Big boost for Lanka, Murali declared fit to play opener

Published: Friday, February 7, 2003, 23:53 [IST]
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Johannesburg: Sri Lanka received a boost on Friday ahead of its opening World Cup game against New Zealand with the news that star spinner Muttiah Muralitharan was fit to play. The wily off spinner, rated the best bowler ever by cricket bible Wisden, tore a thigh muscle during the recent One-day series in Australia and was considered doubtful for Monday's key clash against the Kiwis. But team physiotherapist Alex Kontouri declared Muralitharan fit to play after he took part in a warm-up match against provincial state Free State at Bloemfontein on Thursday.

The 30-year-old showed no signs of the injury as he conceded just 13 runs in eight overs for one wicket. "He is as good as before," Kontouri said. "Since it was the World Cup we were a bit cautious about how soon to play him. But he came out well on Thursday and I see no reason why he will not take the field on Monday." Muralitharan will be the pivot of Sri Lanka's attack against the confident New Zealanders on the same Bloemfontein wicket that tends to aid the slow bowler. Kontouri said that even if Muralitharan had not taken the field on Thursday, it was likely he would still have played against the Kiwis.

The injury in Australia, following a shoulder dislocation in August during a One-day series in Morocco, appears to have convinced Muralitharan to give up One-day cricket altogether. "I only get injured playing One-dayers, never Test matches," he said recently, hinting he may follow the example of Australia's Shane Warne, who will retire from One-day cricket after the World Cup. Muralitharan's tally of 304 makes him the third-highest wicket-taker in One-day cricket after Pakistani fast bowlers Wasim Akram (490) and Waqar Younis (409). He is also third on the list in Test matches with 437 wickets behind West Indian Courtney Walsh (519) and Warne (491).

Muralitharan's forte is his ability to turn the ball prodigiously even on unhelpful tracks and is virtually unplayable on turning wickets. Indians found it out to their dismay at Sharjah three years ago when Muralitharan grabbed 7-30 off 10 overs. He is also an enigma for umpires - especially Australian. In Australia, he grabbed headlines as much for his bowling action as his skill. He keeps stressing that uniformity is an exception rather than a rule in the world of cricket umpiring. Australians believe he chucks. The rest of the world feels he does not, for he has never been called for throwing outside Australia. Muralitharan has taken the criticism in his stride and continued to move from strength to strength in both Tests and One-dayers.

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