- Publish Date
- Thursday, 2 January 2020, 11:05AM
Sri Lankan superstars Muttiah Muralitharan and Mahela Jayawardene will anchor Sir Graham Henry’s Team Rugby as it looks to spring another upset over Team Cricket in the second Hot Spring Spas T20 Napier Black Clash in association with Heartland Bank on January 17.
The Sri Lankan cricketing legends are both huge rugby fans – and All Blacks fans in particular.
“These guys wouldn’t be playing for us unless they had a rugby pedigree,” Sir Graham said.
“To have a couple of Sri Lankan rugby players who can play a bit of cricket is going to be quite handy for us!”
A key member of Sri Lanka’s 2014 world champion side, Jayawardene posted multiple records in every form of the game.
The former Central Districts representative was the first Sri Lankan to amass 10,000 runs in test and ODI cricket, while his innings of 374 against South Africa in 2006 still stands as the highest test score by a right-handed batsman in the history of the game.
Rated by many as the best test match bowler of all time, Muralitharan’s haul of 800 test wickets may never be eclipsed.
“Murali still gives me nightmares, so having him pop up again is a real concern,” admitted Team Cricket coach and captain Stephen Fleming.
“And last time I played Mahela he got a hundred in a world cup semi-final. You couldn’t ask for two better pros.
“They are both massive rugby fans so when the opportunity came up they both jumped at it.”
Fleming fondly recalls having dinner with a star-struck Muralitharan in Johannesburg with a bunch of Crusaders rugby players who were touring South Africa at the time.
“Watching Murali with a man crush on Richie McCaw was fascinating,” he said. “It shows how strong the All Blacks brand is in Sri Lanka.”
While not a power in the global game, Sri Lanka boasts a strong rugby history. Then known as Ceylon, the nation hosted the 1908 touring New Zealand professional rugby team the All Golds – the forebear of the Kiwis.
Sir Graham said he recently attended an annual schoolboy rugby match in Sri Lanka as a guest of honour, with the match drawing a crowd of 27,000.
Sir Graham has retained the core of the team that shocked Stephen Fleming’s Team Cricket with a five-wicket victory in Christchurch in January, with his former captain Richie McCaw returning alongside speedster Israel Dagg, the Barrett brothers Beauden and Jordie, former Northern Districts spinner Jason Spice, slick gloveman Ofisa Tonu’u and rising cross-code star Kaylum Boshier.
“All the guys who played last year were keen,” Sir Graham said. “They enjoyed the experience – and they enjoyed the result!”
Sir Graham confirmed that his star Sri Lankan duo would replace Shane Watson after the Australian all rounder was drafted into Bangladesh’s T20 league at late notice.
He has also reclaimed Aaron Smith after the halfback was poached by Team Cricket for the first T20 Black Clash, and recruited Chiefs star Brad Weber and former Blues hooker Derren Witcombe.
Sir Graham said his biggest challenge had been managing the frequent pestering by Israel Dagg to move higher up the batting order.
“We’ve seen that he can bowl but he keeps telling me he is also pretty handy with the bat,” Sir Graham said.
“The first game was a lot of fun. The kids loved it, getting all those autographs and selfies. And the parents loved it too because they had a picnic on the bank and watched some of their heroes play a game they don’t normally play.
“I think it is going to be a bit tougher this year because Flem has stacked his side. And they’ll be embarrassed after last year so they’ll be keen to do the business.”
Fleming has confirmed a trio of new recruits headlined by legendary former Black Caps captain Daniel Vettori as Team Cricket looks to wrest the Lomu-Crowe trophy from Team Rugby.
“We weren’t sure what to expect last year and obviously we’ve had to tweak it a bit [after losing],” Fleming said.
“We’ve got one of the most-capped, best left arm spinners the game has seen. Then Mathew Sinclair brings a ton of local knowledge, and we’ve got Jacob Oram with a bit of height so we can bounce a few of them.”
Fleming still bears a scar from the first contest in Christchurch when he suffered a broken toe after being struck by a scorching Dagg yorker in the opening over at a sold-out Hagley Oval.
“The toenail is still a bit black – so it is a good reminder of where it all went wrong,” he said.
The master tactician felt his team had been in front for “95 per cent” of the first match before being undone by Jordie Barrett’s power hitting at the death.
“We won’t make that mistake again. Team Rugby will be pretty handy but they will come second this time.
“I’ve noticed Graham Henry has been reasonably outspoken. I guess that comes from coaching one of the most successful teams in the world. The thing will be when they don’t get across the line – just how well he takes it? That’s the question out there.”
The Hot Springs Spas T20 Napier Black Clash in association with Heartland Bank takes place on
Friday January 17, at McLean Park, Napier.
For a limited time, purchase an adult ticket and get a child’s ticket free! www.ticketek.co.nz/blackclash
Sir Graham Henry - Coach / selector
Plus International wildcards
Stephen Fleming – Coach / Captain
Plus wildcard to be named