Murali: Expressive genius overcomes worst fear

Written by: S K Sham
Published: Wednesday, January 3, 2001, 12:20 [IST]
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IT takes quite a bit of effort to put all his joints into one piece, after delivering the ball, in not as elegant a manner as a Bishen Bedi or Erapalli Prasanna. As the ball leaves his slightly-bent wrist, his eyes widen in anticipation of spelling disaster for the batsman at the crease. The eye-balls roll again, as he prepares to bowl the next ball.

This routine has by now become quite a familiar sight around cricket venues of the world wherever Sri Lankans play. The bowler with probably the most expressive eyes, and indubitably the most prodigious spin is Muthiah Muralitharan, the latest to join the 300-wicket club.

The topping of the 300-wicket mark by a bowler is no more considered such a rare feat, as it was thought of when tall and lanky West Indies off-spinner Lance Gibbs became the first to cross the milestone four decades ago.

Muralitharan, became the 17th bowler in Test cricket, to have captured 300 or more wickets, and only the third spin-bowler on that distinctive list. With five of these bowlers, including our own Kapil Dev, having already gone past the 400-wicket mark, the pinnacle now appears to be an ultimate target of 500.

With the West Indies veteran and last in the line of great fast bowlers from the Caribbeans, Courtney Walsh, just a few wickets away from that magical mark, the myth will soon be a reality. There are at least three more, including Muralitharan, who can entertain hopes of emulating that stupendous feat.

Murali, 28, said, "We are playing a lot of Test cricket nowadays. If I can play for another five or six years I can reach 500." When he had Shaun Pollock caught at silly-point by Tilekkeratne Dilshan at Durban, he became the second quickest to reach the 300-wicket mark, after Dennis Lillee, and the fastest amongst the three spinners to achieve that feat.

Lillee, who with Jeff Thomson formed one of the most lethal pairs of fast bowlers in the game, had completed his bag of 300 wickets in 56 Tests. Murali achieved his feat in his 58th Test

However, no one from the group of 17 must have had a more heart-rending tale of success to narrate than Muttiah Muralitharan's. The history of cricket has seen the stigma of being branded a "chucker" end many a promising career.

Even a corrective and an all-clear second opinion by the International Cricket Council (ICC) could not help India's own Rajesh Chauhan and Harbhajan Singh ever make a comeback. Shoaib Akhtar and Grant Flower may have had their doubtful bowling action not quite turned into an issue yet, even though the Zimbabwean all-rounder was called by the umpires on a couple of occasions.

Murali's worst adversary on a cricket field was not any one of the world's leading batsmen, but a highly-prejudiced umpire from Down Under going by the name of Darrell Hair, who caused quite a flutter and great consternation to the Sri Lankan team during the 1995-96 Test series by repeatedly calling Murali for "chucking."

Skipper Arjuna Ranatunga, who believed the action was downright racist, led his side out of the ground, when he was asked by the same umpire to remove the great off-spinner off the firing line as his bowling action was unacceptable.

A greater crisis was averted when the officials back home instructed Arjuna Ranatunga, as telephonic calls were exchanged from the dressing room, to carry on playing and abide by the umpire's decision, even as an official protest was lodged with the ICC.

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