Colombo: Sri Lankan spin wizard Muttiah Muralidharan claims to have new tricks for England’s batsmen, who arrived in the country on Thursday for a six-week tour.
Muralidharan, an unorthodox and controversial off-spinner, who bowls with a locked elbow and flexible wrist, is plotting a tough time for touring captain Michael Vaughan’s team.
“I am bowling really well at the moment and am prepared for anything this time,” Muralidharan said. “Last time England played well (a 2-1 series victory in 2001), but the time will come for me again — I will do the damage,” he added.
England, who have warmed up for the tour with comprehensive victories in two Tests and three one-dayers in Bangladesh, will play three Tests and three ODIs in Sri Lanka.
The tourists struggled against Muralidharan in the 1990s but then developed successful survival strategies under coach Duncan Fletcher during the last five Tests dating back to the 2001 series.
Muralidharan’s strike rate plummeted from a career average of a wicket every 60 balls to one every 98 deliveries.
England’s success has forced Muralidharan into the practice nets as he tries to discover new ways of outwitting his opponents.
“You always need to get better,” he said.
“I have been working particularly hard on drifting the ball recently and that makes it harder for batsmen to get into the right position,” he added.
“The top-spinner that moves away from the right-hander is also coming on really well at the moment — it’s going like a leg-spinner.”
“I am also working on a back-spinner in the nets, making it harder for batsmen to pad me away, but that’s taking longer than expected to master.”
Muralidharan expects a tough battle but is confident the hosts can secure a series victory.
“If we bat well, we will win the series — our batsmen must find form to give me and the bowlers enough runs to play with,” he said.
“But England have improved: they have a good batting line-up with (Marcus) Trescothick, Vaughan and (Graham) Thorpe.”
“The only doubt is their bowling without (Andy) Caddick and particularly (Darren) Gough, who was dangerous here because of his ability to impart reverse swing on the ball.”
For Muralidharan, who has 459 wickets from 82 Tests, it’s an important series as he bids to become the highest wicket-taker in the history of the sport.
With 14 Tests scheduled over the next 10 months, Courtney Walsh’s 519-wicket world record is now within his sights.
“For the first time in my career I am starting to feel nervous,” he admitted.
“Nowadays all the talk is of records, records, records — about when I am going to overtake 519 or even pass 600,” he added.
“I know I shouldn’t think but sometimes it sticks in my mind and I end up putting myself under pressure.”