July 17, 2010

A captain's dream, a coach's nightmare

Murali's ability to take on the largest workloads and produce results, and his desire to constantly improve himself were fundamental to the sort of bowler he was

When I first came into the national side, Muttiah Muralitharan was the player I was closest to, because he was the youngest of the lot, along with Chaminda Vaas.

My first memory of Murali is of this man who made it comfortable for new players. Even today, when new players come into the team he is the first one to take them out for meals when on tour, and makes sure that they settle quickly. Murali has many qualities, but this is what I admire the most. He has been consistent with it throughout his career.

Murali will speak to anybody, even in the opposition. Ask any cricketer around the world, and they will say Murali is a very friendly cricketer. When you are playing a big game against some team, you just say hello to the opposition players, but not Murali. He makes sure he has a decent chat with them.

Only when it comes to bowling does he get serious. Before he goes onto the field to bowl, he is a bit quiet. That's about the only time he's not talking. When he is batting, when he is relaxed, he can't stop talking. A lot of guys try and stay away from him when travelling because if you get Murali sitting next to you, you won't be able to sleep. He is one of the guys you have to have in the dressing room to keep the buzz going, to keep it lively. He sometimes talks nonsense, but he is one of the players you need to have. We will definitely miss the lively character who always had everyone smiling, laughing.

It has not always been easy for him to keep smiling. I remember he had been called in Australia for the second time, hours before I played my first major innings in international cricket. He was really disappointed, but he came back well - he was the one who scored the winning runs. After the game he was happy, but I know for a fact that underneath he was disappointed that he had been called again. But that's Murali: he will be down for a little while but not for long. He has tremendous will power to overcome that kind of situation.

Murali put out of his mind things he couldn't control and just went about doing his job. He never said he wouldn't get another test done on his action. Everywhere the ICC wanted him to go and test himself, he went and tested himself. He proved that he had a slight disability, and subsequently a unique action. It has nothing to do with him cheating. He was born like that and he became a bowler like that.

Murali didn't have anything to hide, he knew he wasn't doing anything wrong. That's why he wasn't angry with anybody, that's why he hasn't been bitter, that's why he has always enjoyed his cricket.

A lot of guys try and stay away from him when travelling because if you get Murali sitting next to you, you won't be able to sleep

It is the desire to win that has kept him going through the toughest of times. He loves to win matches, he loves to perform well. He doesn't want to take five or 10 wickets and lose a match. He wants to win that match and every match. He is a winner.

For a captain, Murali has been an absolute dream. We are fortunate to have had him with us for so many years. He has been our main bowler; he has taken that pressure on himself and won matches for us single-handedly. He has never complained; he would bowl his heart out for an astonishing number of overs - 35-40 or more - in a Test match innings, and just keep going. And it wasn't just about the workload he shouldered. You knew you just had to throw the ball to Murali and he was going to create something for you: he had that ability to always pick up the wickets.

For a coach, he was an absolute nightmare. He is one of the hardest workers I have seen, not only in the nets but in terms of extra bowling sessions. He calls coaches up at odd hours and wants them to come out and help with bowling. When he is with the coaches, he bowls a lot, but when he is not with them, he can be a real handful.

He worked hard on his doosra with Bruce Yardley when Bruce was our coach. Murali found out that because he had to use the wrist rather than the finger, he didn't have as much control as he would have liked. He couldn't use it in a match for at least six months. Over a period of time he even managed to get it to go the other way as well, which is phenomenal.

Murali will be remembered as a cricketer who came from off the beaten track, did something really special with a lot of humility and hard work, went through a lot of turbulent situations and emerged stronger. He just didn't get rattled, didn't do anything crazy, and he had the discipline to get through. He will be an inspiration for future players who are out of the ordinary - born with a similar deformity or whatever you call it.

Former Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene is the country's leading Test run-scorer