The entire country is talking about Muttiah Muralitharan again and this time, they are not all on his side.

The legendary off-spinner who holds the world record for the most number of test wickets incensed a sizeable proportion of Sri Lankans by offering his services to the touring Australian cricketers against Sri Lanka in a series that is being played for a trophy that bears his name.

In addition, Murali is alleged to have used his influence to tailor a wicket at a practice game to suit the Australians and also allow them more training time at Pallekelle, the venue of the first Test match. Murali denies both accusations.

The latest controversy comes at a time when the form of the national cricket team has hit an all-time low. They were soundly beaten by England across all formats of the game during their recent tour there, and they are likely to suffer the same fate at home against the Australians.

That Murali could contribute to their downfall has left many Sri Lankans disappointed and
the Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) has been vocal in expressing its displeasure. In return, Murali has lashed out at the SLC, accusing the game’s controlling authority of forsaking local coaches, seeking foreigners instead. Recently retired former Sri Lanka captains, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayewardene have spoken out in Murali’s favour.

Now, no one in their right mind will rush to heap accolades on the Sri Lanka Cricket. The institution is rotten to the core. Ironically, the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) insistence that it should be an elected body that governs the game, means that the government cannot install an interim administration to clean the mess there.

Be that as it may, it does not mean that what Murali has done is automatically the right thing to do. the SLC has many failings and how it handles locals with coaching potential is just one of them. However, that is not an excuse for Murali to abandon all decency and coach a country that did its best to drive him out of the game. And that too against his motherland in a series which is being played for a trophy that bears his name!
Murali has tried to defend his actions. He says he is just doing a job as a professional sportsman. He was reportedly paid US$ 20,000 (about three million rupees) for his work- and he hasn’t denied this.

Considering  the wages of cricketers these days and taking into account what he must have earned during a long playing career including a stint in the cash rich Indian Premier League, surely Murali is not suggesting that he is just below the poverty line, struggling to bring home the bacon!

If Murali’s argument is simply that he was just earning a day’s wages he should be reminded that members of the world’s oldest profession would say the same. As it is with them, no one is contesting his right to do what he is doing, but at the same time, what he is doing is morally and ethically deplorable and worth every word of condemnation that he has earned.

Before he utters more words that make him sound increasingly mercenary,  Murali should ask himself, would Sachin Tendulkar ever coach a Pakistani team against India? Would Shane Warne ever coach an English team against the Australians? And what would be the reaction in India and Australia respectively if they ever did that?

The recent events are indeed a pity. Murali is a national icon. He was –until this incident –loved by all and sundry and also a symbol of national unity. At a time when the country was at war, he gave us a reason to smile by winning cricket matches. The fact that he was a Tamil gave added strength to the notion of communal harmony in an age when ethnic strife was rife.

What Murali has done now is, as the pithy Sinhalese saying goes, to toil hard and produce seven pots of curd and then add a bit of cow dung in to it. Unfortunately for Muttiah Muralitharan, that may be what he would be remembered for – asa traitor – instead of as a legendary cricketer who brought great glory to the game and to his country.