Murali talks shop with Australian spinner Nathan Lyon. Photo: Cricket AustraliaThe great Muttiah Muralitharan, clad in an Australian team-issue shirt, has been teaching Nathan Lyon to bowl a delivery that can go the other way in a powerful demonstration of how old grudges have been discarded in Australia’s desperation to solve its spin problems.
Muralitharan, the most successful bowler in the history of Test cricket and the most famous exponent of the doosra, has been hired as a coaching consultant for the Test and limited-overs series against Pakistan in October.
His job will be to prepare Australia’s batsmen for the bewildering task of facing Pakistan’s doosra bowler Saeed Ajmal and to add a touch of mystery to the bowling of Lyon.
But he won’t teach the Australian Test spinner the doosra, instead focusing on the carrom ball that is practised by Indian off-spinner Ravi Ashwin and released with a snapping of the middle finger and thumb. It is easier to teach the carrom ball to a classical finger spinner such as Lyon.
“Doosra is very difficult to teach but we are trying something else, like carrom ball or something,” Muralitharan said from Colombo, where he has been working with Lyon and members of the National Performance squad.
“He was bowling last year very well, so there’s nothing to change much, only to give some confidence and try to teach the carrom ball. I think he will be ready to bowl a few balls in the UAE, but he will master it in the years to come.
“I am mainly a wrist spinner, so to change the wrist position is easy, but for a finger spinner to change direction to bowl a doosra it’s harder.”
The Sri Lankan magician was unequivocal in his support for Lyon in any format of the game.
“A country like Australia you don’t need many spinners, you need one. Nathan Lyon is the answer,” he said. “He spins the ball and he is confident and he has taken more than 100 wickets in Test cricket. Australia has to persevere with him and then build the back-ups.”
Murali’s recruitment is a dramatic sign of how times have changed.
Though liked and admired by many of his Australian opponents, Muralitharan was taunted by Australian crowds ever since he was called for throwing by Australian umpire Darrell Hair during the 1995 Boxing Day Test.
Muralitharan, who overcame constant scrutiny and testing to take 800 Test wickets, said those times were long forgotten. Australians have further warmed to the smiling son of a Kandy biscuit maker since he joined the Melbourne Renegades in the Big Bash League.
“I don’t have any hard feelings because of what has happened,” he said. “I think I prove myself in various formats … that I don’t do anything wrong. So it’s all about playing cricket and enjoying, and what I can teach is good for the game of cricket.”
His hiring is also a sign that Cricket Australia is going to great lengths to avoid more results like last year’s four-nil Test series loss in India.
Australian cricket has wrestled with the moral implications of teaching young off-spinners the doosra, preferring to encourage orthodox actions. Former national selector John Inverarity previously described this as “a question of integrity for Cricket Australia”.
There is no suggestion CA has changed its stance on the doosra, only that with one third of its cricket played on the subcontinent, it is serious about improving its performances with and against spin.
“Muttiah Muralitharan is a true great of the game and his involvement with the Australian team will bring enormous benefits,” said Australian coach Darren Lehmann.
“He really understands the conditions we’ll face and will be able to impart a great amount of knowledge. Not only will he help guide our spinners during that tour, but he will also work with our batsmen to help them prepare to play Pakistan’s dangerous spin bowlers.”
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