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Come to Australia, urges Ponting
- ‘I’d love to see Murali here. He’s a fantastic player and opponent, and a great competitor’

Sydney: Captain Ricky Ponting pleaded with Muttiah Muralidharan to tour Australia with Sri Lanka in July, saying the local cricket fans would welcome him with open arms. Ponting sent out his appeal to Murali on his return home from the ill-fated Zimbabwe tour on Monday.

Reports from Colombo over the weekend said the Sri Lankan spin wizard had not changed his mind over quitting the upcoming tour of Australia, but he was under pressure to do so. Sri Lankan cricket officials said Test cricket’s highest wicket-taker had not officially told the authorities about changing his mind after Australian Prime Minister John Howard upset him by calling him a “chucker”.

But Ponting made a plea to Murali to put aside his ill-feeling and come and play against Test champions Australia. “I’d love to see him here. He’s a fantastic player and opponent, and he’s a great competitor,” Ponting said at Sydney Airport on Monday.

Murali recently broke retired West Indian Courtney Walsh’s world record of 519 wickets, with Australia’s Shane Warne in close pursuit. But Murali has been under scrutiny since English Match Referee Chris Broad reported his suspect action on the doosra, a leg-break delivered with an off-break action, to the International Cricket Council (ICC) in March.

Ponting believes the Australian public would welcome Murali. His presence would certainly add spice to the two-Test winter series with Murali (527 wickets) and Warne (517 wickets) going head to head. “I’m sure the Australian public would love to see him here,” Ponting said.

“Let’s hope he tours. It would be a great challenge for us if he does because he’s a very, very good bowler.”

Ponting is also backing strike bowler Glenn McGrath to take the new ball in the July home series against Sri Lanka.

McGrath, 34, took a back seat to Man of the Series Jason Gillespie and Michael Kasprowicz during the three ODIs in Zimbabwe. McGrath claimed one wicket from his 26 overs on the abbreviated tour, but Ponting wants McGrath to resume his customary role with the new ball when the world champions resume the five-day game against Sri Lanka in Darwin and Cairns in less than five weeks.

“I’d be surprised if he didn’t take the new ball in those games,” Ponting said. He felt McGrath had worked hard on regaining rhythm and confidence in Zimbabwe, after an eight-month lay-off to recover from ankle surgery.

Murali’s presence will be a challenge, feels Ponting

“It’s all about him getting his rhythm back in the middle,” Ponting said. “You can do as much bowling as you like in the nets, but it’s nowhere near as valuable as game practice is. He’s got a bit of work to do yet, but with 400-odd Test wickets to his name, I’m sure he’ll be back playing well again pretty soon.”

McGrath, who knows he is in his senior years as a fast bowler, does not want to give up the tag “strike bowler”, but has accepted his role may have to change. Before leaving Zimbabwe he suggested he may look to emulate South African Allan Donald, who adapted his style when advancing years blunted his blistering speed. “Through the latter part of his career he came on first change and really tied it up, put the pressure on and took wickets,” he said.

McGrath said he was satisfied with his progress and “not too far away” from full form. “The last one-dayer I was starting to feel really good. The rhythm was coming back then and I think that with another couple of matches, the zip and everything would have come back,” McGrath said.

“I’ll try to keep bowling the next couple of weeks and then hopefully I’ll be ready to go.”

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