25 July 2016

Angelo, Dinesh and others must do a Murali on the Aussies

Steve Smith, the Australian cricket captain has heaped praised on Muttiah Muralitharan.  Darren Lehmann too.  They have reason to do so.  The Australian cricket team is in Sri Lanka and although on paper they are clear favorites, the Aussies are not taking any chances.  That’s being professional.  

Yes, they are not leaving anything to chance.  Less than a month ago Cricket Australia employed former Sri Lankan test cricketer Thilan Samaraweera as a consultant coach.  Thilan, like almost all experienced Sri Lankan cricketers knows Sri Lankan conditions well.  On top of that he was an excellent player of spin in his day.  No prizes for guessing what the Australians were looking for. 

They came early, they had a good look-see, they had purchased the right brains to complement their own grey matter and they have clearly learned a lot as the outcome of the practice game clearly shows. 

That’s being professional. You can't blame the Aussies.

All this has raised some eyebrows, the same that were raised when Mahela Jayawardena was hired to dish out advice to the England team before it took on Sri Lanka.  There were charges of betrayal then and charges of betrayal now. 

Two things can be said of these concerns.  First, Sri Lanka had no qualms over hiring foreign coaches, Australians included.  Second, nothing was stopping Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) from securing the services of persons who could give insights into the matter of handling the Aussies (or the English, for that matter, earlier in the season).   Perhaps Sri Lanka did not need Murali’s or Thilan’s services (they were hired for specific purposes and those are non-issues as far as Sri Lanka is concerned).  Perhaps Sri Lanka needed some Australian experts but didn’t have the bucks to obtain their services.  It happens. 

There are many ways to cut this issue.  First things first.  Cricket is a sport and it is also a business.  It is about bucks.  It is about professionals who have marketable skills.  It is about the prices that certain skills fetch in the relevant market place.  You can’t say ‘ok’ to capitalism and then cry foul when professional cricketers (or coaches or physiotherapists or any other professional associated with cricket) switch employers. Capital looks for markets and market conditions to exploit, professionals do the same.  The IPL is not the CPL, BPL, Big Bash or SLPL.  The reason is too obvious to elaborate. 

Secondly, Murali is a professional.  His professionalism was most evident in the last test he played (against India).  He was on the verge of being the first man ever to capture 800 test wickets.  The last batsman was in.  Murali had already announced his retirement.  He did entice P Ojha to edge to Mahela Jayawardena (the 4th ball of the 116th over) and reach that magical 800 mark, but he may very well have missed it on two occasions (4th ball of the 102nd and the second delivery of the 106th). Both run-out opportunities.  Sri Lanka missed both.  On both occasions the fielder in question was Murali.  He gave it his all and his disappointment was written on his face.  That’s professionalism.  Team objective above self.  Country before record.  Call it whatever you want, the man was ‘working’.  Full time.  A professional. [Read ‘On delivering with unforgettable smiles’]. 

Sure, there were many moments when he wrapped the national flag around his shoulders.   We can call that patriotism of course, but let that not allow us to depreciate the ‘professional’ element that was such an integral part of Muttiah Muralitharan. 

What seems clear is that people are less upset over Thilan helping the Australians (or Mahela helping England) than Murali’s ‘betrayal’.   There have been many references to Murali’s many run-ins with the Australians in the past.  The ‘throwing’ incident.  The Australian crowds taunted Murali each time he came on to bowl.  He was sledged mercilessly.  He was a member of the team when the current Australian coach no less, Darren Lehmann, called Sanath Jayasuriya a black monkey.  He was a member of the team when Justin Langer quietly flicked the bail and kept quite while his team mates appealed for a hit-wicket decision to get Hashan Tillekeratne out (Read “Out of Order: Justin Langer and the ICC”). 

Through it all, the people of this country stood by the team and in particular Murali and that had nothing to do with any monetary gain.  No capitalism there.  Arjuna Ranatunga put his entire career at risk in defending Murali.  One could say Arjuna was being ‘professional’, but Murali would be the first object to such a characterization.  Arjuna did it for a teammate and for his country’s dignity, few would deny this. 

And let no one claim that Murali hasn't 'given back' outside the boundary, to cricket and the country.  
In many ways he's been transparent and accountable and even reconciled in and out of cricket like few of his compatriots have.  He has given with wrist and heart like few had before him and probably none after he retired.
It is this history which is making it hard for people to swallow the Murali is a Professional explanation.  People understand professionalism, sure.  They also know that no one is one dimensional, Murali included.  They, the fans (and others) are not one-dimensional either.  They will understand professionalism but they will not forget all the Murali-Australian history.  This is why eyebrows are raised. 

Having said that, there’s nothing anyone can do.  It’s a free market, whether we like it or not.  People’s skills are bought.  People themselves are bought and sold (the IPL is a meat market once you strip it of the glitter, isn’t it?). 

So what do we do?  Nothing?  No.  We back our boys to the hilt.  They can purchase our Murali.  They can spend the kind of bucks that we don’t have to dent whatever home-advantage there is.  They can demoralize.  They can sledge.  Our boys have only the skills they already have.  They can be the best professionals they can be and perhaps this will not be enough given the aforementioned mismatches.  But they can get from Murali what Murali cannot price or withhold: the determination, the courage, the spirit and the refusal to be put down. 

Angelo Matthews, Dinesh Chandimal, Rangana Herath and the rest: just do a Murali on the Aussies.  It would be the sweetest come-back ever.    All the best. 



Anonymous said...

Muralitharan, along with Tendulkar are in my opinion the WORST thing to have happened to world cricket. 2 short unathletic looking brown skinned people with no personality are the top "athletes" of cricket. Baseball fans will be laughing their backsides off looking at these 2.