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By Sunil Gavaskar
What a way to go! Muttiah Muralitharan signed off from test cricket not only by scaling bowling’s impossible peak by reaching 800 wickets in test cricket but also helping his team to win the first test match. He got the last Indian wicket in the second innings to get to that landmark which looks pretty hard to be beaten though we have seen in life and in cricket that nothing is ever impossible. For some time it appeared as if he would be stranded short of that mark as Lasith Malinga ripped the heart out of the Indian batting and that cricket historians and statisticians would remember him for being left on 799 wickets like Sir Don Bradman is for missing out on an average of 100 but then a splendid catch by Jayawardene ensured that ‘the magician’ got to that figure.
It was probably a bit short than was expected of him but he had begun to lose the venom in his bowling a bit and he knew that his body was sending the signals that it could not cope with those endless spells and so it was time to go and just concentrate on the shorter version of the game where there are only a limited number of overs to be bowled. His farewell was a spectacular one and brought a lump to the throat because he is probably the most popular cricketer in Sri Lanka and the Lankans knew as did the rest of the cricketing world that they would not see the like of him again.
Truly Murali was one of a kind and because he was so unusual that he was the center of controversies and debate. He himself was quite happy to let his bowling do the talking and knew that in life there will always be some who will be against you no matter what and some who will always be for you no matter how wrong you may be. As always you hope the latter are in greater numbers than the former and in Murali’s case that indeed was the case. Again all those who were against him were only about his bowling action and not about him the person and those against him also were one in admitting that Murali was a terrific guy.
While there will always be a big debate about who is the greatest spinner of them all, Murali and Shane Warne it is again like comparing two batsmen when they are not in the same team and thus not playing against the same opposition. The only way comparisons stand up if it is to compare two players from the same team and there again it may well depend on some other factors. For example if it is a comparison between two batsmen from the same team it could depend on who opens the batting and who bats down the order and if it is between bowlers then it could be who bowls with the new ball and who bowls with an older ball. There is also orthodoxy and sticking to tradition and then there is unorthodoxy and being really different from the rest of the crowd and it is here that Murali was unique. Most bowlers have pretty much the same run up and the delivery styles may vary slightly but in Murali’s case it was so totally different that it created waves. All off spinners try and turn the ball with their wrists facing the batsman but Murali had his wrist facing himself when he delivered and so got prodigious turn even on the flattest of pitches.
Wrist spinners generally turn the ball on any pitch but off spinners find it much more difficult to do so. Not Murali who because of his unusual action could spin the ball on glass if need be. The cynics screamed it was because he was throwing the ball but did he straighten the arm enough for it be a throw? That debate will perhaps go on for a long time and this is not about who is right and who is wrong but simply a tribute to a man who showed unflagging energy and enthusiasm and took great pride in playing for his country. More crucially during the tough time in Sri Lanka’s politics, Murali, a tamilian was the glue that held the team together and was thus loved by all Lankans.
He was never short of an opinion and thus was always having something or the other to say in the dressing room but because even a critical observation from him came with a smile and with those eyes big and wide it was hard to get angry or upset with him. Batsmen like to be left alone as they come back to the pavilion even after they have got a big score because that is when they are upset with themselves for having been dismissed. It is even worse if a batsman has got a bad decision or he has got out playing a bad shot. That is when it is advisable to clear the dressing room and allow him to vent his frustrations at the wall or a waste basket or anything that comes within his range. But Murali would wade in just then and say something and instead of anger there would be a shrug and a big laugh even from the batsman who had a good reason to be upset. He would stand right in front of the batsman as he was holding his head in his hands or just cursing everything under the sun and would look him in the eye and simply query “sh!t shot, no”? The batsman would glare at him for a second or so but start laughing and the tense moment would pass. He was that kind of a character in the dressing room.
The Lankan dressing room will miss him for sure but more than them the cricket lovers will miss that angular run up the big eyes as they looked over his front shoulder at the spot where he wanted to land the ball and the delight when he snared his man.
Well done Murali. You were a real magician.