Murali's coach pays tribute to the maestro

The man behind Murali

Muttiah Muralitharan's school coach goes back down the memory lane

Sa'adi Thawfeeq

July 15, 2007

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Sunil Fernando: 'I thought Murali would not stand a chance as a fast bowler. I asked him to bowl off-cutters. He had a long run-up then. That weekend we had an under-15 match against Maliyadeva and he picked up five wickets bowling off cutters for the first time'' © Getty Images
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What makes Muttiah Muralitharan such a great bowler? The answer to that question was found at the Asgiriya International Cricket Stadium where the third and final Test was played between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. '

Though Shane Warne's world record of 708 wickets is one good Test match away, Muralistill believes in spot bowling and going back to his school coach Sunil Fernando for advice.

A day before the start of the third Test, Murali - then 21 wickets short of the record - was sending down over after over on a pitch parallel to that to be used for the match, watched intently by Fernando.

At the end of the training session Fernando was asked whether Muralitharan was perfecting a new delivery. Fernando said Murali had asked him to look out for any faults in his bowling.

"After watching him for some time I noticed that he had become a bit slower due to age and the result of bowling so many overs and suffering injuries during his career. He was not putting that extra bit of effort into his bowling like those days," said Fernando.

"I told him to start with the run up and relax his body and bowl. After that he was bowling well. I also told him to put more weight on to his front foot," Fernando stated.

"After working with him for about 30 minutes he was getting more weight onto his front foot. He is a great bowler now. I don't like to interfere too much with him," he said.

Fernando said the greatness with Murali was that he wanted to learn all the time. "Murali, Ruwan Kalpage and Piyal Wijetunga were all great bowlers at the school where I was the coach. What made Murali different from the other two was that he had a vision to become great. He worked towards achieving that ambition," said Fernando.

All three of them played for St. Anthony's College, Kandy, where Murali was a fast bowler; it was Fernando who turned him into an off-spinner.

A coach cannot change a bowler like Murali. If anyone tried to do that he will be lost - Sunil Fernando

"I thought Murali would not stand a chance as a fast bowler. I asked him to bowl off-cutters. He had a long run-up then. That weekend we had an under-15 match against Maliyadeva and he picked up five wickets bowling off cutters for the first time", Fernando recalled.

"After that day he got to know that he could turn the ball a lot. He gradually worked to become a successful off-spinner. He took over a hundred wickets in one season for two years. Most of the batsmen left his deliveries and got bowled," he said.

Murali's unique bowling action has been the subject of controversy since he started making the headlines in international cricket.

"Even when he was bowling fast he didn't have a problem with his action. If there was any doubt the umpires would have called him. He is a different type of bowler. When a person is doing well only others start talking about his action," said Fernando.

"A coach cannot change a bowler like Murali. If anyone tried to do that he will be lost. What made Murali so special was his off-spin. It was his main weapon. With his experience he added the doosra. But he got most of his wickets with off-spin," Fernando continued.

"As his coach I am very proud of what he's achieved. You'll never get another Murali. He is still like the boy I met at school. He always comes and addresses me 'Sir'. That's very great of him," he said.

"Murali talks to me often. If I see anything wrong with his action I call him and we discuss it. There was a time when he was bending a lot after delivery. I asked him to stand up and bowl. He likes to learn all the time. He has learnt a lot from spot bowling," Fernando concluded.

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