Australia v Sri Lanka 2010-11 October 19, 2010

New role but same old Murali

Muttiah Muralitharan's team-mates expect no lessening of the offspinner's powers as he begins life as an international limited-overs specialist. Murali, 38, retired from Tests in July with a record 800 wickets and after taking a break has been increasing his load ahead of engagements in Australia over the next three weeks.

He is part of the squad that has just landed in the country, a place in which he has often been treated poorly on both sides of the fence. The captain Kumar Sangakkara smiles when he talks about Murali's impact on the team and he will bolster the squad after missing the home tri-series victory in August.

But Sangakkara turns serious when discussing criticism of Murali. "It's always been unjustifiable if Murali has not been received well in any country," Sangakkara said. "Just for the bowler he is, the character he is, he is a wonderful human being. However the fans react to him, or whether they accept him, it doesn't matter in the long run because the whole cricketing world love him for who he is. And he's very secure in that."

Murali was called for throwing at the MCG in 1995-96 and boycotted the 2004 tour here following comments from John Howard, Australia's prime minister, over his action. While he was adored during the tsunami fundraising match in Melbourne in 2005, he was part of a Sri Lankan group that had eggs thrown at it in Hobart two years ago.

"We just want him to enjoy himself and play for as long as he wants to play and be part of our team," Sangakkara said. "It's a joy to see him play. For us to have him in our side is a huge boost of confidence."

Murali has come to Australia via South Africa, where he was part of Chennai's Champions League T20 victory, taking three wickets in the final. In 22 ODIs Down Under Murali has 31 victims at 32.70, with the home batsmen usually content to see out his overs.

The coach Trevor Bayliss expects Murali to benefit from his Test-free workload and not suffer during the transition. "At this stage of his career having a rest every now and then will be good for him," Bayliss said. "He's just had a little bit of time off and he's come back from the Champions League full of beans, and is bowling really well in the nets."

The Sri Lankans open their tour with a one-day game against Queensland at the Gabba on Friday and have some more fine-tuning before a Twenty20 in Perth on October 31 and three ODIs the following week. While it is hard to know what long-term benefits the visitors can achieve from such a short series, Sangakkara's aims are clear.

"Hopefully we get a victory in the series, that'll be great for us going forward," he said. "We know how tough it is in Australia. We've been here before and we're yet to win, this is a great challenge to the guys."

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo

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