MELBOURNE - Australia has hired leading test wicket-taker Muttiah Muralitharan as a spin bowling consultant as the team prepares for October's test series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates.
The world's top-ranked test side boasts one of the world's strongest pace attacks but has struggled to unearth a world class spinner since the 2007 retirement of Shane Warne. Offspinner Nathan Lyon, who has 112 test wickets at an average of 32.99, is currently Australia's leading slow bowler, but will be given some special tips by Murali, who took 800 test wickets over an 18-year career.
"Nathan Lyon has been bowling brilliantly but hopefully I can help him a little bit on how to bowl in these subcontinent conditions, on how to use the conditions and how to set up the field," the 42-year-old Murali said on Cricket Australia's website (cricket.com.au). "I have bowled to most of the Pakistani batsmen in the past so hopefully I can help a bit."
Australia's batsmen have also floundered against quality spin bowling on turning wickets, and their struggles in India last year saw the team crash to a 4-0 test series loss. Murali will aim to help Michael Clarke's side prepare to face wily Pakistan spinner Saeed Ajmal, who has proved a handful on Middle Eastern pitches and is a master of the "doosra", the ball that turns the opposite direction of the off-break, the offspinner's stock ball.
"Ajmal is a difficult customer for all the best batsmen in the world, but he bowls a little bit similar to me so perhaps if I can bowl to the Australian batsmen it might help a little bit and give them some tips," Murali said. Murali has had a colourful association with Australia, and threatened in 2004 never to return to the country due to persistent abuse from local fans over the legality of his bowling action.
He was controversially no-balled in Australia in the 1995 Boxing Day test against the hosts and again by umpire Ross Emerson during a one-day series the following year. Although his action was subsequently cleared by the ICC, Emerson later no-balled Murali in a one-day match in Adelaide against England in 1999, enraging Sri Lanka captain Arjuna Ranatunga who led his team off the pitch for 15 minutes.
Murali buried the hatchet with Australia and has played in the past two tournaments of the country's domestic 'Big Bash' Twenty20 competition. The first test against Pakistan starts in Dubai on Oct. 20, with the second in Abu Dhabi on Oct. 28.