Murali named in party for Australian tour
Muttiah Muralitharan has been named in Sri Lanka's 16-man squad for the short "Top End Tour" of Australia tour which starts later this month. But Murali, who became the leading wicket-taker in Test history in Zimbabwe recently, still hasn't decided whether he will go, after persistent criticism of his bowling action in Australia, notably from their prime minister John Howard.
Ashantha de Mel, Sri Lanka's new chairman of selectors, said his panel hadn't heard that Murali was unavailable, but wouldn't replace him if he dropped out. "We have gone on the basis that he is available for the tour," said de Mel, who took over from Lalith Kaluperuma last month. "If he decides not to go we won't be adding any replacements but will stick to the same squad. There are enough of spinners in the squad to compensate for his absence."
The spin department is indeed well stocked: apart from Murali the squad includes the legspinner Upul Chandana and slow left-armer Rangana Herath, both of whom toured Zimbabwe without playing in either of the Tests.
There was a recall for the veteran wicketkeeper Romesh Kaluwitharana, 34, who launched his Test career with a blitzkrieg century against the Australians in 1992-93. Also back is the left-hand batsman Russel Arnold, while the uncapped fast bowler Lasith Malinga has been called up for the first time.
de Mel, a former Test fast bowler, said that Kaluwitharana and Arnold were picked to give the team experience against the world champions. "We thought of going with experience for the two Tests rather than try to experiment with youngsters," he said. "Our thinking would have been different had there not been a Sri Lanka A tour to England taking place concurrently. We thought of giving players like Prasanna Jayawardene, Thilina Kandamby and others an opportunity to prove themselves on this tour."
And de Mel added that Jayawardene, who kept wicket in Tests against Zimbabwe, was "not up to the mark", but that the A tour will give him an opportunity to iron out his technique. He said that Kaluwitharana was picked to give the team management the option of either playing Kumar Sangakkara as a wicketkeeper/batsman, or as a batsman only.
Kaluwitharana is returning to the Test side after 12 months, while Arnold's last Test was against South Africa at Centurion in November 2002.
The only newcomer to the team is Malinga, a 20-year-old fast bowler from Galle. "We have heard a lot about him and he is easily the fastest bowler in Sri Lanka," said de Mel. Malinga, who produces deceptive pace from a roundarm action, toured India and New Zealand with the Sri Lankan A team recently.
The short three-week tour includes back-to-back Tests at Darwin and Cairns in the north of Australia (it's winter there).
Sri Lanka squad for Australian tour
Marvan Atapattu (capt), Sanath Jayasuriya, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Mahela Jayawardene (vice-capt), Tillakaratne Dilshan, Thilan Samaraweera, Russel Arnold, Romesh Kaluwitharana (wk), Upul Chandana, Chaminda Vaas, Nuwan Zoysa, Dilhara Fernando, Farveez Maharoof, Lasith Malinga, Rangana Herath, Muttiah Muralitharan.