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Old accusations again

IT'S happening once again. Sri Lanka's star off-spinner Muthiah Muralitharan is at the receiving end, this time from England cricket coach David Lloyd. With England facing the task of batting out the last day of the one-off Test on a wearing pitch, and Muralitharan having accounted for nine English wickets in the match by the end of day four, Lloyd spoke up.

He cast a cloud of suspicion over Muralitharan after the off-spinner reduced England to 25 for two in its second innings, dismissing Mark Butcher and Graeme Hick before England finished the fourth day on 54 for two, still 92 runs short of avoiding an innings defeat.

Nearly three years ago, Muralitharan was no-balled seven times by Australian umpire Darrell Hair when Sri Lanka faced Australia at Melbourne on Boxing Day. Lloyd did little to suggest his bowling action was legal.

He said he would make his opinions known to the appropriate authorities, adding that he would go any further than that as he was not prepared to make any more comment. At the time Lloyd spoke, he had not yet seen match referee Ahmed Ebrahim.

Strange, for one thought that the relevant authorities at the ICC had examined Muralitharan's action in the light of the physical deformity he has and cleared him. It may well be Lloyd's way of waging a psychological battle but it is not the right thing to do. Of course, Lloyd never had any doubts in the first innings when England got to 446, even though Muralitharan bowled 59 overs and three balls. No, these doubts only arose when England looked to be having the worst of the battle.

The only similar instance I can recall was the campaign which Richie Benaud waged against Charlie Griffith in the early '60s. Benaud did everything he could, including parading around a series of slow-motion pictures, to label Griffith a chucker. Fortunately, it did not work and the burly West Indies speedster continued playing international cricket until he retired of his own volition after the 1968-69 tours of Australia and New Zealand.

If anyone has to raise suspicions, then they are entitled to do so. But the manner of doing it is important. One must not try to play games and use it as a ploy to distract a bowler from his task. Which is what Lloyd's statement smacks of. Remember, that this is a bowler who has been cleared by the ICC. Somebody is an idiot out here and I'm not exactly sure who it is.