'It gave us something to prove'

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The Independent Online
THE SRI Lankan captain, Arjuna Ranatunga, pinpointed the England coach, David Lloyd, as the inspiration for Muttiah Muralitharan's match-winning display at The Oval.

Ranatunga believed Lloyd's ambiguous comments on Sunday night, claiming he had "opinions" about Muralitharan's action and would make them "known to the proper authorities", spurred on his spin wizard.

"I think that particular person helped Murali get more wickets by saying those things. If I was Murali, I would have wanted to get wickets to show people and that is what he did. It gave us something to achieve, something to prove. We had a similar problem in Australia and we won the World Cup after that."

But Sri Lanka, still looking for worldwide recognition in the Test arena despite their magnificent World Cup success two years ago, have no Tests scheduled until after next summer's World Cup - a factor which could prevent Muralitharan overhauling Shane Warne as the world's most effective spinner. "If we get enough Tests I can see Murali being the top spinner in the world, no problem," said Ranatunga. "We are so lucky that we have someone like him in our side. There are times when you have to calm him down a bit because often when he takes two wickets in an over he wants to take two more instead of waiting for the batsmen to make mistakes."

Ranatunga's view of his spin sensation are shared by England captain Alec Stewart, whose hopes of steering his country to three successive Test victories for the first time since 1981 were shattered by Muralitharan's brilliance.

"To bowl and spin the ball as much as he can do is a magnificent effort. He makes the ball drop - most spinners you can use your feet to get on top of but not him." Asked about whether he agreed with Lloyd's observations of his action, Stewart stressed: "He is a special bowler. He has been filmed and passed by the ICC and he is a bowler of great quality - that showed here."

The match referee, Ahmed Ebrahim, confirmed that he had studied Lloyd's comments but decided it did not warrant an investigation because claiming someone had an "unorthodox" action did not contravene the ICC's code of conduct. Richard Peel, the ECB's director of corporate affairs, said: "David Lloyd's comments are his own observations. We will be talking to him once the game is completed."

But if Lloyd has reservations about Muralitharan's action, the Lancashire coach, Dav Whatmore, has no such concerns. Whatmore, who coached Sri Lanka to their World Cup triumph two years ago, said: "The cause of the problem is an optical illusion caused by the amazing rotation in his wrist."

But although his success has once again been tainted by controversy, Muralitharan remains unconcerned, stressing: "I know I am bowling OK so it does not affect me... I know I am not doing anything illegal."