Chennai, April 14 -- Among the biggest ironies of this year's T20 league is the absence of Muttiah Muralitharan from Saturday's game in Chennai, a city he recently termed his second home and which boasts of perhaps the most non-partisan crowd in India. Remember Pakistan's victory lap to a standing ovation after a Test in 1999?
Unlike most foreign players, Murali, however, is special to Chennai.
He is married into a Chennai family, has a fan following that encouraged an indoor local cricket academy here to name him its brand ambassador, moments with him are so coveted that on Saturday morning a hotel steward boasted about a chance meeting with him at a private function.
He has spent three years with Chennai's home franchise that has given him sound knowledge of the wicket. Last year here, when RCB were being hammered around by the Super Kings and eventually couldn't defend over 10-runs an over, Murali was the only bowler who came out unscathed, conceding just 5 runs an over and picking three wickets.
This year, just as he was forming a potent combine with left-armer Murali Kart-ik at RCB, he was forced to sit out in a key, revenge game against an explosive batting line-up led by MS Dhoni.
Being a Sri Lankan, he is barred here this season due to political tensions. The league's governing council had to agree to the state government's directive to keep Sri Lanka players out of Chennai games.
Still, the security was airtight. When the Aussies played a Test in February, protesters had demanded the removal of Sri Lankan umpire Kumar Dharmasena. The BCCI didn't budge then.
This time it did. "It's about big money, TV viewership and franchises. Why take a chance? And why disregard the government's opinion?" a BCCI official had told HT.
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.