Murali pulls out of Australian tour
Muttiah Muralitharan has pulled out of Sri Lanka's two-Test tour of Australia, which takes place at Darwin and Cairns next month, citing "personal reasons".
Confirming the news, a spokesman for Sri Lanka Cricket told AFP: "He won't be going to Australia for personal reasons, and he handed over a formal letter about this to Sri Lanka Cricket president, Mohan de Silva."
"Muttiah Muralitharan is a national asset," added SLC in a press release, after agreeing unanimously to his request for a short break from the game. "However, due to the disturbing turn of events which took place since being reported by [ICC Match Referee] Chris Broad, and the various adverse comments in the recent past, he is undergoing tremendous pressure."
On Monday, Kushil Gunasekara, Murali's manager, had confirmed that the decision had already been made. "Murali met with SLC officials on Friday and poured out his thoughts about touring Australia," said Gunasekara. "He gave them an indication of what he had in mind."
The Sri Lankan board has called for an emergency meeting on Tuesday afternoon to discuss Murali's pullout, but his decision had been widely expected after John Howard, Australia's prime minister, branded him a "chucker", and the board is almost certain to support his decision.
According to Ajit Jayasekera, the team manager, Murali's team-mates have also backed his decision: "We are totally supportive of his decision because we have seen the trauma he has been put through in recent weeks. We understand why he has made this decision."
Cricket Australia reacted immediately to the announcement, with James Sutherland, the chief executive, expressing his disappointment. "We're disappointed that Murali has decided not to tour Australia with the Sri Lankan team for what is an important series between the two countries."
"It's disappointing for the people of Darwin and Cairns who were looking forward to seeing him bowl, and it's disappointing for the Australian players who relish the opportunity of playing against the best in the world," Sutherland added. "His record shows that he is one the greatest players of all time and we hope to have him back in Australia at some stage in the future."
On his two previous tours Down Under, Murali was called for throwing by Australian umpires and heckled by spectators, events which made him remark that he would never tour Australia again.
The break from cricket will allow Muralitharan to take a well-earned rest, before commencing a non-stop season of international cricket which starts with the Asia Cup at home in July, followed by South Africa's visit, the ICC Champions Trophy in England, and tours to Bangladesh and New Zealand before the end of the year.
Sri Lanka already have two other spinners in their 15-man squad and no replacement is expected.