Murali set to give Australia the flick May 17, 2004

PM throws spanner in works - again

The prospects of Muttiah Muralitharan touring Australia in July appear slimmer than ever after the prime minister, John Howard, repeated his claim that the world record-holder is a chucker.

Pushed on the subject on Queensland radio this morning, Mr Howard said: "My understanding is that there were some tests carried out in Perth, weren't there? And there were some conclusions that came out of that, and those conclusions were adopted by the ICC. I don't know that I've got anything to add to that."

Mr Howard, who promotes himself as a "cricket tragic", heaped fresh ridicule on Murali last Friday when he responded surprisingly candidly to a question at a Liberal Party function on whether Murali threw the ball. "Yes," he replied. "They proved it in Perth, too, with that [biomechanics video] thing."

Murali, after months of threats, now seems unlikely to tour Australia when Sri Lanka visit for two Tests in Darwin and Cairns in July. He told Australian newspapers over the weekend that Mr Howard's comments were "very unnecessary".

"[If] the prime minister of the country has accused me like that, why should I go out to that country?" Murali said. "It's not right. Normal people can say something and I don't care, but when the prime minister of a nation comes out it is very damaging to my image.

"I thought of coming to Australia but now I will think three times before I come. I am disappointed and we are talking to our lawyers. He [Howard] should take away that word ... I don't know what is in his mind, but I am so disappointed that the prime minister of a country would be coming out and giving a statement like this, because he has more responsibility than this, I think."

But Murali confirmed that retirement, contrary to various reports, is not on his agenda. "All my career someone is trying to stop me because maybe I'm very good at bowling and doing things that others can't do ... But I won't give in, I will keep fighting. There are ways to fight."

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