|Player:||M Muralitharan, SK Warne|
DateLine: 1st January 2007
Sri Lanka's Muttiah Muralitharan reportedly wants to return to Australia next year and risk fresh taunts over his bowling action to break Shane Warne's Test record.
Muralitharan trails the retiring Australian leg-spinner by 32 wickets heading into 2007 and senses a perfect opportunity to eclipse Warne in Australia, where his bowling has come under heaviest scrutiny. Muralitharan plays two Tests against Bangladesh in June before arriving to face Ricky Ponting's champion team in two Tests next November.
Australia has provided the most haunting memories of the 34-year-old spin wizard's international career. He has been called for throwing on two tours in Australia, prompting him to boycott Sri Lanka's 2004 tour. Even Australian Prime Minister John Howard joined in by labelling him a "chucker". When Muralitharan returned last year for the ICC Super Series and the Sri Lankans' one-day campaign, he was targeted by fans and received an official reprimand from ICC match referee Jeff Crowe for gesturing to the crowd.
But Muralitharan wants to play in Australia in November with one firm objective - to surpass Warne once and for all. "I'm definitely coming to Australia next year," Muralitharan told the Sunday Telegraph from New Zealand, where he has faced new queries over his action from former New Zealand captain Martin Crowe. "I came out for the VB (one-day) Series last year and I will be there again," he said. "The Australian people are okay. Some are nasty but most are very good to me. I have proven my action out there. I have done many Tests, so I don't care if people want to question me."
Muralitharan, who finished the 2006 calendar year with a personal-best 90 wickets, has a reasonable chance of eclipsing Warne in Australia. Warne is expected to extend the gap between the pair in his final Test appearance against England that starts in Sydney on Tuesday. Should Muralitharan bowl up to his average of nearly nine wickets a Test, he could take 20 wickets or more against Bangladesh and leave him needing 15-20 wickets in Australia to pass Warne.
"It would be nice to break the record in Australia. I think I can do it," he said. "I'm taking it one Test at a time. We play Tests in Brisbane and Hobart so I hope to do it in Australia."
Warne believes Muralitharan will be the first man to take 1,000 Test wickets. "You never know. I definitely want to get past 800 and then I will see," Muralitharan said. "I'd like to play for another two or three years but I might need four or five years to get 1,000."
Muralitharan's manager Kushil Gunasekera said the spinner had been fortified by the abuse and scrutiny in Australia. "He now feels the more he is ridiculed, the better he will perform.He has a point to prove," he told the newspaper.