Murali's no chucker, says Warne
Australia's "sheikh of tweak", Shane Warne, has said that his main rival for the world Test-wicket record, Muttiah Muralitharan, does not throw. Answering questions put to him by an elite audience who had paid Rs10,000 apiece to attend the 500 Club charity dinner in Colombo in aid of children affected by the tsunami, Warne said: "The most important thing is that he does not chuck. I think it is the way he bowls that had raised a few eyebrows." Warne, who has 566 wickets from 120 Tests, has Murali breathing down his neck with 532 wickets from 91 matches.
Warne played down the supposed rivalry between himself and Muralitharan. "There has been so much said and written about us going for the world record, rivalry and things like that. I don't think there is so much rivalry. We always got along OK."
Warne added: "We always spoke about spin bowling. Spoke about who's hard to bowl to. Murali thinks it is Brian Lara, I believe Sachin Tendulkar is hard to bowl to. It is always good fun to catch up with Murali here in Sri Lanka, or in Australia or in New Zealand. We had some fun out there, except with Stephen Fleming for about ten overs. It wasn't so much fun with hits all over the park about 20 rows back."
Warne paid Murali and his team-mates a tribute for what they had done for Sri Lanka. "Anybody who thinks of Sri Lanka thinks of Murali. Sri Lanka is Murali, the face and the big black eyes. The face is like a Mini Minor in Australia - that's a car."
In the recent past Warne has, in a roundabout way, accused Muralitharan of having pitches prepared to his advantage and of having more opportunities to bowl than him. Warne also accused Murali of being "soft-hearted" when he pulled out of the two-Test tour of Australia last year.
But the tsunami disaster in Sri Lanka has brought the two spin rivals together so much that Warne asked Murali to organise a short tour to Sri Lanka so he could see for himself how he could extend a helping hand. What he saw moved him a great deal, and at the charity dinner - hosted by Sahanaya, the national council for mental health, and the Muralitharan-Vaas-Gunasekera Foundation at Waters Edge Country Club on Thursday - Warne promised that with his own foundation and the City of Melbourne would try to raise as much as possible to rebuild the devastated areas.
Warne said that it was quite moving to see the kids in Seenigama sport a smile when chocolates and colouring books were distributed to them. Some of the children had lost parents and homes.
Sri Lanka holds a special place in Warne's heart: not just because he took his 500th Test wicket at Galle on his comeback from a 12-month drugs ban, but for various other reasons. Speaking at the dinner, Warne said that 1992 was his first tour to Sri Lanka, and that his favourite Test match out of the 120 he has played so far was at the Sinhalese Sports Club there. "We managed to win a Test match on the subcontinent under Allan Border's captaincy for the first time," he said. Warne, then still almost unknown, took three wickets for 11 runs to enable Australia to turn the tables and pull off a stunning win by 16 runs in a Test that Sri Lanka had dominated for all but the last session of the final day.
Muralitharan's manager, Kushil Gunasekera, described Warne as an "amazing guy", and said that both Murali and Warne had set aside all differences and rivalry on the cricket field and gone beyond boundaries to compassionately serve humanity.
"The true measure of a man is how he treats a small man who can absolutely do no good for him. Shane has set an example for all the cricketers in the world."
He said the dinner was a very special event where, for the first time in Sri Lanka and in the world, two famous cricketers who had surpassed the achievement of taking 500 wickets were present.
Arjuna Ranatunga, the former Sri Lankan captain, and Dr Nalaka Mendis from the National Council for Mental Health also spoke.
Cricket memorabilia and paintings done by tsunami-hit children were auctioned, with the proceeds going towards the tsunami fund. The largest bid was for a bat signed by Warne and Muralitharan, which fetched Rs200,000. Two cricket balls signed by the three bowlers who have captured 500 wickets in Tests - Walsh, Warne and Murali - fetched Rs110,000 and Rs300,000 each, while a ball signed by Warne and Murali went for Rs80,000. A Cathay Pacific return air ticket between Colombo and Melbourne, presented by Delair Travels, was sold for Rs60,000. And the paintings fetched between Rs10,000 and Rs15,000 each.