“I have been wounded, but not yet slain. I shall lie here and bleed awhile. Then I shall rise and fight again. The title of champion may from time to time fall to others more than ourselves. But the heart, the spirit, and the soul of champion’s remains in Green Bay,” said Vince Lombardi, an American football coach, to inspire his players.
The above quote, pretty much sums up the life and career of Muttiah Muralitharan.
The difference between good cricketers and great cricketers is that the latter’s imprint on the game can be found even long after they have hung the boots. There is certain ‘timelessness’ about them.
Sir Donald Bradman, Ian Botham, Sunil Gavaskar, Viv Richards, Kapil Dev, Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar, Shane Warne…some of the names that come to the mind, when one discusses greatness.
And now that Muralitharan is the highest wicket-taker in Tests as well as the ODIs, there can hardly be doubt that of the few greats this game has produced in recent years, Murlitharan must rank somewhere near the top.
769 Test victims at an average of just under 22...and 503 times have batsmen fallen prey to Murali’s guile in one-dayers... The average…just a little over 22! A total of 1272 international wickets since his debut 17 years ago!
66 five-wicket hauls and 22 ten-wicket hauls in Tests (again more than any). Add another 10 five-wicket hauls that he picked up in ODIs! (phew)
Bradmanisque figures, to say the least.
The sheer voluminous nature of these numbers bears testimony to his greatness.
The heart and soul and also the backbone of the Sri Lankan side for more than a decade, his form is usually the defining factor between a competitive Sri Lankan outfit and a not so competitive one.
He has 417 wickets to his credit in the 51 Tests that Sri Lanka has won, when his average dips even further to 15.77 per piece. Spinning similar success in one-dayers as well, he boasts of 339 wickets in 186 ODI victories he has been a part off.
But, a Muralitharan story can hardly be restricted to just number telling.
Born with abnormality in his bowling arm, he has transformed these perceptible disadvantages into the most potent weapon in cricket. Along with the unrivalled ability to spin the ball, the tenacity of his mind and the muscle memory to retain control and accuracy, set him apart from others of his ilk.
For the man credited with reinventing the art of spin bowling, the ups and lows he has faced in his career, finds few parallels amongst contemporaries.
And to think, that if Aussies had their way, the world would have been deprived the pleasures this genius has provided to millions across the cricketing world.
After umpire Darrell Hair no-balled him for ‘chucking’, way back in 1995, he became the favourite punching bag for people hopeless against spin bowling. For what they couldn’t do with the bat, they used their tongues.
They taunted him. Abused him. Labelled him a chucker. Called him a cheat. A lesser person would have retracted. Would have been bullied into submission. But Murali was made of sterner stuff. Behind the innocent face and boyish smile, lay a man, determined to prove himself in the face of adversities. This is where inspirational qualities of his then captain Arjuna Ranatunga helped him ride through the storm.
Every couple of years, Murali would be subjected to all sort of random tests to discover whether he chucks.
Despite ICC’s Law 24, that provides leverage to Murali, sniggers didn’t stop.
He carried on. His captains changed. But what didn’t was Murali’s designation as captain’s Man Friday. He soldiered on. Bowling tirelessly, over after over...tour after tour…doing what he knows the best, picking wickets by the bagful.
Today, he sits on the top of the pile as the highest wicket-taker ever.
At the twilight of his career, he has found his worthy successor in Ajantha Mendis. The delicious irony is hard to miss. As smooth ascendancy is underway in Sri Lanka, their ‘best friends’-Australia continue to make mockery of themselves in their efforts to find Shane Warne’s successor.