Muttiah Muralitharan: All-action hero

He divides cricketing opinion like no other bowler. The extraordinary Sri Lankan has taken more than 600 Test wickets but been labelled a cheat. Muttiah Muralitharan talked to Angus Fraser about convincing the doubters, the new delivery he is still perfecting and how he concentrates on sport amid the political turmoil in his homeland

When I arrived at a cold and windy Hove on Wednesday morning I expected to find Muttiah Muralitharan tucked in the corner of the Sri Lankan dressing-room wrapped up in sweaters and a tracksuit, wishing he was somewhere warmer and more exotic. How wrong I was.

When Murali invited me up on to the players' balcony for a chat he was sweaterless, in his whites and generally making a nuisance of himself. As we found a quiet corner he told me that he may have to rush out to the middle every now and then to deliver a drink to the batsmen as it was his turn to act as 12th man.

Within two minutes of us sitting down, Jehan Mubarak was out and Murali bolted from his seat and sprinted to the middle with a bottle of water in his hand and a towel over his shoulder. While he delivered refreshment to Upul Tharanga, I asked Tom Moody, the Sri Lankan coach, why Murali was doing 12th-man duties.

With a huge smile on his face, Moody said: "I've told him that I will let him off 12th-man duties when he has taken 2,000 international wickets."

There are many remarkable things about Murali, or "The Freak" as he is lovingly called in the Sri Lankan dressing-room, but the most amazing is his energy and enthusiasm for cricket. Rarely does he sit still. If he is not strengthening the shoulder that has allowed him to take 1,028 international wickets with an elastic resistance band, he is messing around with team-mates.

Watching Murali integrate with the members of his side is a lovely sight because it would be so easy for him to sit in a corner feeling bitter about the game and sorry for himself. No player in the history of cricket has attracted as much criticism as Murali yet, despite all the words, chants and innuendo, his love for the game remains intact.

"The controversy never ends," he said wistfully when I mentioned the subject. "Last summer [the English winter] in Australia they were saying that when I bowled the doosra when I was tested I sent it down at about 78kph, and that in match conditions I was up to 89kph. So in an effort to clear things up I volunteered to have my action tested again and it showed that the quicker I bowled the doosra, the less I straightened my arm."

"It does frustrate and annoy me at times because people believe in science and technology for everything but when it comes to me they can't, or don't want to. It is not only ordinary cricketers who hold this view, top-class cricketers do too. They think what they think is right and are not prepared to move. They do not want to see or learn what is taking place. They have their views and they think they are right.

"I will happily do all the tests people want to prove that I am not cheating. I have never been afraid of being tested because if I was doing something wrong then I should be stopped. The only way to judge me though is by using technology. The human eye cannot see exactly what is going on and we should believe what the technology tells us. I wish there was a way of accurately testing players in the middle but there isn't yet.

"I have tried to do everything I can do to convince them but with some it is impossible. But the most important thing is that I am happy within myself. I have a few more years to get through and then I am finished."

Murali will sit down and review his career after next year's World Cup in the West Indies. The thousands of overs are beginning to take their toll on his wiry but strong body and he is considering retiring from one-day cricket in order to prolong his Test career.

Since making his Test debut against Australia in August 1992, Murali has shown that a bowler does not have to adhere to the coaching manual to take wickets at the highest level. Bowlers are the great innovators in cricket. They have to be. In a game that continually changes its rules to make life easier for batsmen, bowlers have to come up with something different to survive. Yet whenever they do find a new method that threatens the rule of batsmen, it is automatically questioned.

It was the case when Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis began destroying batting line-ups with reverse swing in the 1990s. They, along with several other Pakistan bowlers, were accused of cheating to begin with. It was believed that a cricket ball would only reverse swing if it was tampered with. Yet wasn't it amazing how attitudes changed last summer when England's bowlers successfully used the art to regain the Ashes?

And no doubt views about the doosra - a ball from an off-spinner that spins away from a right-handed batsman - will change in years to come when an English or Australian spin bowler manages to perfect the delivery. The doosra is the most contentious delivery in cricket, with many believing that it cannot be bowled without the arm straightening by more than the allowed 15 degrees.

Murali has used the doosra to great effect, and he is in the process of developing a new ball. "Bowlers, and particularly spinners, have to adapt to the game and this is why they come up with different deliveries," he explained. "I have one more which I am working on - the flipper - but I have got no further than bowling it in the nets. I bowl it by pushing the ball with my thumb but it's not ready to bowl in a match yet.

"Nobody taught me to bowl the doosra, I just picked it up by watching other bowlers bowl it. It took two or three years' practice before I bowled it in matches, and four or five years before I mastered it.

"I bowl the doosra less now than I used to. I used to bowl it a lot because I thought it would always take wickets, but now I just bowl it to distract the batsman. The off-spinner is the ball that takes more wickets."

There is one subject that takes the smile off Murali's face and that is the domestic political turmoil that is manifesting in Sri Lanka. Murali is the sole Tamil in the team and he fears that the present difficulties will ultimately affect cricket in the country.

"What is happening in Sri Lanka at the moment is very scary," he admitted. "In the last three or four years nothing has been happening and people have been able to move freely around the country. Now in the north and the east of the country it is getting worse and peace is in trouble. There are likely to be more and more problems to come because the government and the other party are not coming to an agreement. If things go wrong, cricket will suffer too because Test sides will stop playing in Sri Lanka, and that is a scary thought.

"It is something of a distraction, because if it is getting dangerous in Sri Lanka we worry about our families. We are all keeping an eye on what is happening there and following the news. It is OK at the moment, but it could easily get worse if things do not go the right way."

We switch back to cricket, a subject he feels far more comfortable about, and I ask him about the second Test at Edgbaston.

"I have good memories of Edgbaston," he said. "I got five wickets there the last time I played, but England got a huge score. Edgbaston turns a little bit more than Lord's. I have looked at the county scores there and the spinners take lots of wickets. But I can't imagine the groundsman there will want to give me much of a chance. I can't remember the last time I played on a spinning pitch, even in Sri Lanka. I expect they will try to produce a seaming wicket so I will have to work hard. If he produces a turning wicket then I have a chance."

Indeed he will. A turning pitch will give him a wonderful chance of closing the gap on Shane Warne, who currently has 71 more Test wickets than him. Murali insists, though, that he is not interested in regaining the world record.

"He can have the record," said Murali. "It was nice to hold it for a while but it does not mean a great deal to me. I just want to play for my country, do well and win games of cricket.

"Warne is one of the greatest bowlers I have ever seen. We get on OK, but it is not a close friendship. We say hello to each other, but conversation never goes much further than that. I don't compete with him but he might feel the other way.

"He has said quite a lot about me in the newspapers, saying that I take cheap wickets against sides like Bangladesh and Zimbabwe and he does not. To me a Test wicket is a Test wicket. They all give me the same pleasure, and he will have understood when he went to Bangladesh, that it is not that easy to take wickets there because they can play."

The next five weeks will give English cricket lovers their last chance of watching Muttiah Muralitharan live. Make the most of it.

Passing the Test Top 10 bowlers in history

* Top 10 Test wicket-takers

Shane Warne (Australia) 685 wickets (140 Tests)

Muttiah Muralitharan (Sri Lanka) 614 (104)

Glenn McGrath (Australia) 542 (119)

Courtney Walsh (West Indies) 519 (132)

Anil Kumble (India) 510 (106)

Kapil Dev (India) 434 (131)

Richard Hadlee (New Zealand) 431 (86)

Wasim Akram (Pakistan) 414 (104)

Curtly Ambrose (West Indies) 405 (98)

Shaun Pollock (South Africa) 394 (101)

Top six spinners in Test history

S Warne 685 (140)

M Muralitharan 614 (104)

A Kumble 510 (106)

Lance Gibbs (West Indies) 309 (79)

Bishan Bedi (India) 266 (67)

Richie Benaud (Australia) 248 (63)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
musicOfficial chart could be moved to accommodate Friday international release day
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
News
i100
Sport
Italy celebrate scoring their second try
six nations
Sport
Glenn Murray celebrates scoring against West Ham
footballWest Ham 1 Crystal Palace 3
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
music
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?