Muttiah Muralitharan’s move to the Australian side as a bowling consultant is as big a switch to the ‘enemy camp’ as any, in cricketese. © AFP

Muttiah Muralitharan’s move to the Australian side as a bowling consultant is as big a switch to the ‘enemy camp’ as any, in cricketese. © AFP

1995 – Boxing Day Test at the MCG: It was here that Darrell Hair famously (or infamously) called Muttiah Muralitharan for chucking for the first time in international cricket. Seven times Hair no-balled Murali, always from the bowler’s end.

January 5, 1996 – ODI v West Indies in Brisbane: Ross Emerson, officiating in his first Test, called Murali seven times as well, spread over three overs. Again from the bowler’s end. It escaped Emerson’s attention that some of the deliveries he had no-balled were legbreaks, not Murali’s usual offspinners.

After the Hair episode, Don Bradman went on record saying, “Clearly, Murali does not throw the ball”. After the Emerson affair, Murali was tested in Hong Kong, and it was concluded that he does not throw but has a congenital defect in his bowling arm that gives an ‘optical illusion of throwing’ the ball. Basically, he was cleared to bowl.

But January 23, 1999 – ODI v England in Adelaide: Murali was there, and so was Emerson, and Emerson no-balled him again. From square-leg this time. “This is the moment everyone’s been a little nervous about,” Tony Greig said on TV before Murali started bowling – and it happened, just on cue. With Tony McQuillan, another umpire who never quite liked what he saw when Murali bowled, at the other end. This was when all the finger-wagging happened, and Arjuna Ranatunga walked off the ground with his team for a while.

This was followed by more tests, and more all clears for Murali.

Later, in 2004, Chris Broad, the match referee, questioned the legality of Murali’s doosra, and he was sent for further tests, and was cleared again. Around that time, Emerson told The Sydney Morning Herald that Murali’s action “is worse than whatever it was”. In the same chat, Emerson made it clear that he thought the International Cricket Council was pandering to the powers from the subcontinent, and felt that umpires wouldn’t call Murali again for fear of (unofficial but, possibly, binding) sanction. The 15-degree rule was put in place around then; more tests were conducted in subsequent years. Bishan Singh Bedi hollered blue murder – or ‘javelin thrower’ – and is still calling Murali’s 800 Test wickets run outs.

Murali, for his part, alleged a conspiracy by the Australians more than once.

Indeed, in 2004, when John Howard, the Australian prime minister at the time, called Murali a “chucker” – very inappropriately, to my mind – Murali took exception and went against his grain to speak out. Howard “shouldn’t be saying things like that, he doesn’t know the facts,” Murali said at the time, adding, “It’s out of line. He should be thinking of his country.” He even bunked the tour, citing “personal reasons”. No one had any doubt what those reasons were.

With Murali, the bafflement is easy to understand: Why Australia? But it happens. Sometime after Monkeygate, Andrew Symonds and Harbhajan Singh played together for Mumbai Indians and then appeared on TV in India together, and Harbhajan went on record saying, “I think Andrew Symonds is a lovely guy.” And Matt Fearon, Symonds’s manager, echoed the sentiment with, “The way Andrew describes it, they are actually pretty similar animals.” [I like the use of the word ‘animals’ there.]

By and by, Murali retired, we all moved on. The details of the whats and whys and all else are probably stashed away under a big carpet in the ICC headquarters, with a Ranatunga-sized guard outside fending the curious off with a stab of the finger in the chest.

Cut to mid-2016, and Murali is a consultant with the Australian team, helping the visiting spinners plot a win over Sri Lanka in the upcoming Test series.

What does this compare to? Dennis Law switching from Manchester Red to Manchester Blue in 1973? Or no, because City then weren’t quite the City of today. Maybe Eric Cantona going from Leeds United, when they were a force, to the more famous United in 1992? Personally, I’d put the transfer of Manoranjan Bhattacharya, the defensive pillar, from East Bengal to Mohun Bagan in 1991 as the pinnacle of such betrayal. (If I remember right, those crooks from Bagan actually kidnapped our man and forced him to sign.) That’s like Raul going to Barcelona, or Carles Puyol to Real Madrid.

This, in cricketese, is as big a switch to the ‘enemy camp’ as any.

But that’s the beauty of sport, and modern-day cricket, where coaches and players can move from one team to another, internationally and in Twenty20 tournaments like the IPL or the Big Bash League.

Back in 2004, Wasim Akram announced, proudly and defiantly, that he would gladly help Irfan Pathan if he came to him for advice. Irfan did. And Akram helped. Javed Miandad, then the coach of Pakistan and never known to mince his words, claimed Akram was handing over Pakistani “secrets” to India. Bedi and Erapalli Prasanna, among others, have always been around to spend time with visiting spinners, talking to them about grip and flight and bowling in Indian conditions. Monty Panesar, for one, will tell you how much the time he spent with the older Sardar has helped him in his bowling. The Asian teams have had coaches from outside the continent more often than not in the past decade and some too, and now an Australian is coaching England.

The Murali-Australia saga is a tad different, though no less beautiful – even if cynics will point to the pay packet Murali must have negotiated before he accepted the gig.

Some of the headlines around the time the deal was finalised were fascinating. ‘Murali plotting Sri Lanka’s downfall’ said a gleeful-sounding Cricket Australia. The Indian Express said something similar, while EconomyNext declared, not-quite-poker-faced, ‘Sri Lanka chucker coaches Australia against own side’. We weren’t too far away either with our video report either.

With Murali, the bafflement is easy to understand: Why Australia? But it happens. Sometime after Monkeygate, Andrew Symonds and Harbhajan Singh played together for Mumbai Indians and then appeared on TV in India together, and Harbhajan went on record saying, “I think Andrew Symonds is a lovely guy.” And Matt Fearon, Symonds’s manager, echoed the sentiment with, “The way Andrew describes it, they are actually pretty similar animals.” [I like the use of the word ‘animals’ there.]

Yesterday is dead and gone, and tomorrow’s out of sight …

“Australia offered me twice, so I said, ‘why not’, because you are passing on the knowledge to other people. It doesn’t matter whether it’s your country or other people,” Murali said the other day. Forget the past, come to the present, see what makes sense. Old grudges … well, guess it’s best to move on.

Money – yes, sure, a fair bit must have gone into making the marriage happen. But if money can buy love, make Harbhajan call Symonds a ‘lovely guy’, well, why not? No point getting your knickers in a twist. [I still can’t get over Manoranjan going to Bagan that year, though!]