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Murali: The Friends Life t20 Is Wide Open

What Muttiah Muralitharan doesn’t know about cricket you can probably fit on a postage stamp (and he’d probably be able to drop a perfectly flighted off break on it as well – 800 Test wickets and all that), so as we were able to grab a hold of the great man ahead of the Friends Life t20 thanks to the kind folks at Rubicon, we thought we’d get the skinny on the tournament itself and which teams the great off spinner is backing to do well.

We also asked Sri Lanka’s finest cricketer to look ahead to the upcoming ICC World Twenty20 taking place in his own country this autumn, a tournament which will see England attempt to defend the trophy they won in the Caribbean back in 2009. Here’s what he had to say…

This year will be your second season as Gloucestershire’s overseas pro for the FL t20 – what made you decide to come back?
Firstly, I just really enjoy playing cricket, I don’t think that will ever go away, so I’m very happy to still be able to play and entertain people. The second thing is they asked me back! No, really the second thing is that I enjoyed my time with the club last season. They’ve got a lot of good young players who they’re trying to develop – some good bowlers and batters coming through.

Is that part of your role then – mentoring the club’s youngsters?
Possibly, you’d have to ask them! I reckon my main job is to take wickets!

Fair enough, it’s a pretty hectic schedule in any case, not much time to sit down with the squad and talk techniques…
It is pretty hectic, you play a lot of games in a short space of time, but I’m used to it, the other players are used to it and there is still time to talk, still time to work on your game. But I know my job is to do well on the pitch and take wickets,

You’ve played Twenty20 all across the world. How did the standard of last year’s competition measure up?
It’s pretty good, I would say. There maybe aren’t as many star players as you get in the IPL, and I think maybe that’s the way the game in this country should go in the future with franchises and so on, but there aren’t any weak teams out there – all the sides field well and have guys who can hit the ball. That’s the beauty of Twenty20 cricket – anyone can beat anyone on their day as all it takes is for one player to have a brilliant game to win a match.

Were there any teams that impressed you in particular though? Anyone you’re tipping to do well this year?
Somerset and Hampshire impressed me last year – they’re both good sides with lots of bowling options and powerful hitters. But as I’ve said one player can pretty much win a Twenty20 match on his own, especially with the bat, so I think it’ll come down to which teams’ batters hit form at the right time. Form is absolutely crucial, Twenty20 doesn’t really give you a chance to work yourself back into nick, so being in good form at the start of the tournament gives teams a big advantage – you get on a roll and get your confidence up and then become very difficult to beat.

So anyone can win it?
Definitely, I think it’s wide open. Lots of good teams, lots of good players.

Murali salutes the crowd following the 2011 World Cup semi-final

Looking ahead to the ICC World Twenty20 out in Sri Lanka – everyone is anticipating a great tournament. Why is watching cricket in Sri Lanka different to anywhere else?
I think it’s because we have a unique relationship with the game. We produce unorthodox players, our climate and pitches are different to anywhere else in the world and our fans are really passionate about the game – it’s our number one sport by a distance.

So you’re expecting packed stands then?
I’m expecting full houses, definitely. The World Cup was a sell-out and Twenty20 tends to bring even bigger crowds. There should be an incredible atmosphere; if there is one thing Sri Lankan fans are good at it is creating noise, and as the ICC have tried to keep ticket prices down there should be plenty of them in the grounds.

How do you think the pitches will affect the teams – who will it favour?
I’m expecting slow wickets that offer a bit of turn, and I think there will be some pretty big boundaries in comparison to what we’ve seen in the past, so spinners should have a good chance. That should mean Sri Lanka will be tough to beat, and I think the other subcontinent teams will do well as they have spinners and batsmen who know how to score off them.

Who are your wildcards?
If West Indies get their team right they have one of the best teams, a really powerful Twenty20 side – lots of allrounders, good spinners, good fielders and Chris Gayle if he plays. Gayle is just in a different class when it comes to Twenty20, nobody is close to him at the moment. You have to get him out, there is no point trying to contain him. You have no chance!

It’s fair to say he’d make your Twenty20 World XI then?
For sure. If I wanted to pick a side to win this tournament I’d have him, Virender Sehwag, Lasith Malinga, probably Sunil Narine – he bowled well in the IPL and it will be interesting to see how he develops when he plays Test cricket. The wickets will be slow so I’d pack the side with spinners and tell them to take pace off the ball. That should do it…

Murali is an ambassador for Rubicon Exotic Drinks. See more at www.RubiconExotic.com/LoveCricket.

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