Australia’s struggles against slower bowlers in its warm-up matches do not matter a bit, according to Sri Lankan spin king Muttiah Muralidaran ahead of their World Cup clash on Saturday.
The Aussie middle order was exposed by spinners in practice matches against India and South Africa before their bid began for a fourth consecutive World Cup title.
Young tweaker Piyush Chawla finished with 4 for 31 in India’s 38-run win in mid-February while Robin Peterson bagged 3 for 45 as the Proteas crushed Australia by seven wickets just two nights later.
Ricky Ponting’s side faces another challenge against Sri Lanka on Saturday, with the pitch in Colombo expected to favour spinners, but Muralidaran said the defending champions should not be underestimated.
“Warm-up games are warm-up games - they are not serious,” he said.
“Australia will try to give everyone an opportunity in the warm-up games but when the main game comes they concentrate a bit more. It’s a different ball game when you come to the World Cup.
“So it doesn’t matter what happened in the warm-up games, it’s going to be different games in the real matches.”
Despite having copped hostile receptions in front of crowds Down Under since being accused of having a questionable bowling action, Murali maintains a healthy respect for the Australian team.
“They have good enough players, they have played spin well in the past and in every condition they have won,” he said.
“They are number one still I think - I don’t know about the stats but still ... they have won three World Cups in a row.
“They are the team to beat so everyone wants to beat them, so we are anxious to beat them and we will try as a normal game.”
The respect is mutual, according to David Hussey.
“Murali is such a great bowler, he’s got just over [sic] 800 Test wickets and he’s a phenomenal competitor,” he said.
“But Australia’s had pretty good success against Murali in the past so hopefully that can continue on Saturday. We’re playing some pretty good cricket thus far.
“Everyone’s got their own individual ways of handling different types of spin and we know against Sri Lanka and later on in the tournament we’ll be facing a lot.
“Hopefully all our batters will be prepared and we can put on a decent score.
“We’ve had three very good days of preparation practicing sweep shots and using our feet to the spin and getting back and forward out of the crease, and ... hopefully we can put it into practice come Saturday against Sri Lanka.”
But the world’s most prolific Test and one-day wicket-taker is not the only threat the home side boasts.
Hussey said Australia will be vigilant of the hosts’ swing attack, after Lasith Malinga took his second career World Cup hat-trick on Wednesday night against Kenya.
“He slips under your guard a bit,” Hussey admitted.
“You face [Ajantha] Mendis, [Rangana] Herath and and then Murali [who] get a lot of press, then Malinga steps in and gets a hat-trick.
“He’s world class and at the death he’s second to none, probably similar to Shaun Tait.
“I know all the batters have been working hard practicing [facing] yorkers and in-swinging yorkers so hopefully we can sort of nullify his existence later on in the games.”
Muralidaran is playing in his fourth and final World Cup but said the idea of clinching the trophy on home soil in his last appearance at the tournament could not become a distraction.
“We take it as just another game, one of the World Cup games,” he said.
“Our main objective is to qualify for the quarter-finals - we plan one game at a time.
“It’s not going to be emotional because it’s a big Cup. I’ve played four World Cups and this one is going to be the last.
“We are to do well, our main objective rather than the emotional thing [which] doesn’t come into it, [is] just play the game and see how far we can go.”