Murali aims to silence Australian critics
One issue shadows Muttiah Muralitharan every time he visits Australia and no amount of goodwill, outstanding sportsmanship or law changes can stop it. While the rest of the cricket world adores Murali, some Australians have taken his action as a personal insult since Darrell Hair called him for throwing on Boxing Day 1995.
They will be the ones in the crowd shouting no-ball each time he delivers from his mesmerising armoury. Sadly, they will never appreciate him. The taunts and criticism hurt Murali but he does a wonderful job of smiling it away. He is an amazing man and a treasured bowler.
The treatment has led to him playing only two Tests for Sri Lanka in Australia and is one reason why he desperately wants to prove himself during the series beginning in Brisbane on Thursday. Murali boycotted his country's previous Test tour in 2004 after John Howard, Australia's prime minister, copied the view of many of his subjects by questioning the action.
Wild cheering and support for Murali in the tsunami charity match in 2005 softened the bowler's view on the country but unfortunately the lingering distaste remains. At a pre-Test lunch in Brisbane Murali was greeted warmly by a crowd of more than 600, but a call of no-ball still came when he was introduced.
Asked about his experiences in Australia he said: "I had a bad tour in 1995 and I want to forget that because that was the start of everything," he said. "I've gone past that."
In three Tests in Australia Murali has eight wickets at 63.12, which is more than 40 runs above his career mark, and he wants to prove himself to the Down Under sceptics. "I want to play in Australia and show myself," he said. "Hopefully this time, before I retire, I can do something."
The home players are determined to counter Murali and have the added incentive of delaying the nine wickets he needs to move past Shane Warne's Test record of 708. Murali knows the Australians play him best and Matthew Hayden was confident they could diffuse the threat.
"We've faced him in pretty much all the conditions in the world and we've handled him pretty well," Hayden said. "In a situation where he's got a lot of incentive, our job is to keep him out of play and we've definitely got the skills to do that."
Murali has never appeared in a Test at the Gabba and will rely on his experience from five one-day internationals at the ground. Hayden expects the extra bounce to suit Murali. "He'll exploit that nicely."
On stage Murali was in a bright mood, remembering the first time he bowled to Allan Border, who thought he was a legspinner and could not work out why he was playing and missing. Murali also said the Sri Lankan team would not copy the on-field verbal tactics tried by India during the one-day series last month.
"We want to play decent cricket ... not like the Indians," he said before laughing. "We want to play our game, try to challenge Australia and have a good game."
Chaminda Vaas, the opening bowler, agreed with his team-mate. "We're not Indians, we're not going to play like the Indians," he said. "But when it comes to cricket you have to play aggressive cricket and we are here to play good and smart cricket."
Sri Lanka did not use Murali during the tour game against Queensland but he spent a lot of time in the nets and drew a crowd whenever he bowled. His name (even if there isn't universal agreement on how to spell it) deserves to be on the trophy Australia and Sri Lanka will battle for over the next two Tests.
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo