Colourful, controversial Murali remains spin king

2011-04-01 09:02

New Delhi – Muttiah Muralitharan, who will bow out of international cricket after tomorrow’s World Cup Final, leaves behind a career marked by record-breaking performances and bitter controversy over his action.

The off-spinner, who quit Tests last year with 800 wickets in 133 matches, goes into the final against India with 534 scalps in 349 ODI, after troubling batsmen, and administrators, for nearly two decades.

It will be virtually impossible to surpass Muralitharan’s records as current active players nearest to the marks are India off-spinner Harbhajan Singh (393 Test wickets) and Australian paceman Brett Lee (348 one-day wickets).

Muralitharan is to bowling what India’s Sachin Tendulkar is to batting. The Indian also holds two major cricketing records – highest runs in Tests (14 692) and one-day internationals (18 093).

But unlike Tendulkar, who will be in the India team on Saturday, the Sri Lankan has been in the news for more than a decade as much for his bowling action as his extraordinary skill.

Muralitharan, born with a bent elbow, was called three times for “throwing” by Australian umpires in the mid-1990s and was also once called a “chucker” by former Australian prime minister John Howard.

Despite the International Cricket Council amending the law in 2005 to allow a 15-degree flexibility in the bowling arm, the debate refuses to die down.

Muralitharan did not let the criticism affect his bowling and continued to make life miserable for batsmen with his huge turn and disconcerting bounce.

He was virtually unplayable at home, where pitches are more spinner-friendly.

He also has a deceptive “doosra”, a delivery which leaves the right-handers instead of coming in to them like a conventional off-break.

Former Australian captain Steve Waugh once called the Sri Lankan the “Don Bradman of bowlers” and a “rubber-wristed illusionist”.

“He is a unique type of bowler. He gets people talking about cricket. He’s the sort of player you want in the game. He is great to watch and makes Sri Lanka competitive in world cricket,” Waugh said.

Former Australian leg-spin wizard Shane Warne called Muralitharan a “unique” bowler who “presents challenges that any serious batsman loves to tackle”.

“All in all, whatever your opinion is of the great off-spinner, it’s a real challenge to face him, and the way the ball leaves his hands and dips and fizzes is truly a great skill,” he said.

Muralitharan bagged five or more wickets in a Test innings 67 times and 10 or more in a match on 22 occasions – both world records. He also has 10 hauls of five or more wickets in one-dayers.

The only milestone that remained elusive for Muralitharan is 10 wickets in a Test innings, achieved so far by Englishman Jim Laker and India’s Anil Kumble.

The Sri Lankan’s Test-best is 9-51 against Zimbabwe in his home town of Kandy in 2002, while his best in one-dayers is 7-30 against India in Sharjah in 2000.

Now his fans hope that Murali, who turns 39 later this month, can shake off the injuries which have plagued him at this World Cup to enjoy his last day in the limelight tomorrow. 

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