After pointing fingers at Mahela Jayawardene a few months ago for being a batting consultant to the England team, another Sri Lankan legend finds himself spewing barbs with officials from the country's cricket board. Muttiah Muralitharan, who is the spin-bowling consultant to the Australian team which is currently touring the Emerald Isle, has been accused by Sri Lanka Cricket of doctoring the P Sara Oval Pitch in a practice match. Australian spinner Steve O'Keefe ran riot in the match, claiming 10 wickets.
SLC President Thilanga Sumathipala told ESPNcricinfo that the board was "deeply disappointed" by Muralitharan's actions and had lodged a complaint with Cricket Australia. He also said that there is no problem with the Sri Lankan working with the Australian team from a professional standpoint, but "the issue here is an ethical one. We've named the trophy the Murali-Warne Trophy."
Muralitharan denied the accusation of influencing the nature of the pitch and countered the SLC's stand that he was being unethical by coaching the Australians. He said that if the SLC had asked him to be a consultant for the Sri Lankan team before the Australians approached him, he would have agreed. "They didn't want me, and someone else wanted me. How could I be a traitor to this country? Australia asked me to coach for the entire series, but I told them I can only do 10 days because I don't want to be in the opposition dressing room during the match in Sri Lanka, that's not ethical," he said.
What's the fuss about?
What's wrong with recruiting a coach from another country, anyway? Twenty years ago, it was a rag-tag, fearless group of Lankan individuals coached by Sri Lankan-born Australian Dav Watmore who went on to humble the Aussies en route to their maiden World Cup win.
While most countries were still sticking to homegrown coaches, Sri Lanka were seen as forward-thinking, playing swashbuckling cricket. It was another Australian, Tom Moody, who took them to another 50-over final, in 2007. If leaking out trade secrets were such a concern, where was the SLC's sense of nationalism then?
While Sri Lanka continue their transition phase, Bangladesh continue to scale new peaks under, yes, former Lankan cricketer Chandrika Haturasinghe, who was the mastermind working behind the scenes of the Tigers' stupendous run, especially in the shorter formats.
Even during the heady days of Muralitharan, Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, there were several clashes with the board. Sangakkara, in particular, was outspoken and there were issues aplenty, be it over paychecks being handed out on time, or the way the administration was run.
Rebuilding Sri Lanka
You can see why the Lankan board is troubled, though. After the legends walked into the sunset, Sri Lanka went into a bit of a free fall. Now, the younger players are on a tough baptism to the international stage.
After the retirement of the Sanga-Jaya axis, the Lankans have lost 31 and won only 16 games of the 52 international matches they've played across all formats. And a couple of those wins were against the United Arab Emirates and Afghanistan. There's a lot of pressure on Dinesh Chandimal and captain Angelo Mathews to lift the team.
Sangakkara immediately came to Murali's rescue, taking to Twitter to call his former teammate a "great son of Sri Lanka". It was much like former captain Arjuna Ranatunga's defence of the off-spinner in the 1990s, threatening to walk off the field when Australian officials had hounded a young Murali for having a suspect bowling action. The highest Test wicket-taker did have the last laugh, as he was exonerated of any wrongdoing.
Murali had a logical take on this issue. He said, "I know in '95 and '96 I had problems against Australia, and the whole of Sri Lanka backed me. I thought that when Australia asked me to coach, that's them saying that I don't do anything wrong – that I am correct and they were wrong at the time. That's them proving it by asking me to train their spinners."
Australia are reaping the rewards too. O'Keefe and Nathan Lyon's performances have been superlative, both in the practice game and the first Test against Sri Lanka. Another legend, Shane Warne, had also worked closely with Australia in the past. It's not like Lyon turned into Warne overnight after this. In the same vein, there is no guarantee that O'Keefe will end up bamboozling the Sri Lankans.