The world-record holder returns to Sri Lanka May 20, 2004

Muralitharan mobbed in triumphant homecoming



Muttiah Muralitharan - triumphant amid the controversy © AFP

Muttiah Muralitharan, the newly-crowned world-record Test bowler, has returned home to a hero's welcome in Sri Lanka. Politicians, cricket administrators, family and close friends welcomed him at the airport before crawling in a four-hour motorcade through rush-hour traffic to the cricket board headquarters in central Colombo.

Thousands of fans, provided extra motivation by the ongoing controversy over his bowling, poured onto the streets to celebrate his return from Zimbabwe where he broke Courtney Walsh's world record and became the highest wicket-taker in Test history.

Muralitharan's arrival was even broadcast live on national television with the cameras following his journey from the time the team's Emirates airline jumbo touched down at Katunayake International Airport. He was garlanded as he led the team into the VIP arrivals hall before being mobbed by the media.

Murali appeared slightly overwhelmed by the outpouring of affection. "I'm very happy to have achieved this record for the country," he said. "It's a huge honour and I am very grateful for all the support I have received. Everyone has done so much for me."

"I would like to thank the public, my parents, all my past captains, especially Arjuna Ranatunga who stood by me during tough times, and my team-mates, without whom it would have not been possible, and, finally, the cricket board, who have backed me all the way."

Behind the scenes, Murali's arrival has prompted the government to get ever more involved in his doosra ban. Despite Eshan Mani's plea for politicians to stay out of the controversy, the prime minister, Mahinda Rajapakse, has successfully lobbied for the Indian government to support Muralitharan.

Murali has remained typically defiant about his outlawed delivery, claiming that he "was stronger than ever" and suggesting that he was the victim of an Anglo-Australian conspiracy: "The ban is because of pressure from Australia and England. There is no problem in Asia."

When the hullabaloo over his return dies down - on Saturday he will be paraded through the streets of Kandy, his hillcountry hometown - he will sit down with close friends and advisors to consider whether to confront the ICC directly with a legal fight.

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