Andrew Fidel Fernando, courtesy of ESPNcricinfo,where the title reads “”Murali and SLC involved in war of words”
Sri Lanka Cricket and Muttiah Muralitharan have traded caustic verbal blows following an altercation between Murali and the Sri Lanka team manager. SLC has made a formal complaint to Cricket Australia over the altercation, and has also contended Murali had conducted centre-wicket training at the Pallekele ground without permission.
With consternation about Murali’s role as spin-bowling consultant with Australia already high at SLC, a rumour began to circulate that Murali had influenced the preparation of a turning pitch at the P Sara Oval for Australia’s practice match last week. Having represented Tamil Union Cricket Club for much of his career, the P Sara Oval was effectively Murali’s home ground, and a venue where he commands much respect.
Sri Lanka would have preferred Australia to play their practice match on a seaming deck at odds with the surfaces that would be prepared for the Tests. Yet, Australia spinners Steve O’Keefe andNathan Lyon shared 12 scalps in that game, on a surface that had begun to take significant turn by day three.
Having caught wind of the suggestion that he was responsible for the nature of that pitch, Murali said he confronted Charith Senanayake, whom he believed to be the source of the accusation. Murali denies having had any influence over the preparation of the P Sara pitch, Senanayake denies having sparked the rumour.
“Charith has accused [me] and told the media that I have cut the grass on the pitch to help Australia’s spin bowlers to take the wickets in the three-day game. That’s a lie,” Murali said. “When I met him I asked him: ‘We played together and respected each other, why are you telling lies?’, he told me that they have just made an inquiry.
“The Tamil Union wicket was made at the time by Janaka Sampath, who is the SLC board curator. They should clarify from him what actually happened, rather than going on rumour.”
Tempers are understood to have spilled over during the exchange. SLC was eventually notified, and on Monday morning, its president Thilanga Sumathipala said the board was “deeply disappointed” by Murali’s actions and had lodged a complaint with CA.
“There are two problems here,” Sumathipala said. “The first is that Charith Senanayake has made a complaint that he had been berated. The second is that a certain training session for the Australia players at Pallekele had been carried out without permission.
“We’re very disappointed because Murali is a player the board spent a lot of effort saving. We saved him three times. From a professional standpoint, there is no problem with him working with the Australian team. But the issue here is an ethical one. We’ve named the trophy the Murali-Warne Trophy.
“And I remember once when we went to Kandy with Murali, he was on a truck and there was so much support for him that it took four hours for him to get home. Kandy is his hometown, and he’s now had to coach an opposition team at Pallekele. Regardless of professionalism, we’re very hurt by this.”
SLC vice-president Mohan de Silva attempted to calm tensions, stating the board had not lost respect for Murali, but others within the cricket establishment had continued to express their dismay. When Sri Lanka’s sports minister also expressed “disappointment” over him taking the Australia job, Murali reacted by admonishing the board for casting aspersions upon his “ethics”, and drew attention to his substantial body of humanitarian work.
“About two years ago, the board headed by Nishantha Ranatunga asked me to do some work with the spinners and I said yes, and I went and worked with the Sri Lankan spinners for 10 or 15 days,” Murali said. “Since then no Sri Lankan board has asked me to do any job. If they had asked me before the [Australia] series to be a consultant, I would have said yes. They didn’t want me, and someone else wanted me. How could I be a traitor to this country? Australia asked me to coach for the entire series, but I told them I can only do 10 days because I don’t want to be in the opposition dressing room during the match in Sri Lanka, that’s not ethical.
“Sri Lankan people have done a lot for me, and I think I have done a lot for them as well. Along with a friend I’ve opened the Foundation of Goodness, where every year we help 50,000 families. We built 1000 houses after the tsunami. Cricket-wise, through the foundation, we made about 30-40 wickets in the Northern and Eastern provinces. We hold an annual reconciliation tournament. We do more than what Sri Lanka Cricket does, with our own funds.”
Murali felt Sri Lankans pursuing coaching opportunities with other countries was a result of their being unfairly treated by the SLC.
“These people who are accusing me should go and look in the mirror [and compare] what they are doing to the country and what I am doing. The other fundamental wrong is that when our players become brilliant coaches, the board chases them off. I’m talking about Chandika Hathurusingha, Chaminda Vaas, Marvan Atapattu, Mario Villavarayan, and Thilan Samaraweera, who went to Australia. These people are all working in different countries where they are valued more than [they are] here.
“What we do is bring all the top coaches from abroad when we [already] have the talent. We are not using it. Am I the traitor or are they the traitors? When they pay also – the foreign coaches are paid so much more than the Sri Lankan coaches.”
Murali was also incensed by how much had been made of his association with Australia in particular, a role which he felt offered personal vindication given his travails in Australia during his career. He had initially worked with the Australia spinners during a series in the UAE in 2014, before being approached again ahead of this series.
“I know in ’95 and ’96 I had problems against Australia, and the whole of Sri Lanka backed me. I thought that when Australia asked me to coach, that’s them saying that I don’t do anything wrong – that I am correct and they were wrong at the time. That’s their proving it by asking me to train their spinners.
“Does SLC think that just because I coach Australia for 10 days, Australia will win? If that’s the case I am the best coach in the world, and Sri Lanka should hire me every time, and we will win every time.”
Former Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara tweeted in support of Murali on Monday evening. “Murali is a great son of Sri Lanka and he doesn’t have to defend himself. He loves his country,” Sangakkara wrote. “He is free to consult or coach anyone. If SLC had ever asked him to coach Sri Lanka, he always will. His consultancy with anyone is a way he can give back to the game.
“He has given his best to his country on the field and off. He is always available for his country, all they have to do is ask. We [should be] proud of him. If any Sri Lankan spinner walks up to [Murali] and asks him about bowling, he will be the first to spend as much time as needed to help. Free.”