Brydon Coverdale, courtesy of ESPNcricinfo, 17 June 2914, where title is “Muralitharan joins Australia coaching staff”
Australia have made a dramatic move in their attempts to improve their spin credentials in Asian conditions, hiring Muttiah Muralitharan as a coaching consultant for this year’s Test series against Pakistan in the UAE. And while Muralitharan has no intention of turning Nathan Lyon into a master of the doosra, he is already helping Lyon add a carrom ball to his arsenal..
The two men have been working together in Sri Lanka this week and Muralitharan said he was confident Lyon would be ready to deliver the carrom ball to Pakistan’s batsmen in the Test series in October. But the appointment of Muralitharan for the short-term role is not only about helping Lyon but also equipping Australia’s batsmen to face Saeed Ajmal and the Pakistan spinners.
Australia’s most recent Test tour in Asia was their disastrous campaign in India early last year, when they lost 4-0 and struggled to handle to R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja in turning conditions. The penetration of their own spinners was also a weakness throughout the tour, although it was not helped by Lyon being dropped mid-series and replaced by Glenn Maxwell and Xavier Doherty.
Lyon returned for the final Test in Delhi and picked up nine wickets for the match, and since then has moved on to have 112 victims at 32.99 from his 33 Test appearances. Muralitharan said Lyon was clearly Australia’s best spin option and he expected him to be able to deliver the occasional carrom ball in the UAE this year before mastering it in years to come.
“In a country like Australia, you don’t need many spinners, you need to get the right one,” Muralitharan said. “I think Nathan Lyon is the answer, for any format. He spins the ball, he is confident, he has done well and taken more than 100 wickets in Test cricket. Australia has to persevere with him and then fill the backups.
“The doosra is very difficult to teach. We are trying something else, like a carrom ball … He is a finger-spinner, I am a wrist-spinner. For a wrist-spinner to change the wrist position is easy. But for a finger-spinner to change the wrist position to bowl the doosra is harder. So it would be difficult.
“He’s already starting to bowl the carrom ball. So that is the easiest way for the finger-spinners to learn … I think he’ll be ready. He will bowl a few balls in the UAE and he will master it in years to come.”
Muralitharan has been working not only with Lyon but also several of Australia’s emerging spinners in Sri Lanka this week, including James Muirhead and Clive Rose. But his role in the UAE will also include bowling to Australia’s batsmen in the nets in an attempt to get them accustomed to the style of Ajmal, who is the highest-ranked spinner on the ICC’s bowling rankings and will enjoy the conditions greatly.
“I’m not a good batsman so I can’t give many tips to batsmen, but the thing I can do is that I’m still good enough to bowl to the batsmen,” Muralitharan said. “Myself and Ajmal are a little bit similar. We are bowling doosras and offspin, so they might learn from batting in the nets, rather than me trying to teach them. I can’t teach batting.”
Muralitharan said he was confident he would have the support of the vast majority of Australian cricket fans despite his history with the country, which was dominated by his being no-balled for throwing in the 1995 Boxing Day Test in Melbourne. His relationship with Australia has improved significantly and he was one of the most popular overseas players in the BBL during his time with the Melbourne Renegades.
His appointment has continued the push by coach Darren Lehmann to have specialists assist the team at strategic times, as when Shane Warne provided spin advice in South Africa this year.
“Muttiah Muralitharan is a true great of the game and his involvement with the Australian team will bring enormous benefits,” Lehmann said. “He really understands the conditions we’ll face and will be able to impart a great amount of knowledge. Not only will he help guide our spinners during that tour, but he will also work with our batsmen to help them prepare to play Pakistan’s dangerous spin bowlers.
“As we’ve shown in recent times we’ll bring in dedicated skill-specific coaching consultants to our support staff as and when we see fit. That means having more regular support from technical experts to help work on specific areas of performance.
“Most recently we had Shane Warne join us in South Africa, and throughout the Australian summer we had a range of former Australian players around the team during the Test series to help impart specialist knowledge. This time around we are fortunate enough to have Muttiah work with us.”
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale
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Chappell: How players use Murali’s knowhow is key …..http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/content/video_audio/753509.html
Ian Chappell on Muttiah Muralitharan being appointed Australia’s mentor, and how expectations of him in the role should be tempered. It all comes down to how the players use the information he gives them, Chappell says (06:29)
Daniel Brettig: “Muralitharan, Bayliss markers of progress” ….
Australia are about to face Saeed Ajmal and Pakistan in a Test series. Outside of current international opponents, who might be best placed to educate their batsmen on how to face him and their bowlers on how to emulate him? Why Muttiah Muralitharan, of course. Sign him up.
Following the Pakistan assignment, Australia have a Twenty20 series against South Africa at home that begins mere days after the Tests in the UAE conclude. While Darren Lehmann is heading home, who is the best man to mentor the T20 team for this short-term assignment? It would be hard to go past Trevor Bayliss, the current IPL-holding coach and widely respected overseer at NSW. Let’s not, then.
These two decisions seem entirely straightforward and clear examples of Cricket Australia employing common-sense to tackle a problem. It is for precisely that reason they should be applauded, for it has not always been so simple for the game’s Australian custodians to look beyond standard practice or past prejudices to reach such sensible conclusions.
In the case of Muralitharan, the “moral question” of doosra bowling and unorthodox spin in general has vexed Australia ever since he was called for throwing by Darrell Hair at the MCG on Boxing Day in 1995. In addition to creating no end of ill-feeling between Australia and Sri Lanka, that episode underlined the nation’s scepticism about bowling of a less than orthodox variety.
As recently as 2012, then national selector John Inverarity spoke with some passion about the doosra being a question of “integrity” for Australian cricket, positing the view that coaches at all levels should commit themselves to teaching how to bowl “properly” as a spinner and eschewing the advantages to be gained in a cricket world now permitting up to 15 degrees of elbow flex.
At what was then known as the Centre of Excellence in Brisbane, slow bowling doyens including Ashley Mallett and Terry Jenner had vowed never to allow the doosra to be taught, even as its influence spread around the world. At the same time bowlers were dissuaded from experimenting, batsmen were left to find overseas exposure to the type of spin sorcery they were likely to face in a baggy green cap. George Bailey was certainly in no mood for moral questions when arriving home from a thwarted World T20 campaign two years ago.
“If that’s the rules and that’s how bowlers are bowling now and having success in international cricket, then we’ve got to start developing those players and developing them at 10-11 years of age and we start to have some bowlers who do bowl like [Muttiah] Muralitharan or [Saeed] Ajmal or [Sunil] Narine,” he said. “You’re hoping that a few of our spinners were watching the tournament [World T20] and seeing the type of spinners that were having success.”
While the merits of teaching or encouraging the doosra or other lateral variations among spinners will continue to be debated, Muralitharan’s hiring for consultancy in Sri Lanka and later this year in the UAE will at least allow Australia’s batsmen to face up to Ajmal without feeling entirely unaware of what they might be facing – lessening the chance they will be humbugged in Dubai as England were in 2011-12.
Nathan Lyon, meanwhile, can learn from one of the game’s most brilliant spin-bowling minds, even if his arm and wrist can never be expected to contort in the way that allowed his new teacher to pluck 800 wickets. As Australia’s captain Michael Clarke noted recently, Ajmal’s skill is derived as much from nagging consistency and an agile mind as any variation in spin. Like Muralitharan, Ajmal is also less likely to trouble opponents who seek to understand him rather than huffing and puffing indignant words about his action.
An avowed admirer of Muralitharan during his time with Sri Lanka, Bayliss might likewise have been ignored in earlier years had a stand-in coach been required for duty. Instead of the next best mentor being chosen when John Buchanan, Tim Nielsen or Mickey Arthur took a break, CA commonly chose another assistant such as Troy Cooley or Steve Rixon.
But here can be found a significant sign of progress in relations between CA and the states, at every level from governance to cricket operations. That NSW would allow their senior coach to be whisked away during the domestic season at all is a measure of greatly improved relationships, albeit smoothed by the fact that in Geoff Lawson, the Blues have a more than capable stand-in of their own.
For years, the states and CA would not have been able to pull off such a move, given the considerable scepticism about the national set-up that was demonstrated annually, among other things, by a common reluctance to send each state’s best players to the Centre of Excellence. State coaches did occasionally tour with Australia, but never in a senior capacity nor at a time when it might impinge upon domestic plans.
Justin Langer, Stuart Law, Darren Berry, Dan Marsh and Greg Shipperd may all yet gain similar opportunities to work with the national team, allowing both coaches and players to glimpse life on the other side of their chosen existence and learn from the chance. As with the recruitment of Muralitharan, it is good, common-sense thinking. Australian cricket can only gain by pragmatism of this kind.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig