Time to celebrate Murali's amazing exploits
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Muttiah Muralitharan has been dancing his jigs again. On the fourth
morning of a Test match played under the gaze of the ancient fortress
in Galle, this son of a sweet shop owner became the seventh man
to take 400 wickets in Test cricket.
The Sri Lankan reached this landmark in 72 matches, eight fewer
than Richard Hadlee, his nearest rival, and at a younger age than
any predecessor. Murali has only 29 years on his clock and lots
of work left in him.
Apart from its significance, Murali's 400th wicket was not his
most memorable. Zimbabwe's Henry Olonga can hold a tune and occasionally
land a fast ball, but his batting is built on sand.
Certainly, the dreadlocked paceman did not keep his opponent or
his supporters fretting. One ball was enough for him, a dipping
off-break that burst through a scantily constructed defence.
And then the celebrations began as a large crowd roared its approval
and Murali lifted the ball as if it was an opponent's head.
By the end of the day, Murali had completed his rout as the Zimbabweans
slumped in their second innings to be all out for 79, with Muralitharan
taking four more wickets.
Murali has taken his last 100 wickets in 14 Tests, a speed helped
by the feebleness of some batting line-ups.
Among the West Indians, recent visitors to Sri Lanka, only Brian
Lara played him competently and the Trinidadian scored 688 runs
in six innings. Southpaws have always found him easier to play.
Murali's deliveries do not so much change course as continue further
in one direction than anyone else's, in which regard they resemble
Pauline Hanson. Left-handers have been able to turn his prodigious
powers of spin to their advantage.
Murali is a remarkable practitioner, a frail, grinning, busy figure,
more a mosquito than a wasp, tossing the ball from hand to hand,
darting in to bowl with a mischievous look, dispatching a salvo
that hums through the air and upon landing snarls like an enraged
And then, regardless of the outcome, he laughs again, for the menace
is in the message and not the man.
Reservations about his action distract attention from his skill.
Murali is accurate, crafty and game, willing to bowl all day to
any opponent. He has wit, stamina and a strength surprising in a
man so skinnily framed.
He cleverly constructs his overs and spells, landing the ball on
a saucer, persuading it to perform contortions calculated to mislead
the most cautious batsman.
Above all, he is a fine competitor who has for years carried the
hopes of a country and the burden of an attack.
Happily, Murali has been popular wherever he has played. In his
early days, he smiled sheepishly, for he could not understand a
word of English and was accordingly inclined to agree with all interlocutors.
Even in his own community, he felt like an outsider for he was
humbly raised off the beaten track and did not attend an appropriate
school. Moreover, he was a Tamil appearing in a time of conflict,
with thousands killed as demagogues fuelled the fires of resentment.
Tamils could be told from their tinge or tone. Murali's deeds have
been cheered in all corners of his country. He does not pretend
to be as sophisticated as Arthur Ashe or Tiger Woods, but he has
forced a nation to confront its demons.
Murali is recognised as the greatest cricketer his country has
produced. His performances are celebrated the length and breadth
of his land, and his reputation is fiercely protected. Soon he will
become cricket's leading wicket-taker because spinners last longer,
besides which he does not seem to need servicing, let alone surgery.
Inevitably, his right to a place in the rankings will be disputed
as long as the game is played. Murali is a mild man at the centre
of several storms. Some critics are convinced that his action is
illegal and his defenders are talking humbug.
As was the case in the 1890s and 1950s, the campaign against curious
actions has been concentrated in Australia. Murali has been called
for throwing on Boxing Day in Melbourne and during 50-over matches
in Adelaide and Brisbane, the latter while bowling harmless leg-breaks.
No one suggests Murali intends to break any rules; he has not taken
steroids and is simply putting to use a body capable of improbable
gyrations. Supporters point out his action has survived scientific
He has not been called for throwing anywhere else and has been
defended by former Australian captains. Perhaps it does not matter.
Certainly it is too late. To describe him as a chucker is unfair,
for there is beauty in his bowling. Much better to respect Murali's
courage and appreciate his performances.
Not long ago, he took 17 wickets in a Test in England, bowling
long spells in sultry weather, inspiring his colleagues, bewildering
batsmen with his flight and delighting spectators with his variations.
Emerging from a sweet shop in Kandy, he made himself into a top-class
cricketer and remained a humble sportsman. He has taken his hammerings
and has always been ready to try again. He's been booed, attacked
in the newspapers and described as an imposter, and it has not brought
He has also helped to win a World Cup, and travelled around the
world spinning the ball sharply and taking wickets wherever he goes.
Tamils and Sinhalese salute him, and the game must follow suit.
Source : The Age Australia