COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s record-breaking spinner Muttiah Muralitharan launched a blistering attack Monday on his former bosses after they complained about his behaviour in his new role as a mentor to Australia.
After his former employers said Muralitharan was damaging his legacy, the 44-year-old accused Sri Lanka’s board of setting him up as a fall guy if the hosts lose a series to the visiting Australians.
And Muralitharan, the highest wicket-taker in Test history, then accused the board president of knowing nothing about cricket and angrily denounced any suggestion of being “a traitor”.
“If Sri Lanka loses, they (the board) will say it is because of Murali,” he said in a recorded statement which was sent to AFP.
“They have no right to accuse me of being a traitor. Have they done one hundredth of what I have contributed to cricket in Sri Lanka?
“This is a political game to cover their shortcomings,” he added. “I am being used as a pawn to cover their failings.”
His outburst was sparked by a complaint by the board that he had bullied groundsmen into letting the Australians practise on the pitch which hosts the opening match in a three-Test series from Tuesday.
Cricket Australia confirmed they received a complaint about the incident at Pallekele Stadium, on the outskirts of Kandy, but said the issue had been resolved “after discussions between the two management teams”.
In lodging the complaint, board president Thilanga Sumathipala accused Muralitharan of insulting Sri Lanka team manager Charith Senanayake.
“Muralitharan’s behaviour is unacceptable and we have brought this to the notice of the Australian team management,” Sumathipala told reporters.
“It should not have happened. We are very disappointed.”
Muralitharan is a hero in Sri Lanka after taking 800 Test wickets before retiring six years ago.
But his decision to impart his local knowledge to the tourists has raised eyebrows, not least because he was once labelled a “chucker” by Australia’s then-prime minister John Howard.
– ‘Long-term damage’ –
Sumathipala pointed out the irony of Muralitharan coaching Australia.
“Professionally it is okay for Murali to coach any foreign team, but the irony is that he is supporting Australia which tried to get him out of cricket,” Sumathipala said.
“He is creating long-term damage for himself among his fans. I feel sad.”
Sri Lankan skipper Angelo Mathews was more conciliatory, acknowledging his former teammate’s expertise.
“The Australians obviously saw value in his knowledge of Sri Lankan conditions,” Mathews told reporters.
During an 18-year Test career, Muralitharan — who was born with a partially deformed elbow — was twice cited by Australian umpires for a suspect action but was cleared both times by the game’s governing body.
He once refused to tour Australia but has been a regular visitor in recent years as a star of the Big Bash Twenty20 league.
In his video statement, Muralitharan said he had not received any approach from the Sri Lankan board to help the island’s next generation of spinners and accused it of favouring foreign coaches over locals.
“They don’t give an opportunity to talented Sri Lankan coaches and prefer to bring white people from abroad,” he said.
“That affects our economy too because we have to pay them dollars that leave the country. That is treachery.”
Sri Lanka has a history of employing foreign coaches and re-hired South Africa’s Graham Ford earlier this year for a second stint.
Although Sri Lanka won the World Twenty20 trophy two years ago, the team has been on the slide in recent years as it struggles to replace key players such as Muralitharan and star batsman Kumar Sangakkara.
Australia are hot favourites to win the series.