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September 12, 2002
1145 IST

Pool A:
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Pool B:
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Pool C:
Ken | SA | WI

Pool D:
Ned | Pak | SL

The Rediff Cricket Interview/ Muthiah Muralitharan

'I will be happy with 600 wickets'

Muthiah Muralitharan is hailed as the finest player to have ever played for Sri Lanka. With an average of 5.5 wickets per Test, the 30-year-old off-spinner is also the youngest bowler to take 400 Test wickets.

Australian leg-spinner Shane Warne reckons Murali will pick 1,000 international wickets -- a prediction the offie -- the only Tamil in the Sinhala-dominated Sri Lanka team -- laughs off.

Six hundred Test wickets, he says, is the figure he looks at more realistically.

Murali's career has been marred by allegations of a suspect bowling action. The unsavoury episode has only made him more determined to perform better and prove his detractors wrong.

Assistant Editor Faisal Shariff spoke to Murali in Colombo this week.

How is the shoulder injury coming along on the eve of the ICC Champions Trophy?

I am 90 per cent fit at the moment. But I hope to improve with every game. This Champions Trophy is equally important for us though we will treat it like any other game as we would like to win our first major tournament at home.

Sri Lanka has been going through a low phase. You had a disappointing tour of England. What is the reason for this decline?

Every team goes through disappointments. We have come a long way since 1996. After the last World Cup in 1999 we have been doing well. We had a forgettable tour of South Africa but then we won nine Tests in a row after that. It is very sad we did not win in England. Every team tries hard these days to win as the difference is minimal. Ups and downs are part and parcel of the game.

What are the adjustments you make when bowling in one-dayers and Tests?

There are no adjustments as such. The adjustments are all mental. In Tests you try to take wickets while in one-dayers you try and stop the runs.

After the 16-wicket haul in England some seasons ago you have struggled to trouble their batsmen. Is it because of their tendency to pad up or half-push forward at your deliveries?

These things are merely statistics and calculations. They don't matter to me. You cannot expect a bowler to take 10 wickets or 15 wickets in every match. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. You cannot expect Sachin Tendulkar to score a hundred in every match. You also need a lot of luck to go with it. With the use of technology the opposition closely scrutinizes your bowling and devises counter strategies.

I took 200 Test wickets in 20 odd Tests, but the next 200 wickets came in about 50 Tests. Some tours you get wickets while some tours you struggle.

Brian Lara read you very well in the home series last year. Do you struggle against left-handers?

Lara is a great batsman and he has to play well sometimes. He cannot get out to the first ball I bowl to him. I will reach 1,000 wickets easily then. This time he batted well against me, so fine. Next time I might have some tricks for him.

Who is the better batsman? Tendulkar or Lara?

I have not bowled much to Tendulkar in a long time. After 1997 I have not bowled to him so it is difficult to say anything. Last year he did not come to Lanka and I did not get a chance to bowl to him. But you cannot draw comparisons. On their day, either of them is the best I have ever bowled to.

Shane Warne said the rate you are bowling at, you might finish with 1,000 international wickets. What do you reckon?

I don't think I will get 1,000 wickets. That is not realistic. I will be happy with 600 wickets.

Do you think Sri Lanka relies too much on you to deliver?

Maybe sometimes, but not always. We have some good fast bowlers coming up. The only problem is we do not have a spinner to back me up.

What was it like playing in Jaffna recently?

It was a very pleasant experience. It is a neglected part of the world ravaged by a 20-year war between the government and the rebels. There is a lot of poverty there. But despite that they love their cricket. They want to see cricketers. They have never seen cricketers in their lives. For the first time I went with my company for a match and was surprised to see huge crowds. I have never received a reception like that even in Colombo.

I think we should regularly visit those parts and bring some joy into their lives. If I am able to provide some entertainment to them I will be a happy man.

Indian spinning legend Bishen Bedi recently called you a javelin thrower.

I do not want to comment on that. It is their problem. They can say what they want to. I will show them what I can do on the field. I have always kept this to myself. It does not affect me anymore. I only read when I get bored and have never read a single thing about these allegations. Their comments are their opinions. I have nothing to say.

Then Sri Lanka captain Arjuna Ranatunga stood up for you when you were accused of a suspect action.

He is the man who came forward and fought for me. I will forever be thankful to him for that and also for what he has done for Sri Lankan cricket. He has helped a lot of cricketers of our era.

What do you think of Harbhajan Singh?

He is a very good bowler, but he is still young. If he goes at the rate he is bowling at he will finish with 300, 400 wickets as well.

Who are the toughest batsmen you have bowled to?

When I bowl, every batsman is hard to dismiss. Whether I bowl to Tendulkar or to (Anil) Kumble it does not matter to me. For me, the wicket is a priceless thing. There are times when you bowl well and not get a wicket and there are other times when you get wickets with bad balls.

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