Johannesburg: If spin magician Muthiah Muralitharan is allowed to bowl unchanged from one end, Sri Lanka has a better chance of containing runs in the World Cup. Sri Lanka's misfortune is that the rules do not permit one bowler to send down more than 10 overs in a 50-over match. Bowling is a dilemma, which even a talented Muralitharan cannot resolve. One thing is sure, however.
The Sri Lankan off spinner will not allow a star parade of fast bowlers, from South African Shaun Pollock to Australian Glenn McGrath to Pakistani Wasim Akram, to hog the bowling limelight. Muralitharan has reasons to do well in South Africa, for he is playing his last World Cup. He has already announced he will be quitting One-day cricket after the tournament. Muralitharan, 30, has proved along with Australian leg spin wizard Shane Warne that spinners are not redundant in slam-bang cricket as he has so far grabbed 304 wickets in 203 One-day Internationals. He is the third-highest wicket-taker in the world after Pakistani fast bowlers Wasim Akram (490 in 350 matches) and Waqar Younis (409 from 256).
The Sri Lankan spinner is a riddle, whom batsmen have often found it hard to unravel. He has the skill to turn the ball prodigiously even on unhelpful tracks and is virtually unplayable on turning wickets. Indians found it out to their dismay at Sharjah three years ago when Muralitharan weaved a magic spell around them to finish with seven for 30 off 10 overs. It seemed that the Indians had forgotten how to play off spin. Muralitharan, widely credited along with Pakistan's Saqlain Mushtaq with the revival of off spin, is also an enigma for umpires - especially Australian.
In Australia, he has grabbed headlines as much for his skill as for his bowling action. He keeps stressing that uniformity is an exception rather than a rule in the world of cricket umpiring. Australians believe he chucks. The rest of the world feels he does not, for he has never been called for throwing outside Australia. Muralitharan has taken the criticism in his stride and continued to move from strength to strength in both Tests and One-dayers. He is the only match-winner in the Sri Lankan side woefully short of quality pacemen.
He can turn a match on its head even on a slightly helpful track, making batsmen struggle for each run. Muralitharan knows a trick or two more than many of his contemporary spinners, having an amazing skill to drift the ball away from right-handers with the same action. He has been carrying the bowling responsibilities on his shoulders for nearly a decade, but without losing his guiles and wiles. He is still Sri Lanka's trump card.