Muttiah Muralitharan is known for many things – being the highest wicket-taker in the history of Test cricket, his prodigiously swivelling off-spin, a spate of controversies he encountered in his cricketing career, and of course, being a Good Samaritan.
For a man who has 800 Test scalps and 534 ODI wickets under his belt, he is remarkably self-effacing and unassuming. He answers a volley of questions thrown at him with as much composure and sangfroid as he displayed as a bowler.
Excerpts from an interview, conducted via phone, with the greatest cricketer Sri Lanka has ever produced:
Q. How do you look at the impending Sri Lanka vs India Test series? According to you, which team has an upper hand?
Though Sri Lanka are playing at home they have a young team which is in a transition period. A lot of experienced players have retired and young guys would take a bit of time to get used to the rigours of international cricket. That is the reason Pakistan defeated Sri Lanka in the recently-concluded Test series.
At the same time, India haven’t really done that well overseas of late. They lost to England and Australia, and have a new Test captain at the helm. It wouldn’t be an easy for them to hit the stripes in Sri Lanka. So overall, both teams have their shares of follies and have some points to prove. I reckon it would be an intriguing and closely-fought series.
Q. Which players you think would be the key to India’s success?
Definitely, Virat Kohli. He is a world-class batsman and one of the best at present in the world. He has scored runs all over the world and is the bulwark of Indian batting. Ajinkya Rahane is another fine batsman with robust temperament and technique.
Among bowlers, Harbhajan Singh and R Ashwin are competent spinners. It would be interesting to see how they bowl in tandem.
Q. What is your take on the current crop of Sri Lankan cricketers? Who are the ones you’ve high expectations from?
Look, you have to be patient with young cricketers. It is not easy to come into international cricket and start scoring heavily or picking up bagful of wickets right from the word go. Very few cricketers can manage to do that. You have to give time and encouragement to young players once you recognize the talent and potential.
Lahiru Thirimanne and Dinesh Chandimal are very talented cricketers and shown glimpses of their enormous potential. There are many others who are working their way up the ladder.
Q. What is your take on the ICC’s crackdown on the bowlers with dodgy bowling action?
There is a rule of 15 degree in place and one must adhere to it. Anyone who breaches this rule is bound to face the heat. If one is found guilty, he must strive to correct his action to ensure the level playing field. I’m sure that the ICC constituted this rule after a lot of consideration and rumination.
Q. There was a lot of speculation about your bowling action throughout your cricketing career. How did you cope up with such debilitating pressure?
I was always confident that my bowling action is kosher. I went through a lot of technical tests in cutting-edge laboratories, and always came out with flying colours. There was nothing dodgy or dubious about my bowling action and the results of those tests espoused my belief.
When you are confident about your skills, nothing can shake your self-belief. That is why those controversies regarding my bowling action had no bearing on my performances. In fact, each time there was any controversy; I became more tenacious and emerged as a better bowler.
Q. Do you think that ‘Doosra’ can be bowled with a clean action?
Of course ‘Doosra’ can be bowled with a clean action. I used it effectively in the latter part of my career and never had any problem with it. It boils down how hard you work while practising it, and how competent you are.
Q. Who among the current spinners do you think are wily and supremely skilful?
Harbhajan Singh and Rangana Herath have done really well over the years and their sparkling record is the testament to their skills and finesse. Of late, I’m really impressed with Pakistan’s Yasir Shah. He exudes self-belief and is quite canny. He bowled splendidly against Sri Lanka in the last series.
Q. You ran rings around several great batsmen during your career. Who were the ones who were toughest to bowl to?
I always loved the challenge of bowling to the best batsmen in the world and test myself against them. Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar, and Virender Sehwag were the ones I found tough to bowl to.
All three of them were exceedingly spectacular at playing spin and were pro-active. Moreover, they always took the attack to bowlers. On their day, they could decimate any bowler or a bowling attack of any team.
Q. Last question. Kumar Sangakkara is retiring from international cricket after the Test series against India. You have played a lot with him. Where would you put him in the pantheon of great Sri Lankan batsmen?
If you’re telling me to compare him with other great batsmen, then I wouldn’t indulge in such comparisons and demean anyone’s contribution to the Sri Lankan cricket. All I want to say is that Sangakkara has been an extremely hard-working and dedicated cricketer who served Sri Lanka with tremendous passion and pride. He is a superb batsman and an incredible human being.