Derbyshire 215-8 v Sri Lanka: Welcome to the Murali and Malinga show

Little genius looks for rhythm while his new partner reveals a glimpse of the spectacular
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The Independent Online

Those who turned up at the County Ground yesterday did so in the hope of watching a Sri Lankan with an extremely peculiar action taking wickets. These stoic individuals (the wind cut to the marrow, just like on a summer's day said a local) were duly rewarded.

In nine overs after lunch the man with one of the most bizarre modes of delivery in big-time cricket befuddled the home side to the point of consternation, took three wickets and undermined the innings. So much for Lasith Malinga.

At the other end meanwhile Muttiah Muralitharan, he with the most discussed and dissected action in the world, was merely rehearsing some early summer tricks. He was showing little of the variety and cunning that might just perplex England in a Test or two, rather ensuring that the shoulder on which he had surgery during the winter was in working order and that the ball landed in pretty much the spot he chose.

He was still beyond the comprehension of most of the chaps at the other end and after Malinga made the initial inroads he also struck with three wickets. It was far too cold for Murali to prosper hugely, but he was much too smart for Derbyshire's ill-assorted bunch to make anything of him.

A vigilant if unexciting first-wicket stand of 88 was followed by some fairly hapless batting which betrayed uncertainty. Part of this was to do with a pitch that hardly encouraged confidence. It has been under water for much of the winter and was so wet a fortnight ago that the county's opening Championship match had to be moved.

Indeed, serious consideration is now being given to renaming the ends the Deep End and the Shallow End. Still, it was difficult to believe that last week they were able to enforce the follow on against Surrey.

Some are perhaps not quite good enough, though it proved to be a calumny to wonder who might field more players not qualified to play for England - Derbyshire or the Sri Lankans. All Derbyshire's players, save for their legitimate overseas registrations, have now served their time whatever their nation of origin.

If Muralitharan would trouble any batsman, Malinga is also likely to cause difficulties for some more skilled. He is small, quick, inconsistent and extremely hard to read because of his sling-like method of propelling the ball. The right arm at point of delivery is more or less at right angles to his body, as if he were imitating a coat hanger.

This does not make for an easily repeatable line of attack but it provides an inexhaustible talking point. In pretty short order he bowled one batsman off the inside edge, had another caught at slip while on his knees after misreading a short ball that hardly bounced, and then had another caught behind from a bouncer that lifted.

Yorkers were combined with bumpers and a smattering of no-balls, which his action made it seem as though he might be signalling. In 15 Tests so far, Malinga has taken 54 wickets, including six against Australia on his debut.

At this rate he should soon be Sri Lanka's third leading wicket taker in Tests. After Murali (613) and Chaminda Vaas (301) the next in the lists is the part-time left arm spinner, recently retired, Sanath Jayasuriya (92). If this demonstrates the paucity of their bowling resources over 25 years, it is also to their credit that they have done so well despite the shortcoming.

Whoever is bowling, these tourists do not seem to go in for classical styles. On show yesterday besides Murali and Malinga were Nuwan Zoysa and Farveez Maharoof, neither of whom have obviously been scrutinising coaching manuals. Zoysa, recalled to the squad after two years, now virtually stops before the delivery stride, Maharoof is hardly side on. Still, Murali was a joy to behold even in the watery sun. He carries baggage with him everywhere, of course, but what joie de vivre.

Apart from practising his bowling yesterday he was also rehearsing his wonderful appealing. All five or six shouts for leg before were turned down but by the evening there was the definite perception that the tourists were getting in the groove and acting as a well-harmonised choir once more.

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