Cricket has always been a batsman’s game, but, never has a bowler dominated the sport as much as Sri Lanka’s spin sensation Muttiah Muralitharan. After the first Test against India that kicks off on the 18th of July, when Murali bids farewell to the sport, he will go down in the annals of history as one of the greatest cricketers ever to have played the game.
After nearly eighteen years and 132 Tests of ‘terrorising’ batsmen with his prodigiously spinning off-breaks, Murali is still one of the most adored characters in world cricket, not just because of his ability to spellbind audience with his magical deliveries, but as much for the perfect ambassador for the game of cricket that he has been.
In his decades’ long career, Murali has seen it all. From being labeled as a ‘chucker’ to becoming the highest wicket taker in the history of Test cricket, the ride has been a bumpy one. He was also instrumental in proving to the world that the Sri Lankans were no pushovers, as he played a vital role in the islanders’ back to back Test triumphs over England and New Zealand in the early 90s before achieving the pinnacle with the all important World Cup triumph in 1996.
It was an overcast morning on the 28th August 1992, when a 20-year old boy walked out to kickstart his Test career against the Aussies at the newly built Khettarama Stadium in Colombo. None would have predicted then that the lanky offie with a curious looking bowling action would take the cricket world by storm and end up as the greatest spinner in history. The bowling figures of 3 for 141 did not give him much to write home about either. However, from there on, the ‘Smiling Assassin’ grew in stature with every game and soon went on to pick his first five wicket haul (5 for 104) against the mighty South Africans at the Moratuwa Stadium in August 1993.
But, with success coming at quickly and Murali visibly dominating the world cricket scene, a controversy erupted that almost ended up dividing the cricket community. It was the Australia Vs Sri Lanka Boxing Day Test played at the historic Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1995. With over 55,000 spectators in attendance, Australian umpire Darell Hair no-balled Murali several times in three overs for chucking. Although biomechanical tests conducted subsequently cleared him off the charge, the controversy returned to haunt him during Lanka’s tour of Australia in 1998-99, with Ross Emerson levelling the allegation this time. The bowler was again cleared by the world cricket governing body.
Putting all the controversy behind him, Murali continued to fight like a true warrior and added wickets to his tally by the dozen. Soon, he went on to overtake West Indian great Courtney Walsh’s record for the highest Test wicket taker of all time.
During the home series against Bangladesh, Murali took 26 wickets and also became just the second bowler in Test history after Shane Warne to join the 700-wicket club before overtaking the Australian legend’s record of 708 wickets against England at his home ground, Kandy, in December 2007.
Despite the 800-wicket summit well within his grasp, Murali has declared that he will not consider playing an additional game even if he is stuck on 799 wickets at the end of his last Test, a statement that shows a lot about the character of the great man.
Putting the rivalry on the cricket field aside, all cricket lovers all across the world irrespective of the team that they support would wish that Murali gets the 8 wickets that he needs to achieve the feat.
While there will be several detractors, who will not agree with all the praise being showered upon the great cricketer, none must forget the tremendous psychological strength and perseverance that he has displayed while trying to keep himself going during the hardest of times.
While he made life miserable for the batsmen with his unpredictable bowling, it was fun to watch him play when he turned up at the other end of the 22-yard strip.
The Indians will remember how he, along with mystery bowler Ajantha Mendis, made things miserable for them a few seasons back. The impact was so great that it almost put an end to the careers of the ageing Indian middle-order.
But, as they say, all good things must come to an end and so has the Test career of this great off-spinner. Hopefully, he will be around for a few more years in the limited versions of the game to enthrall and enchant us.
We wish Murali all the best for his future.