Without bowling, life is ‘boring’ for Muttiah Muralitharan. So at the slightest of excuses, cricket’s greatest spinner is found doing what he does best: befuddling batsmen. His recent outing came at a Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) training session, because there were “not as many net bowlers.”
It is these small motivations that keep the highest wicket-taker in Tests and ODIs going. Muralitharan, SRH’s bowling consultant, thinks that everybody should find their own motivation to improve, especially in the closed environment in which IPL will be played this year.
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“Without spectators, the motivation level, we will have to see. Generally, SRH wins a lot of matches at home with all the crowd support but this time there will be no home-away thing…We will have to adapt,” Muralitharan said, via a video call from Dubai.
“Maybe it will be easier for players to concentrate as they will be in an environment where they can only think about the game.”
SRH have seamers like Bhuvneshwar Kumar and the spin department looks strong too. “We have Rashid (Khan), who is a world-class spinner, and (Mohammad) Nabi who is an experienced spinner. We have new additions in all-rounder spinners like Sanjay Yadav, Abhishek Sharma. We also have Shahbaz Nadeem. The spin department looks better than the 2019 edition,’’ he said.
Leg-spin v off-spin
The 48-year-old legend did not support the notion that leg-spinners might be better suited for T20s.
“In India, there is a belief that leg-spinners are better than off-spinners. Especially, in the Indian media. Maybe, that’s because you have two world-class leg-spinners in Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. The others teams of the world do not have that luxury. If you see the history, off-spinners have more control than leg-spinners. If he is a talented bowler, he will do well,” he said.
“One needs to understand the role of spinners in any format or team. They provide variety and deception. Why do you think, the fast bowlers often reduce their speed? It is for variation. The spinners provide that be it Tests or the T20s.”
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The rise of Chahal and Yadav has seen off-spinners becoming a rarity in India’s limited overs line-up. The exclusion of Ravichandran Ashwin is direct consequence of the duo’s rise.
Ashwin has moved from Kings XI Punjab to Delhi Capitals (DC) this term. Already, Ashwin and DC coach Ricky Ponting have disagreed on the controversial subject of ‘Mankading’ — the bowler running out a batsman if he is leaves the crease before completing his delivery. Ashwin did that to Rajasthan Royals’ Jos Buttler in 2019 causing a huge uproar.
“If the bowler should not have the unfair advantage of running out the batsman, the latter too should not have the unfair advantage of proceeding too ahead in the pitch in order to take a run. I believe warnings should be given. Rather than giving the batsman out, five penalty runs should be added to the erring team if an umpire feels that the non-striker or the bowler is taking unfair advantage,” said Muralitharan.
With the IPL being played in three venues in UAE, teams have had to change plans because squads were built keeping Indian conditions in mind. Muralitharan though believed there would be something for everybody.
“I have played 40 to 50 matches at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium and in my experience, it has been a flat wicket. Unless something very different happens this time, it will remain so. The Dubai wicket is a slow one while the Abu Dhabi pitch, where I have never played, is quick. So, I guess there will be a mix. All the teams will be almost equal number of matches in the venues, so there will be no particular advantage to anybody,” he said.
SRH have three wicketkeepers on their roster including Jonny Bairstow and Wriddhiman Saha. With David Warner, Bairstow formed the most attacking opening pair in IPL 2019.
“When Bairstow comes (who is playing in England against Australia currently) we will have to see who will keep the wickets. He is also an opener. Saha is very experienced while Sreevats Goswami is also there. It’s a nice headache to have. But I guess there are 14 matches in the league stage, everybody will get chance,” said Muralitharan.
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“We were powerful at the top but the middle order was collapsing. That is the reason we got young batsmen in Priyam Garg, Virat Singh, Abhishek Sharma, Abdul Samad, Sanjay Yadav and B Sandeep.’’
SRH have got England’s 2019 World Cup-winning coach Trevor Bayliss this time replacing Tom Moody. “Tom won the IPL once and we were runners-up once. The franchise wanted a change after seven years. Bayliss won the World Cup for England and so many other trophies (including the IPL in 2012 and 2014 with KKR). I have also played under him during my time with the Sri Lankan team. The boys will understand the difference in working under such a senior coach,” he said.