Murali yet to take a final call on playing for Bengal

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Colombo, Sep 30 (UNI) Spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan is still unsure about his availability for the Bengal team and said he was yet to sign a contract with the Ranji team as his top priority is to play for Sri Lanka.

Muralitharan said even though the Sri Lankan Cricket Board has given him a go ahead, he cannot commit on his availability for the next Ranji season in India.

The world's leading wicket taker in Tests said he was looking forward to Sri Lanka's tour of Zimbabwe in November, which means Bengal's hopes for getting the off-spinner for the league stage are highly unlikely.

''I am looking forward to our tour to Zimbabwe beginning November 7. Then, in February-March we play in Bangladesh, so it remains to be seen whether I am at all available for Bengal,'' he said.

He said his prior commitments to Indian Premier League's (IPL) Chennai also needs be respected with whom he has been contracted for three years therefore, he has to show his presence for them in the Champions Twenty20 League slated to be held from December this year.

The group phase of the Ranji Trophy Plate League is scheduled from November 3-December 4 with Bengal playing five games before the knock-out stages.

''I am yet to sign a contract with them (Bengal). I was contacted by Jeet Banerjee (managing director of GamePlan), who told me that Bengal are in 'second division' this time and they need my services to get into the 'first division','' Muralitharan, who has 756 Tests and 479 ODI wickets to his kitty, said.

''Later, I had a word with our Board (SLC) who gave me a clearance to play there on condition that I should be available for the country's commitments.

''Now, since the Indian Board has allowed participation of a foreign player, I gave my consent. But, I am not available for the group stage. If it works out then I may sign the contract and play for Bengal may be in the knock-out stage,'' the off-spinner conceded.

Under the new set of BCCI rules, each state association can sign four outstation players, including one from overseas, in their squads.

The two-time Ranji Trophy champions (1938-39 and 1989-90), Bengal, were relegated last season after a few of their players, including captain Deep Dasgupta and Rohan Gavaskar, joined the rebel Indian Cricket League (ICL).

The Maharashtra Cricket Association (MCA) has already roped in Sri Lankan left arm medium-pacer Sujeewa de Silva and Bangladesh's left-arm spinner Enamul Haque junior.

The 36-year-old spinner, who was all praise for the decision of the BCCI, said, ''I've heard of Sujeewa joining Maharashtra.

It's a good thing for cricket. Youngsters will benefit a lot playing with the experienced players. It will really benefit cricket.'' UNI XC RAR PY AS1838

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