Show some respect to Murali
by Peter Roebuck - SMH 10th May,
Muttiah Muralitharan's career has been a tale of
astonishing achievement and unending controversy. No one has watched
him with a cold heart. Spectators have enjoyed his prodigious deliveries.
Captains have protected their match-winner or complained about the
architect of their downfall. Supporters have sung his praises and
critics have gnashed their teeth. Everyone has seen something different.
Now Murali stands at once as a champion and an outcast.
His record-breaking performance will provoke a mixture of congratulation
and resentment. Even in triumph, Murali cannot command the respect
sought by every man and craved by every performer. His head must
be spinning as much as his sharpest off break. He has deserved better
than a mixture of hysterical support and abject condemnation.
Cricket has not known what to do with him. Batsmen
have prodded and padded, swept and swiped. Umpires have been inconsistent.
Crowds have cheered and catcalled. Commentators have raged. Officialdom
has searched in vain for a satisfactory resolution. Everything and
nothing has happened. Murali has kept bowling. The laws of the game
have been changed to accommodate him. His career has been a confusion.
Years have passed and he remains in limbo. But it has not all been
bad. The game has bent over backwards to save him. After all, he
is still playing.
Murali has been an extreme instance of a long-standing
trauma. Cricket has never been at ease with the problem of bent-armed
bowling. Over the years the issue has been a test the game has failed.
Not that Murali has been an easy case. No one had considered the
possibility of sending the ball down with a back rather than a forward
jerk. All the regulations had been produced to eliminate the sort
of actions seen in coconut-shies. Now and then bad habits crept
in whereupon governing bodies were obliged to intervene. Mostly
the situation was under control. Then came Murali.
At first little attention was paid to him. After
all, the charming Tamil from a Catholic school had inspired a nation.
Sri Lanka were a new force and few had the stomach to deny them
their main weapon. Officials hoped it might pass. Paul Adams's mystique
had not lasted long. Once batsmen became accustomed to his contortions
they realised that he did not turn or bounce the ball enough to
trouble the trained.
But Murali did not fade away. Cricket realised that
there was more to him than met the eye. Batsmen were mesmerised
by his action but the element of surprise was merely part of the
effect. Murali turned the ball more than anyone else, past or present.
His deliveries seemed to spin at right angles. His control was unerring
and he could bowl long spells. In other words, he was a handful.
And he was not going to go away.
Not that the Sri Lankan has been alone in his unorthodoxy.
Harbhajan Singh, Saqlain Mushtaq and others have also explored the
outer limits of their craft. Spin was on its knees until these fellows
came along. It is odd that these operators have provoked such debate.
Fast bowlers have thrown their quicker balls, raised the seam, rubbed
in creams, applied bottle tops and much else without attracting
undue interest. Inevitably spinners also search for an edge as a
means of survival. They have tried to add to their repertoire by
experimenting with their arm, wrist and finger actions.
Murali was blessed with features that allowed him
to perform feats with a cricket ball previously considered impossible.
His flexibility of limb allows him to twist his bowling arm and
flick his wrist at a pace and to a degree that stretches the concept
of bowling. Beyond effective imitation, he was not so much leading
the charge of the spinners as heading in the same direction.
Now he holds the world record for wickets taken
in Test cricket. It is a well-deserved honour. Murali has been examined,
tested, exposed, taunted and demeaned for long enough. In criminal
matters a man cannot be tried twice for the same offence. Murali
was exonerated years ago and that should have been the end of it.
Unfortunately the verdict was not universally accepted and the controversy
It is time for a little respect. Murali has been
through enough. He has taken his place in the record books alongside
some extraordinary characters whose weak points have been forgotten
and whose stirring performances will be remembered until the last
ball has been bowled.