trade in which he had been branded a fraudulent trickster. As the inimitable Ramesh Srivats tweeted: “They’ve had their differences in the past, but they decided to … er … chuck it.”
Which raises several questions. Do the Aussies really believe that Murali’s bowling action has metamorphosed into legitimate since his retirement and that makes him acceptable as a spin consultant? Or do they have no problems with bending the arm, and the law, as long as they are not on the receiving end? Or is it that they always knew there was no problem with his action but could never really resist this excellent tactic of needling and pressurising the genuine great of Sri Lankan bowling?
Food for thought indeed.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry.He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)