OZ boycott will have serious repercussions

Melbourne: The former Sri Lankan off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan feels world cricket will be under threat if Australian cricket team decides to boycott its impending tour to the island nation for moral reasons.

Some of the Aussie cricketers have privately expressed their unwillingness to visit the island nation following the screening of "Four Corners", a graphic Channel 4 documentary about atrocities committed during the end of the Sri Lankan civil war.

Subsequent poll results have shown an increasing unease among the sections of the community with 81 per cent of the voters out of 3,527 voting in negative to `The Age` online poll question, "Should the Australian cricket team tour Sri Lanka?".

The legendary cricketer, however, said that while players were entitled to make individual decisions, withdrawing from the tour would have dire consequences for world cricket. "Sport and politics are different. If Australia is not going to play any more in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Zimbabwe… If they only play in some countries, world cricket will die and IPL will take over," he said from England, where a small but dedicated group of Tamil protesters demonstrated during Sri Lanka`s recent tour.

Muralitharan, who has retired from international cricket and is playing for English county Gloucestershire, though believes the protesters represent a minority who are speaking out "for their own advantage".

The 39-year-old said it was in the interests of those who sought asylum in England or Australia, and did not want to return, to paint a bleak picture of the situation in their homeland.

Victor Rajakulendran, from the Australasian Federation of Tamil Associations, said he understood bowler`s stance but urged Australian cricketers to view the documentary and make their own judgements. "Some people argue that you shouldn`t mix politics and cricket, but we did that before (for South Africa and Zimbabwe), so why not now? That should be the argument. Of course, it is left to the individual players," Rajakulendran insisted.

"Of course, the Australian government is not going to tell the players not to go, so I hope the players have watched this and if they have concerns they should decide, they can take a collective decision and tell the government… we don`t feel like going and playing in a place like this. Earlier it was a security issue, now it is a human rights issue," he added.

Cricket Australia (CA) takes direction from the federal government, which in the past intervened to stop Australia from touring Zimbabwe in 2007, and otherwise fulfills its touring obligations unless it is unsafe to do so.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has already given a go ahead for the tour and CA is committed to it, conscious of cricket`s power as a unifying force. Australia is scheduled to play five One-dayers and three Tests apart from two Twenty20 Internationals against Sri Lanka, starting August 6.