Muttiah Muralitharan is a soft-spoken man, not one to get agitated easily. It was a rare sight to see him lose his cool when asked about Sri Lankan cricket’s downfall. In a conversation with ET (Economic Times of India), the Sri Lankan legend talks about what is wrong with Sri Lankan cricket, why wrist spinners offer better dividends in good batting conditions and more.
What is wrong with Sri Lanka cricket?
From the days of Sanath Jayasuriya, Kaluwitharana, Aravinda de Silva and Arjuna Ranatunga to today, it has undergone a sea change. Don’t go so far back. In 2014, we won the World T20 beating India in the final in Dhaka and in 2011 we made the final of the 50-over World Cup in India. So what we are seeing today is a very recent development. To tell you the truth Sri Lankan cricket is currently in a mess. Politicians have taken over the running of the game and with little or no knowledge of the game they are destroying the institution with every passing day. Cricket is all about confidence. Giving the players the confidence to perform. Making them feel great when they wear Sri Lankan colours. I did not become a champion bowler in one day. For 4-5 years, Arjuna kept giving me the confidence. That’s how I became who I am. Now every time a batsman goes out to bat he is told you have to score or else we will bench you. The same is true for bowlers. In the last one year Sri Lanka has fielded some 60 players across all formats. 60 players in one year! This is irrational and tells you there is no vision how the game should be run. Such frequent chopping and changing will only end up destroying the game further.
But have the players done justice to the opportunities they have been given?
Take the case of Kusal Mendis. All of us thought he was a bright spark and will serve Sri Lanka cricket for a long time. He started out extremely well. However, within months he was out of the team. One bad series and dropped. Such things do little to inspire confidence among cricketers.
Moving away to something different now. We’ve recently seen India prefer Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal over Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja because they get more purchase in overseas conditions. Wrist spinners rather than finger spinners seem to be the flavour. Your take on this.?
Wrist spinners will always give you better dividends in overseas conditions. Or more simply put in good batting conditions. There can’t be any debate on this matter. They are expected to pick more wickets and I can clearly see and understand why the Indian selectors have done what they have done. There’s always an element of mystery to wrist spinners and until this mystery is decoded they will deliver for the captain. I don’t know whether Ashwin or Jadeja will be back but the reasoning behind the call is fairly obvious. And both Kuldeep and Chahal have done well and justified the faith shown in them.
Are you saying that to be successful every spinner today will have to have something mysterious in his repertoire?
While that is correct I’m also saying you have to keep your core intact. I always emphasised on bowling off-spin first and then trying out other things. Bowling too many doosras, for example, can impact your off spin bowling and it has happened to people in the past. That’s what modern day spinners need to keep in mind.
Coming to IPL, very good start to the season for your team.
It is a marathon and the race has just started. What we’ve done is create a team that has real good balance. Many people asked why we chose Wriddhiman Saha. It was a clearly thought out strategy. Last year we did not have good spin back-up options after Rashid Khan. This year we do. We have picked Sakib Al Hasan as our first choice left-arm spinner. When you have two quality spin bowlers in your team, it’s essential you have a good keeper. Else, the chances created by the spinners are wasted more often than not. So in that sense we’ve done what we could have. Now only time will tell if the planning gives us the results we are hoping for.
A word on David Warner’s absence — you must be missing him.
His are big shoes to fill. He has been an exceptional player for us and for any team he has played for. But there is little that can be done and I have to say Kane Williamson has led the team very well in Warner’s absence. He has the experience and has held the dressing room together quite nicely.