Andrew Flintoff on ‘my mate Muthiah Muralitharan’

By Nicola Humphries
“I’d say ‘if you get three wickets, I’ll buy you a crispy duck’ - and he’d say to me ‘if you get 50, I’ll buy you two packs of Guinness!”
That was one of several anecdotes Andrew Flintoff had to offer when talking exclusively to the BBC about his friendship with Muthiah Muralitharan, the Sri Lanka spinner who is preparing to retire from international cricket.
Known to millions as ‘Murali’, he was born in Kandy in 1972 and made his international debut against Australia in Colombo on 28 August 1992.
His professional career began with Tamil Union Cricket but he has also played several seasons in English county cricket for Lancashire (1999, 2001, 2005 and 2007) and Kent (2003).
It was at Lancashire that Muralitharan first met Flintoff.
“You probably wouldn’t put me and Murali together as mates,” said the former England all-rounder, who was forced to retire from the game in September 2010.
“You look at the background, you look at the way we are, everything about us is completely different.
“I’m 6ft 4ins to his 5ft 6ins; he grew up in Kandy, I grew up in Preston. Personalities, public perception... why we’re such good friends, I don’t know.”
But after years of sharing a dressing room, Flintoff speculates that it was a mutual love of cricket and their similar approach to life that bought the pair together.
“He’s a bit of a free spirit,” Flintoff explained. “He just lets himself go, he enjoys the moment and just gets on with it - and probably I do too.”
On 3 December 2007 on his home ground in Kandy, Murali made cricket history as he surpassed Shane Warne’s record for the most career wickets in Test cricket. Having batted against both of them, Flintoff says it is hard to choose between the duo - but Murali just about gets the nod.
“Because of my relationship with Murali, I think he just edges it over Shane Warne,” stated Flintoff. “Murali was full of mystery - I didn’t know which way the ball was spinning and he always kept you guessing - whereas Shane would grind you down, he was all over you all the time.”
But controversy has dogged the Sri Lankan spinner’s career, which Flintoff feels is unjust.
“He’d be the first one to prove that his action is fine. He’d volunteer - ‘if you want to test me you can test me’. People need to get over it. Doubts were driven by external sources,” the Lancastrian said.
Between 1996 and 2004, Bruce Elliott from the School of Human Movement and Exercise Science at the University of Western Australia, Perth, oversaw four rounds of tests on Muralitharan, whose bent-arm bowling action was caused by a deformity from birth.
“He’s absolutely been cleared from a scientific point of view, but whether we’ve been able to convince the general public and selected aspects of the media, that’s still a question that someone else should answer,” Elliott commented.
Elliott said Murali presented himself with a different arm structure to other spin bowlers and Flintoff believes that as a bowler this uniqueness has helped him.
“It’s helped him bowl like we’ve never seen anyone else bowl before him.”
However, it is not just Murali’s unique action that has secured his place in cricket’s record books, with Flintoff pointing to a strong work ethic.
“I don’t think he always gets the credit for all the hard work he’d put in, he would just bowl and bowl,” said the 33-year-old Englishman.
“He became a bit of a groundsman’s nightmare - they’d get the call at some ungodly hour from Murali wanting the nets, wanting the covers off so that he could go and practise.”
And this work ethic inspired a trade-off between Flintoff and Murali.
“While in Manchester, he developed a love of crispy duck so I used to bet him crispy ducks,” added Flintoff. “I’d say ‘if you get three wickets, I’ll buy you a crispy duck’ - and he’d say to me ‘if you get 50, I’ll buy you two pints of Guinness!’”
The current World Cup will mark 38-year-old Murali’s retirement from international cricket after nearly two decades at the top.
Having quit Test cricket in July 2010, taking his 800th Test wicket in his final game, he then announced in January that he would be retiring from the one-day international arena after the current World Cup, which is co-hosted by Sri Lanka.
He has signed contracts to play Twenty20 cricket for Gloucestershire and in the Indian Premier League, but Flintoff knows it will not be easy to leave the international game.
“Knowing him as I do, he won’t want to sit on his heels after his international career - he’ll want to give something back. He already does a lot for charity and I think there will be Murali academies and spin academies,” he added.
“I think in 10 to 15 years, people will be talking not just about Murali the cricketer but about what he’s also done for cricket in general”. – [BBC]


Spin bowling legend Fred Titmus dies at 78

One of the finest of all English spin bowlers, Fred Titmus died at the age of 78 after a long illness on Wednesday.
In a long and remarkable career, the off spinner played in five decades for Middlesex after making his debut in 1949, aged 16.
His final first-class appearance came in 1982, when, three months before his 50th birthday, having turned up at Lord’s as a spectator for Middlesex’s County Championship match against Surrey, he was persuaded to play on a dry pitch and, with three second- innings wickets, helped to bowl out Surrey along with John Emburey and Phil Edmonds.
Emburey, his long-term successor as an off spinner for Middlesex and England, said: “Fred was an inspiration to me. He was one of the greatest spin bowlers there has ever been. People talk more about Jim Laker as an off spinner, but there are plenty of people in the game who would say that Fred was better.
“He had a big heart and he was a fighter on the pitch. He could be charming, funny, miserable and a moaner, but overall he was just a lovely, lovely person.”
Titmus, who was also a courageous batsman, played 53 Tests for England between 1955 and 1975, taking 153 wickets at an average of 32.22. He was a master of flight and drift and his best Test figures of seven for 79 came against Australia in Sydney in 1963. In first-class cricket, only eight bowlers have claimed more than his tally of 2830 wickets, taken in 792 matches at a cost of 22.37 each.
He was also a good enough batsman to open for England on three occasions in Tests and he made six first-class hundreds. He completed the double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets eight times and took 100 wickets in a season on a further 15 occasions.
On tour to the West Indies in 1967-68, he lost four toes when his foot was caught in the propeller of a motor boat, but he still managed to perform at the highest level for years. He became a Test selector after retiring and remained a familiar figure at Lord’s until the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
“I used to seek him out if I wasn’t bowling well,” Emburey said. “He wouldn’t say much, but what he said was worth listening to and I always went away feeling more confident about my bowling.”
Titmus is the third England cricketer to die in the past six weeks, after Trevor Bailey last month and Peter Loader nine days ago.
A statement from Middlesex read: “Fred will be deeply missed by all those who played with him and by all those who were fortunate enough to have seen him performing for Middlesex and England.”
Titmus twice served on the MCC committee, firstly from 1968-69, when he was still a player, and then from 1981-2000. He was also awarded an honorary life membership of the club in 1981. – [The Times]


Olonga so proud of protest which cost him all

BIRMINGHAM: It is eight years and two World Cups back since Zimbabwe’s Henry Olonga made his famous black armband protest against Robert Mugabe’s political regime. He remains proud to have made a stand even though it cost him his career and home.
“There are no regrets,” Olonga said in a telephone interview.
“It was something that changed my life and taught me a lot about myself and my country. I am incredibly lucky to have done it with a man of the calibre of Andy Flower, who is a fantastic human being.”
Olonga, 34, is aware his actions along with then team-mate and current England team director Flower, when they wore black armbands to mourn “the death of democracy” in their homeland at a World Cup match in South Africa, will dominate his legacy much more than any wickets he claimed as a fast bowler.
He is now settled in London with wife Tara and his two-month-old daughter.
Nowadays, Olonga is a singer, public speaker, photographer, art worker, author and occasional cricketer. Busy but not quite the high-profile life he once knew as an international sportsman and later, political activist.
Olonga, Zimbabwe’s first black cricketer, is unsure of his status now back home but accepts speculation of treason charges and a possible death sentence may be true.
He is unsure whether he will ever return but feels content nonetheless.
“When you go out on a limb and put your head above the parapet and there are consequences. I don’t think that is a time for regret,” he added. “It is a time for reflection, to weigh up what you have lost but what you have gained also.
“I look back on that day with a sense of fulfillment. I did something more important than just looking after myself. I represented people who didn’t have a voice. So when I look in the mirror I know I stood up for something I truly believed in.”
Olonga rarely sees Flower, despite both living in England, but acknowledged the special bond they will always share.
“We are not bosom buddies but I like to think we have a huge amount of respect for each other because of what we did together,” he said.
The current Zimbabwe team has struggled at the World Cup, losing three of four matches so far and only managing a win against the second-tier Canadians. Their next group game is against Pakistan on Monday.
The team is a shadow of the competitive unit it was when qualifying from the group stage at the 1999 and 2003 editions, when Olonga played.
With no television coverage of the World Cup in the Olonga household, he has seen little of the action but has followed news and results from Asia. He is aware of the team’s plight and admitted to being “a quiet fan from a distance”.
Cricket board politics played a significant part in its decline.
The most difficult period was in 2004 when 14 predominantly white players such as former captain Heath Streak left the cricket system citing mismanagement and racism, Olonga said.
“That put Zimbabwe cricket on a path of self-discovery because we withdrew from test cricket as we weren’t good enough and were left with a young, predominantly black side that couldn’t compete at the highest level. They had to start rebuilding.
“Zimbabwe was left languishing at the bottom of the test-playing nations, struggling to make its mark after this crisis.
“They have rebuilt quite nicely and the same goes for the country, but I would guess that period set our cricket back by five or six years, due to the shenanigans of the board for getting rid of experienced players.”
For Olonga, international cricket is long gone. After his premature retirement at 26, he does not reflect with any bitterness at missed opportunities in failing to add to his 68 wickets from 30 tests and his 58 victims from 50 one-day internationals.
He is happy with his lot, and wrote about his journey in an autobiography “Blood, Sweat and Treason” last year.
“If I had stayed on for another five or six years I might have taken another 100 or so wickets, which would have been nice, but in the big scheme of things, I think getting the message out was worth the sacrifice,” he said.
“I wasn’t a great cricketer, I could be erratic, though on my day I was capable of upsetting the applecart. But preserving my career was not like Shane Warne saving his. I was never going to set any records.
“The arts is the path I have chosen for the rest of my life. I just hope the gods will smile on me and I can be successful.” – [Agencies]


‘Fire in Babylon’ - documentary on West Indies cricket

NEW YORK: A documentary exploring the rise of the West Indies cricket team against the backdrop of their national liberation movements of the 1970s and 1980s will be premiered in the fifth annual Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival that opens on April 20.
‘Fire in Babylon’, a documentary from the producers of the Oscar-winning films ‘The Last King of Scotland’ and ‘One Day in September’, blends a distinctive sports narrative with music by legendary reggae artists including Bob Marley, Gregory Isaacs, and Burning Spear.
Fire in Babylon is one of the six documentaries to be screened by the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival, which has become the premier showcase for independent films about sports and competition.
The six documentary feature films run the gamut of sports, telling the stories of a foul ball that may have altered MLB history, a team that changed the face of cricket, an Indian boy who was born to run, a tennis pro whose transformation startled the world and one fighter’s humble quest for his 12th UFC middleweight championship.
Fire in Babylon is a tribute to one of the best international cricket teams in recent memory but the sport is just the starting point - and that’s why the film makes such rich and rewarding viewing, according to critics.
Stevan Riley’s Fire in Babylon, premiered in the London Film Festival, tells the story of the all-conquering West Indies cricket team, comprising Clive Lloyd and Vivan Richards and also several of the most lethal fast bowlers of the modern cricket era.
In his documentary, Riley tells us about West Indian national pride and English colonial bad faith.
The West Indies team was once termed as “calypso cricketers” and though they had excellent cricketers of great talent, the team did not win consistently.
In 1975-76, the team was humbled 5-1 in a Test series against Australia that had fast bowlers Jeff Thompson and Dennis Lillee. The West Indies players were part of a generation determined to prove themselves against their former colonial masters. – [PTI]