Cricket: Murali to play for Wellington

By Andrew Alderson

Muttiah Muralitharan, cricket's all-time leading wicket-taker in tests and one-day internationals, is set to play for Wellington in the near future.

The 38-year-old, who officially retired from international cricket after last night's World Cup final in Mumbai, has vowed to former Black Caps captain Stephen Fleming that he will play two seasons in New Zealand. He is likely to feature in the HRV Cup, possibly this summer.

"Stephen has a bit to do with Wellington, so I have promised him I would come to play for two years to help them," said Muralitharan just before the final of the World Cup against India. Fleming, among other roles, is an agent and has got to know Murali well as coach of the IPL Twenty20 side, Chennai Super Kings.

However, Muralitharan was coy on whether a deal will be signed this year.

"I don't know. It's up to Stephen to put through a deal for me. I've always enjoyed playing there. You have nice, friendly people and a competitive [international] cricket team given you made the [World Cup] semifinals again."

Murali, a likeable soul, is far too polite to mention Sri Lanka beat New Zealand twice on their way to consecutive World Cup finals.

Wellington could do with Muralitharan's assistance. They have never finished better than fourth in the five years of a full Twenty20 domestic competition. In 2005-06 they finished third (and last) when it was split into northern and southern groups.

Wellington may try to sign Muralitharan for other formats of the game as well although his IPL obligations may intercede. They finished last in the one-day and four day competitions last season; last in the one-day competition this season - but have a slim chance of winning the four-day title from fourth position this week if they secure an outright win against Otago and other results go their way.

The fact Muralitharan is considering a visit again illustrates the power Fleming wields in the world game after his efforts organising the Fill The Basin earthquake relief match last month.

He has been the Sri Lankan's coach at the Indian Premier League's Chennai franchise the past two seasons.

Murali will play for Kochi this year.

"He is a great man and a great coach," Muralitharan says. "He understands players and is an intelligent coach and captain with so much knowledge to pass on. At Chennai we would chat a lot, mostly as friends. It is a shame I could not go back there; he wanted me desperately and I wanted to return, but that's the way the auction goes."

- Herald on Sunday

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