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AUSTRALIA V SRI LANKA TESTS

Murali plotting Sri Lanka's downfall

13 July 2016

Andrew Ramsey, in Colombo


@ARamseyCricket

Andrew Ramsey, in Colombo


@ARamseyCricket

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It's the flexibility provided by short-term consultant coaching opportunities that explains why Sri Lanka's most successful Test cricketer – and the nation's most recognisable sportsman – Muthiah Muralidaran is working in rival colours to hep plot the downfall of his former team.

Muralidaran, who claimed an unsurpassed 800 Test wickets in his celebrated career for Sri Lanka, has spent the past two days clad in an Australia training kit working closely with touring spinners Nathan Lyon and Steve O'Keefe.

The sight of Muralidaran ensconced with an Australia squad that is embarking on a two-month Qantas Tour of Sri Lanka that features three Tests, five ODIs and a couple of T20 internationals has stretched credulity in the Land of Serendipity, so named for its often unexpected surprises.

But those taken aback by the knowledge that a former great is actively aiding a foe that occasioned so much heartache both individually and collectively during his 18-year international career might find some solace in Muralitharan's typically upbeat and pragmatic explanation.

After almost two decades travelling the world plying his trade for Sri Lanka, for Lancashire in the UK county competition and for T20 franchises in India, Australia, New Zealand and the Caribbean, the 44-year-old does not want a full-time job with a globetrotting cricket team.

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And the fact that Sri Lanka is unable to offer him the sort of short-term consultant role that he filled for Australia during their 2014 campaign against Pakistan in the UAE and now in the lead-up to the Test series in Sri Lanka means it's not a tough decision to make.

At least that's how Muralidaran smilingly sees it.

"Last time I played for Sri Lanka it's more than six years now and I'm not involved in Sri Lankan cricket at all because there are (other) people who are involved," Muralidaran told cricket.com.au following training with the Australia squad in Colombo today.

"I don't want to disturb those things because I got an opportuniity to do things in India, mostly in the IPL, and now coaching in Kolkata (as a consultant with the Cricket Association of Bengal's development program) as a spin coach.

"Then, on and off, Australia offered me twice so I said ‘why not' because you are passing on the knowledge to other people.

"It doesn't matter whether it's your country or other people.

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"So I think the gap's (not there) in the Sri Lanka team, they already have a spin coach, fast bowlers and everything.

"My problem is I can't work full-time - I am not ready for it, otherwise I would (still be) playing the game in T20 all over the world.

"I think giving quality time to my family is most important, that's why I take smaller jobs - two weeks, three weeks (stints as a consultant) because those sort of jobs are not available in Sri Lanka.

"So I just let go."

The debate over Muralidaran's involvement with Sri Lanka could come into sharper focus after he parts company with Steve Smith's squad prior to the opening Test in Kandy, with Australia heavily fancied to win the Test series despite their poor recent record in subcontinental conditions.

While only three members of the 15-man Australian squad boast previous Test experience in Sri Lanka – Lyon, Usman Khawaja and Shaun Marsh – the home team is similarly unproven at Test level given the loss of key players to retirement, injury and suspension over the past year.

Sri Lanka coach Graham Ford has publicly lamented the lack of depth in fast-bowling stocks after several quicks broke down on Sri Lanka's recent winless tour of England.

And Muralidaran believes a lack of batting and bowling firepower within the home team's ranks will see Australia start clear favourites to enhance their current status as the world's top-ranked Test team.

"I can't say (the Test series will be) even because Sri Lanka at the moment is rebuilding and all the senior players like (Kumar) Sangakkara and Mahela (Jayawardena) are gone out because they were depending heavily on those two, and (Thilan) Samaraweera with batting," Muralidaran said.

"So that's the downfall they have scoring runs, and also main weapon (with the ball) is (left-arm spinner) Rangana Herath but apart from that they don't have any other bowler to get wickets for them.

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"So these are the minuses they have, and if Australia can exploit two or three of the young (Sri Lanka) bowlers and keep playing well against them then they are a good chance."

In addition to Muralidaran's insights and experience, the Australians' coaching set-up includes former Queensland captain Stuart Law (who has served as coach of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh) and ex-South Africa fast bowler Allan Donald who has worked extensively as a coach in the IPL.

In addition, former Indian spin bowler Sridharan Sriram has joined the touring part as a fielding coach who is also giving the Australia batters a taste of what to expect from Herath with his probing left-arm orthodox at training sessions.

The Australians' preparation for the opening Test at Pallekele (Kandy) will bet stepped up tomorrow when they begin a two-day practice match between teams made up of Test players (minus David Warner who continues to recover from a finger injury) and members of the touring National Performance Squad.

The young NPS players have been honing their skills on subcontinental pitches in Chennai over the past two weeks and will provide quality practice for the Test squad members over coming days.

The match will be played on a newly prepared strip at Colombo's P Sara Stadium that will also be used to host a subsequent three-day warm-up fixture against a local XI before the Australia squad departs for Kandy on July 21.

About the Writer

@ARamseyCricket
Andrew Ramsey is the senior writer for cricket.com.au. He previously wrote for the Guardian, The Australian, The Times, The Telegraph, The Hindu and Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack and the author of The Wrong Line.