He has retired from Tests but 38-year-old Muttiah Muralidaran isn't taking it easy. The Sri Lanka spinner is in Papua New Guinea promoting the game and creating AIDS awareness as part of the ICC's promotional activities. He took ten minutes out from his busy schedule to speak with AR Hemant on phone.
Q: The ICC Cricket World Cup is returning to the sub-continent. How according to you has ODI cricket changed in the last 14 years?
Not much has changed in terms of strategy. You still have to plan according to the situation.
Q: The 1996 Sri Lankan team was a perfect one with players for nearly every role. How does it compare to the current side?
We will be playing in home conditions and we will give everyone a good fight. One can't compare eras and teams. The 1996 team was a great one, but this side is looking good too.
Q: This being an ICC Cricket World Cup in the sub-continent, spinners will have a huge role to play. How should they strategise?
Each team has its strengths and weaknesses and they will all strategise differently. Some teams have good spinners, some don't. So it's hard to premeditate strategy for them. They'll have to back their own abilities and plan accordingly.
Q: You had some months back spoken about partnering Anil Kumble in starting a spin academy. How far has that plan come along?
It is coming through. We have got some sponsors. Setting up such an academy takes time and as we know, Anil has been recently elected as president of the KSCA so he's a busy man now. This academy will require lots of work but I'm sure in the end we'll produce some good spinners.
Q: Speaking of Kumble, what according to you is the value brought by cricketers who become administrators?
Talking of Kumble alone, I know he is genuine, honest, and hard working. He's never known to do the wrong thing. He's never fallen on the wrong side of the cricketer's code of conduct, nor ever been hauled up by any match referee. He brings the same trustworthiness to everything he does, and that is a great thing for Karnataka cricket.
Q: You have played alongside R Ashwin. How do you assess him, and were you able to teach him some spin tricks?
He's a good bowler. We had bowled together in a couple of tournaments (IPL and Champions League). He did well there. He's playing ODIs and T20, but I'm not sure how he will do in Tests since he has not played one yet. He's very young and has a lot to learn. We played together for a short time so I wasn't able to teach him anything as such.
Q: Among spinners in international cricket, who do you think are most promising and can get close to your record?
Oh, my record is a tall order. Anyone who wants to get there first of all has to be fit for Test cricket. He has to be patient and he has to work really hard. He will have to spend lots of time plotting dismissals. Then, a time will come when international batsmen will sort him out, so he will have to find new tricks. And then he'll have to take wickets at the rate of six every game. It's difficult. I can't say who'll beat my record but I had said in the past that Harbhajan Singh stands a good chance. But he's already close to 30 and he has to play many years more for the record.
Q: Speaking of Harbhajan, he is doing well with the bat these days but his form with the ball has been less than impressive. What is he doing wrong?
Look, all bowlers go through such patches. Harbhajan is no different. It's important you back him and give him confidence and he will be back to his best.
Q: You are in Papua New Guinea at the moment. What took you there?
I've been here three days to promote the game with the International Cricket Council. There are lots of kids in PNG, very talented and interested in the game. The problem is there's not enough money or infrastructure for cricket here. They are a strong people full of energy and they will be one of the future powers of world cricket. This is why the ICC should strive towards developing the game in the country.
Q: What are your plans after the ICC Cricket World Cup?
I'll retire from ODIs and play only T20 cricket. I'll have to be picked by one of the IPL teams. There's also a county cricket assignment coming up.
Q: Lastly, will a sub-continental team win the ICC Cricket World Cup?
I hope someone does! And I want it to be Sri Lanka.