Sri Lanka Cricket backs Murali on boycott

Published: Sunday, May 16, 2004, 23:53 [IST]
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Colombo:Sri Lankan cricket officials have backed spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan to boycott an upcoming tour Down Under after the Australian Prime Minister reportedly called him a 'chucker'.

Sports minister Jeevan Kumaratunga, a relative of President Chandrika Kumaratunga, defended the off-spinner saying foreign leaders were making "desperate statements."

Local daily The Sunday Times quoted Kumaratunga as saying that Australian Premier John Howard's remarks were "absurd" and asked Muralitharan, the top Test wicket-taker of all time with 523 wickets, to forge ahead.

Sri Lanka Cricket president Mohan de Silva said Muralitharan could opt out of next month's two-Test tour of Australia after Howard further strained the already uneasy sporting ties between the two countries.

"If Murali makes a request not to go to Australia we will definitely give him that option," de Silva said in remarks to the state-run Sunday Observer in Colombo. "We will not force him to go to a country where he is not accepted."

De Silva, who is in Zimbabwe with the Sri Lankan team for the ongoing Test series, however, said there was no formal request so far from the spinner.

Muralitharan said in Zimbabwe that Howard, a keen cricket fan, should concentrate on running Australia rather than passing judgement on his controversial bowling action.

"The Prime Minister of Australia shouldn't be saying things like that," Muralitharan said. "He doesn't know the facts."

Muralitharan said last year that he was considering avoiding Sri Lanka's two Test matches against Australia in Darwin and Cairns because of constant taunting by Australian crowds since he was no-balled for throwing there in 1995-96.

Muralitharan has a genetic defect that stops him from fully straightening his bowling arm upon delivery.

He was reported for a suspect action by English match referee Chris Broad during the third and final Test of the March series in Sri Lanka won 3-0 by Australia.

Perth-based biomechanics experts subsequently tested him and initially found he straightened his bent arm by 14 degrees in bowling a delivery tagged the "doosra".

The doosra spins away from right-handers instead of coming into them like a normal off-break.

Under remedial work, Muralitharan reduced the arm straightening to 10 degrees, which is still twice the amount allowable for spinners under International Cricket Council (ICC) regulations governing illegal bowling actions.

After being reported to the ICC, Muralitharan has been ordered to stop bowling his doosra or face being suspended for up to a year.

Asked by a party faithful in regional New South Wales state on Friday if he thought Muralitharan was a chucker, Howard replied: "Yes."

"They proved it in Perth too, with that thing," he added, drawing an image of a video screen with his hands.

Muralitharan's delivery has faced intense scrutiny in Australia even as he pipped local hero Shane Warne in breaking West Indian Courtney Walsh's record of 519 Test wickets.

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