Murali is all-time greatest

2007-12-04 00:00

KAND (Sri Lanka) — After fittingly breaking the world record for the most career test wickets Monday at Asgiriya Stadium in Kandy - the ground where he created the first of a long list of records as a schoolboy - Sri Lanka's Muttiah Muralitharan said he never dreamed of coming this far.

England's Paul Collingwood became his victim number 709 when he was bowled middle stump to take Muralitharan past retired Australia leg spinner Shane Warne's tally of 708.

"I did not expect to come this far when I started and would have been happy with 50 or 100 test wickets. But I have managed to come this far because I have played for 15 years," Muralitharan told reporters after the third day's play.

The off spinner previously held the record in 2004 when he overhauled West Indian fast bowler Courtney Walsh's mark of 519 wickets, only to be surpassed by Warne.

"Maybe this one is more important," Muralitharan said of his latest achievement, comparing it with the one in 2004.

"Warne was playing then and I always said whoever plays longer will have the record. He stopped playing after (the) last Ashes and I am continuing to play," he said.

He predicted that his record is likely to stay for a long time because his closest playing rival - Indian leg spinner Anil Kumble, who is close to retirement - is still far behind him with 573 wickets.

Muralitharan fell short in his bid to break the record on Warne's home territory when Sri Lanka toured Australia last month. But the off spinner said it was even better that he achieved the record in his home town.

"It's my home town, my parents are here, my wife is here ... all the relatives are here and all my school friends," he told reporters earlier. "Everybody is here. It's a bigger moment than if I had taken it in Australia, it's the right time I think. It's not easy to take six wickets in an innings. I managed to let my pressure off now."

Muralitharan has only taken 12 wickets at 75 in five tests in Australia. His averages at home and against England are much better.

On Sri Lankan grounds Muralitharan had taken 432 wickets in 54 matches before this match, delivering 50 balls for a wicket. He took 272 in 51 matches overseas, with a strike rate of 59.

Against England, Muralitharan has played in 13 test matches and taken 93 wickets conceding two runs per over with a strike rate of 59.

Kandy's Asgiriya Stadium is a lucky charm for Muralitharan. The ground where he created records as a teenager for St. Anthony's school 16 years ago was also the site of his entry to the 700-wicket club in July against Bangladesh.

The ground has delivered him 108 wickets in 15 matches.

Muralitharan's best bowling record 9-51 in an innings also came on this ground against Zimbabwe.

Born to a confectionery businessman on April 17, 1972, Muralitharan slowly became known among local cricket fans in 1990 as a schoolboy bowler who could spin the ball sharply.

He took more than 100 wickets in 1990 and 1991 in school cricket and in the process broke the then record for highest number of wickets in a season - probably his first in a long list of records to follow.

Muralitharan's exceptional ability to turn the ball comes from his unorthodox wristy off spin, and an elbow bent since birth. That bent joint has been central to the debate over his bowling action.

The debate exploded in 1995 in Australia, as home umpire Darrell Hair no-balled Muralitharan for "chucking" during a test match in Melbourne.

Australian fans barracked 'Murali' on that tour and throughout his career, not just because of their affection for Warne but due to lingering questions over the legitimacy of the Sri Lankan's bowling action.

His action was subsequently cleared by an Australian biomechanics expert, but was no-balled again in Australia in 1998 and reported by English match referee Chris Broad in Sri Lanka in 2004. The International Cricket Council, after a major investigation, ruled that due to his birth abnormality, his action is legal.

During that tour last month, Warne agreed that Muralitharan should undergo further testing to investigate whether he 'chucks' - illegally bending then straightening his arm during his bowling action.

The Warne comments angered Muralitharan though he diplomatically healed the rift for a public appearance by the pair.

Many critics have been convinced or silenced, but not all.

India's former spin great Bishen Singh Bedi and New Zealand's former captain Martin Crowe are among those who still insist Muralitharan has a questionable bowling action, but the off spinner has shaken off such accusations to become the backbone of Sri Lanka's cricket success in the past decade.

Using his trademark "doosra", top spinners and varying angles, Muralitharan has become the most potent bowler in contemporary cricket.

Wisden, the authoritative cricket almanac, named Muralitharan the best cricketer for 2006.

The 35-year-old off spinner's achievement on the cricket field has made him a household name in Sri Lanka and a source of hope and inspiration to a nation battered by decades of civil war.

His status as the only Tamil in the national team links together the two warring parties on the cricket field.

— Sapa-AP.

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