Meeting Muttiah Muralitharan can be exciting and a little eerie at the same time. He speaks to you with his eyes fixed on yours and it’s almost a question of who blinks first. Expressive, wide and deep these are the eyes which have hypnotised batsmen for years but if you stare back when you are not batting, Murali comes across as a gentle bloke.
Not having the greatest of times in IPL II hasn’t really bothered the wizard from Kandy. For someone with more international wickets than anybody in history that may seem surprising but Murali explained to HT that T20 for him is more about containment than taking wickets.
“More than the strike rate, it’s about the economy rate. How many runs you concede matters more than how many wickets you take. Yes I do like luring batsmen into mistakes, but in T20, I concentrate on choking batsmen. It’s fine if they commit mistakes trying to break free, but as long as I don’t go for runs, I’m happy.”
For Murali, T20 is about having fun and he doesn’t want to judge batsmen by how they fare. “In T20, any batsman can take you to the cleaners on his day, doesn’t matter who the bowler is. You never know when you’re going to be hit for two-three sixes in an over. There’s no need to find out a batsman’s true ability by assessing how he’s doing in T20. You can never judge a great batsman in this format.”
So does it feel humiliating when lesser players win the day against him?
“Not quite. A good player can hit you out of the park because he’s taking more chances. A not-so-good player can do the same because he too is taking more chances. He won’t be blamed by the captain if he’s caught at the boundary line. The same shot that can draw criticism in Test matches will make a player famous in T20. As bowler, I’ve to accept this.”
Murali is happy to see that in South Africa this time, bowlers are getting some assistance from the wicket unlike in India. That slow bowlers are slowing down the scoring rate impresses him the most.
“It’s more competitive here. In India, even 200 can be chased. Over here, it’s difficult to chase even 160-165. Some of the grounds have something for spinners and it’s good to see that.”
But is he satisfied with the fact that he doesn’t figure even among the top 10 wicket-takers in IPL II? “Close to 30 overs, nine wickets and an economy rate around six (30 overs, 179 runs and nine wickets to be precise)... is it that bad?” he said with a smile that reached up to his eyes.
Since some of cricket’s most precious numbers belong to him, it is not surprising that the man has an eye for figures. Even in a ‘fun’ event.