I would have thought that in the aftermath of the Mickey Arthur saga, CA would have made a note to self: In future, don’t hire outsiders. Or maybe that was just South Africans. I am amazed to see Australian cricket hiring such a controversial former adversary. Sure, Muthiah Muralidaran was the most successful bowler ever but you have to look at why he was! Now he is the spin bowling mentor for the Australian tour of UAE to play Pakistan.
Australians generally need little encouragement to be parochial, jingoistic and some even, sadly, outright racist. I am not suggesting that pandering to those tendencies should ever be considered. However, reflecting on the Mickey Arthur experiment, I thought it was accepted that putting men in leadership positions where the cultures are not compatible, was not a good idea.
I’m not sure about the compatibility of Sri Lankan and Australia cultures. I for one really like a good lamb biryani with some of that extra-long grain rice. Perhaps it is more about choosing individuals who will mix well with the culture of the current team. That is still an interesting point when it comes to Murali.
Over the years, there has been acrimony between the Australian public and Murali. Or more correctly, the Australian public (and media) has directed quite some animosity towards Murali. I don’t think it is accurate to say that Murali has retaliated or responded, except that he didn’t tour on one or two occasions. That acrimony even extended to umpires and even the players. Who could forget Darrell Hair and Ross Emerson’s confrontations with the Sri Lankans, Arjuna Ranatunga in particular, in the mid-nineties. And the players had their share of troubles, too. Ian Healy had one infamous run-in with Ranatunga (and his runner). And I don’t know if he meant to pick a fight but some years later, Adam Gilchrist got into a lot of trouble for suggesting that Murali did chuck the odd delivery. Not all of the incidents directly involved Murali but it seems that they were inflamed by an undercurrent of resentment over Murali’s questionable bowling action. Of course, those questions were resolved in time because the ICC changed the rules of cricket to accommodate Muralidaran.
And now, Muthiah Muralidaran joins the Australian fold. Is it a case of sleeping with the enemy or is it a piece of CA genius? Shane Warne was the spin mentor on the recent tour of South Africa. Will his nose be out of joint because his old rival has taken his place? Was Warne offered the job? Was he too busy commentating for the English summer?
It is not just Murali and the controversy that has surrounded him that is confounding. One of the stated reasons for his recruitment is that Australia has no idea about the Doosra – how to bowl it, nor how to play it. Given that Australian cricket has publicly stated that they are philosophically opposed to the Doosra because they question its legality, it adds to the surprise that they should employ the inventor of that delivery.
Reading the release from CA, I’m left wondering if Murali is to be the batting coach for playing spin bowling! Now that makes quite some sense, except if you have witnessed Murali’s own batting style. It was quite entertaining and at times briefly effective but you would not want to see the top six swinging in such a manner. However, Australia’s last visit to play spin bowling on the subcontinent was a complete disaster. They lost 4-0 to India just over a year ago. Some of them are clueless against spin and getting some help to pick the trick balls (Doosra and Carrom) could be inspired. This is what Murali himself is quoted as saying:
Ajmal is a difficult customer for all the best batsmen in the world, but he bowls a little bit similar to me so perhaps if I can bowl to the Australian batsman it might help a little bit and give them some tip.
After the initial shock, on reflection, I think Murali might fit on OK. For starters, Darren Lehmann is happy about it. And I think it is fair to day that the spin bowling and/or batting mentor does not have anywhere near the responsibility or influence of the head coach. And what is more, Gilly says it is OK. CA put Gilly’s tweet on their site (of course they did):
Inspired move by @CricketAus re Murali on board #AussieMurali Gotta keep to him @HomeOfCricket on July5, needs some tips myself #cantpickhim
And finally, Murali as a character has not really had issues with the Australian teams of the past. Although his long career was embroiled in controversy over that bowling action, throughout all of that, he kept a smile on his face, he avoided public acrimony (unlike his first skipper, Ranatunga) and he was always a fierce competitor. He had the ability to stay focused on cricket when things off the field must have been hard. Those are all qualities that would seem to sit well on someone joining not just the Australian cricket team but any sporting team.