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Last Updated: Friday, 27 April 2007, 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK
Murali's chance to silence Aussies
By Paresh Soni
BBC Sport in Barbados

Muttiah Muralitharan
I have a good record against Australia... the one-day average doesn't mean Australia have dominated me

Muttiah Muralitharan

In September 1992, a young off-spinner made his Test debut against Australia in Colombo.

He was part of a bowling line-up which, quite frankly, deserved little mention in the annals of cricketing history.

Indeed, who can honestly say they remember the exploits of Dulip Liyanage, Don Anurasiri and Champaka Ramanayake without consulting reference books?

But 14 and a half years after that first foray into international cricket, every cricket fan is well aware of Muttiah Muralitharan and what he has achieved in the game.

On Saturday he will have his last hurrah on the biggest stage in one-day cricket, his second World Cup final against a country that has become his bete noire in many ways.

Even mentioning his name sparks furious debate in Australia, with plenty refusing to acknowledge his brilliance in claiming more than 1,000 wickets in Tests and ODIs combined.

606: DEBATE
FP

Most of it surrounds allegations that his action is illegal, even though the game's governing body has cleared it and accepted an unusual birth defect is responsible for his unorthodox mode of delivery.

However, since 1995, when he was first called for throwing by Darrell Hair in a Test in Melbourne, many Australians have remained sceptical.

In 1996, he had his revenge when he helped his country beat Australia in the World Cup final in Lahore, with a miserly spell of 1-31 off 10 overs.

We have to win - that's the motivation. If you want to keep your job you have to perform, we take it very professionally

Muttiah Muralitharan

But his efforts 11 years ago pale by comparison with what he has achieved in the Caribbean - 23 wickets in nine games at a staggering average of 13.34 runs per wicket.

The deadly doosra, which turns the opposite way to the traditional off-break, used to wreak havoc by surprising victims.

It has now become his stock delivery, with four regularly unleashed per over, but it continues to be almost impossible to pick by even the better batsmen.

Despite that, Australia captain Ricky Ponting insists there is nothing for his men to fear from Muralitharan, and he has mocked the decision to rest the 35-year-old for the world champions' crushing seven-wicket victory in Grenada in the Super 8s.

Muralitharan laughs off claims that he and his team missed a trick and insists his inferior statistical record against the Aussies does not suggest a weakness on his part.

His overall figures are 455 wickets from 296 one-day internationals at an average of 22.58 runs per wicket.

Against the Australians it reads 46 victims in 32 ODIs at 29.84, but the Kandy man says anyone who reads too much into that is mistaken.

"I have a good record against Australia too," he insisted on Thursday.

Ricky Ponting
Ponting insists his side have nothing to fear against Muralitharan

"They have been the number one side in the past 10-15 years, during which their batsmen have dominated against everyone, but I have also had my days against them.

"I got 28 wickets in three Tests in 2004 and the one-day average doesn't mean Australia have dominated me."

Australian Prime Minister John Howard called Muralitharan a "chucker" in 2004 and barbed comments like that have ensured that Australia are still one of the most unpopular opponents in the eyes of Sri Lankan fans.

The player himself refuses to talk about revenge over, and animosity towards, a nation that has singled him out more than most.

"There's no extra motivation than for any other game, it's the same against Bangladesh or Ireland or Australia.

"We have to win - that's the motivation. If you want to keep your job you have to perform, we take it very professionally."

That may be his view in public.

But putting one over a country which remains suspicious about his achievements will probably give Muralitharan as much pleasure as anything he has done in the game.



SEE ALSO
Murali dreams of World Cup glory
27 Apr 07 |  Cricket
Australia reach World Cup final
25 Apr 07 |  Cricket
Moody steels Sri Lanka
26 Apr 07 |  Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka power into world final
24 Apr 07 |  Cricket


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