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Murali haunted and taunted: Hayden

MATTHEW HAYDEN believes Australia has overcome the spectre of Muttiah Muralidaran but it is unlikely Murali will ever rid himself of the ghosts that have haunted him around this country for more than a decade.

Even as a special guest speaker at an official lunch yesterday to launch the first Test, beginning in Brisbane on Thursday, Sri Lanka’s star spinner was subjected to a call of “no-ball” from some gormless wit among the crowd of 600.

Murali did not react because he knows that with a crowd of 25,000 expected on the opening day at the Gabba and at least 60,000 for the Test overall, he’s going to cop plenty more of the same.

It could become decidedly uncomfortable if he makes sharp inroads into the nine wickets necessary to break Shane Warne’s world record of 708.

“I’ve got past that,” Murali told compere Ian Healy about his early days touring Australia when umpire Darrell Hair called him seven times for throwing on Boxing Day in 1995.

“That was a bad tour. I want to forget that. That was the day it started,” Murali told Healy, who was playing on that infamous day.

“I want to prove myself in Australia. I hope I can do that before I retire.”

Like Murali, cricket officials are bracing for a bad reception, with Queensland Cricket chief executive Graham Dixon claiming there was a more comprehensive security plan in place at the Gabba than ever before.

Murali has been tested four times and found to comply with the International Cricket Council’s most recent throwing rule, which allows bowlers to flex their arm 15 degrees on delivery, the angle at which bending becomes discernable to the naked eye.

There is the hope that racial taunts, which followed Andrew Symonds around India in the form of monkey chants, will not be directed at Sri Lanka by Australian crowds, and Murali claimed recently he had never been racially abused in Australia.

Always smiling and often jovial, Murali made it clear that the over-the-top behaviour India showed towards Australia in last month’s one-day series, which appeared to inflame the crowd, would not be repeated by Sri Lanka here this summer.

“We want to play good cricket and not behave like the Indians,” Murali told yesterday’s lunch.

“We like to play our cricket hard but within the spirit of the game and put up a good fight.”

These were sentiments later backed up by veteran left-arm seamer Chaminda Vaas.

“We are not Indians,” Vaas said. “We are not going to play like the Indians did. But when it comes to cricket, you have to play aggressive cricket, five-day cricket.

“We are here to play good cricket and play smart cricket, and we were awarded the best spirit of the game in the world.”

Having not played Test cricket since so emphatically reclaiming the Ashes 5-0 just days into this year, Australia’s Murali focus is understandably on the field, as highlighted by Hayden yesterday.

“None of the Australian players has got too many ghosts against Murali,” he said.

“We’ve played him in his conditions, our conditions, we’ve seen him pretty much across all parts of the world and I think we’ve handled him very well. But again, he’s a world-class bowler obviously. In a situation where he’s got a lot of incentive coming into the summer, our job is to keep him out of play and I think we’ve definitely got the skills to do that.”

But it is not just Murali who is likely to trouble the Australians at the Gabba, which can have the country’s most pace-friendly pitch.

Sri Lanka has the best pace attack in its brief history of Test cricket in Australia and could do some damage in Brisbane.

“The left arm of Vaas. The unusual, unorthodox action of (Lasith) Malinga, that tall element to the side as well (Dilhara Fernando) – a real hit the wicket sort of bowler. They’re the foundation for a very good fast bowling attack,” Hayden said.

So maybe Murali will become an anonymous bit-part player to his fast bowlers.

The crowd is likely to suggest something entirely different.

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