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Page last updated at 15:43 GMT, Sunday, 20 March 2011

Andrew Flintoff on 'my mate Muttiah Muralitharan'

Flintoff and Muralitharan teamed up for the ICC World XI in 2005
Flintoff and Muralitharan teamed up for the ICC World XI in 2005

By Nicola Humphries
BBC Asian Network

"I'd say 'if you get three wickets, I'll buy you a crispy duck' - and he'd say to me 'if you get 50, I'll buy you two packs of Guinness!"

That was one of several anecdotes Andrew Flintoff had to offer when talking exclusively to the BBC about his friendship with Muttiah Muralitharan, the Sri Lanka spinner who is preparing to retire from international cricket.

Known to millions as 'Murali', he was born in Kandy in 1972 and made his international debut against Australia in Colombo on 28 August 1992.

His professional career began with Tamil Union Cricket but he has also played several seasons in English county cricket for Lancashire (1999, 2001, 2005 and 2007) and Kent (2003).

It was at Lancashire that Muralitharan first met Flintoff.

"You probably wouldn't put me and Murali together as mates," said the former England all-rounder, who was forced to retire from the game in September 2010.

Archive: Muralitharan takes 800th Test wicket

"You look at the background, you look at the way we are, everything about us is completely different.

"I'm 6ft 4ins to his 5ft 6ins; he grew up in Kandy, I grew up in Preston. Personalities, public perception... why we're such good friends, I don't know."

But after years of sharing a dressing room, Flintoff speculates that it was a mutual love of cricket and their similar approach to life that bought the pair together.

"He's a bit of a free spirit," Flintoff explained. "He just lets himself go, he enjoys the moment and just gets on with it - and probably I do too."

On 3 December 2007 on his home ground in Kandy, Murali made cricket history as he surpassed Shane Warne's record for the most career wickets in Test cricket. Having batted against both of them, Flintoff says it is hard to choose between the duo - but Murali just about gets the nod.

"Because of my relationship with Murali, I think he just edges it over Shane Warne," stated Flintoff. "Murali was full of mystery - I didn't know which way the ball was spinning and he always kept you guessing - whereas Shane would grind you down, he was all over you all the time."

But controversy has dogged the Sri Lankan spinner's career, which Flintoff feels is unjust.

"He'd be the first one to prove that his action is fine. He'd volunteer - 'if you want to test me you can test me'. People need to get over it. Doubts were driven by external sources," the Lancastrian said.

Between 1996 and 2004, Bruce Elliott from the School of Human Movement and Exercise Science at the University of Western Australia, Perth, oversaw four rounds of tests on Muralitharan, whose bent-arm bowling action was caused by a deformity from birth.

"He's absolutely been cleared from a scientific point of view, but whether we've been able to convince the general public and selected aspects of the media, that's still a question that someone else should answer," Elliott commented.

Elliott said Murali presented himself with a different arm structure to other spin bowlers and Flintoff believes that as a bowler this uniqueness has helped him.

"It's helped him bowl like we've never seen anyone else bowl before him."

However, it is not just Murali's unique action that has secured his place in cricket's record books, with Flintoff pointing to a strong work ethic.

"I don't think he always gets the credit for all the hard work he'd put in, he would just bowl and bowl," said the 33-year-old Englishman.

"He became a bit of a groundsman's nightmare - they'd get the call at some ungodly hour from Murali wanting the nets, wanting the covers off so that he could go and practise."

And this work ethic inspired a trade-off between Flintoff and Murali.

"While in Manchester, he developed a love of crispy duck so I used to bet him crispy ducks," added Flintoff. "I'd say 'if you get three wickets, I'll buy you a crispy duck' - and he'd say to me 'if you get 50, I'll buy you two pints of Guinness!'"

The current World Cup will mark 38-year-old Murali's retirement from international cricket after nearly two decades at the top.

Having quit Test cricket in July 2010, taking his 800th Test wicket in his final game, he then announced in January that he would be retiring from the one-day international arena after the current World Cup, which is co-hosted by Sri Lanka.

He has signed contracts to play Twenty20 cricket for Gloucestershire and in the Indian Premier League, but Flintoff knows it will not be easy to leave the international game.

"Knowing him as I do, he won't want to sit on his heels after his international career - he'll want to give something back. He already does a lot for charity and I think there will be Murali academies and spin academies," he added.

"I think in 10 to 15 years, people will be talking not just about Murali the cricketer but about what he's also done for cricket in general".


Listen to Andrew Flintoff present My Mate Murali at 1800 GMT on Monday 21 March on BBC Asian Network



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see also
Muralitharan joins Glos for T20
09 Feb 11 |  Gloucestershire
Muralitharan sets retirement date
21 Jan 11 |  Sri Lanka
Ashes hero Flintoff quits playing
16 Sep 10 |  England
Muralitharan reaches 800 landmark
22 Jul 10 |  Sri Lanka
Reaction to Muttiah Muralitharan's 800
22 Jul 10 |  Sri Lanka
Cricket legend Murali on retiring
22 Jul 10 |  South Asia
Muralitharan to retire from Tests
06 Jul 10 |  Sri Lanka
Murali breaks ODI wicket record
05 Feb 09 |  Cricket
Muralitharan breaks Test record
03 Dec 07 |  Sri Lanka
Muralitharan - the record-breaker
03 Dec 07 |  Sri Lanka
Murali cleared by yet more tests
04 Feb 06 |  Cricket


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