London: Former England fast bowler Mike Selvey has said that when Sri Lankan off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan retires from international cricket at the end of the first Test against India later this month with or without adding to his Test victims tally of 792, he will exit with the tag of a player who attracted controversy or split public opinion the most.
In an article for the Guardian, Selvey says that Murali has been a genius to some throughout the past two decades, a worthy counterpoint and rival to Shane Warne for the title of supreme spin bowler, while to others, though, he has been a cheat.
It is 46 years since Fred Trueman became the first to take 300 Test wickets and pronounce that if anyone else managed it they would be "bloody knackered".
Murali`s relentless march has proved otherwise. He will go to Galle to play India for his final Test with 792 wickets.
When he was in his absolute pomp and taking wickets like pick-and-mix from the sweet counter there was talk of 1,000 wickets, but it is still a total, given the demands on modern international cricketers, that will never be beaten.
Some of the statistics are staggering. On 66 occasions, he has taken five wickets in an innings, compared to Warne`s 37. He has managed 10 wickets in a match 22 times and to place this in context, only 11 bowlers have managed more five-wicket innings than this.
Twice - in 2001, against India, Bangladesh and West Indies and again in 2006 against England and South Africa - he took 10 wickets in four successive matches. No one has sent down more than his 43,669 deliveries (40,850 for Anil Kumble and 40,705 for Warne are the only ones in the parish). A total of 73 of his wickets have come with catches by Mahela Jayawardene, the most by a non-wicketkeeper off a single bowler.
He did not carry the Sri Lanka attack for the bulk of his career, until his shoulder began to object and a little of the fizz went out of him - he was the Sri Lanka attack.
Murali would occupy one end until play was done.
Often, it is a unique method that elevates a sportsman above his contemporaries and Murali has been unique.
The degree of spin he gains as a result of a combination of finger manipulation and wrist has been extraordinary, way beyond that achievable by those who are finger spinners alone. And when the spin became so vast yet predictable that batsmen began to learn how to play him, he developed the top spinner and then the "doosra", the other one, a delivery bowled with the same action but which turns away from the right-hander.
With it came the sort of clamour that had greeted first sightings of him. It is, critics will say, physically impossible to bowl as he does without a jerk in the action, to which the response is that it is possible, but only to someone who has Murali`s freakish attributes.