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Murali's best: Top Ten-Wicket Hauls - Chetan Narula Column
by Chetan Narula
Jul 31, 2008
Before the India-Sri Lanka series got underway, all the talk was about how Ajantha Mendis had taken the cricketing world by storm. But as Rahul Dravid cautioned, the real challenge came in from the end opposite to the one where the debutant was bowling from. Muttiah Muralitharan, conspicuously quiet before the series, suddenly sprung to life after the proverbial lull before the storm.

An eleven wicket haul, his 21st ten or more wicket haul and on the way, his 64th & 65th five wicket hauls, against a batting line-up that has ground out Warne to dust and played Murali himself with great ease when in India. But this was different, the pitch was different, the pressure even more different as the option of scoring runs from the other end was gone with Mendis bowling. The stage perfectly set for 'Murali Magic' to enchant all, again.

Buoyed by the circumstances and the fact that 600 runs was always going to be a mountain to climb, Murali simply mesmerized the Indian batsmen with his bag of tricks, especially his recent tactic of coming round the wicket and shower the batsmen with an array of doosras. In between, slip in the odd off-break, sometimes quicker through the air (Ganguly), sometimes slow and looped up (Gambhir), and the batsmen are left wondering what hit them. Ask the Indian batsmen, they must have done so while traveling all the way from Colombo to Galle.

In the meantime, let us too, ponder over the best that Murali gave us in the not so recent past.

16 for 220 vs England, 1998: First time is good, second time is always a charm they say. And this was no less. It was only the second time that the off spinner took 10 wickets in a match, but with 9 for 65 in the 2nd innings, he was set to match Jim Laker's feat of ten wickets in an innings. On an Oval pitch that was dry, sure, but didn't resemble a dust bowl, he was the main weapon in captain Ranatunga's arsenal and had it not been for a stupid run-out, he would have probably achieved this feat before Anil Kumble. In no short terms, though, this was the performance that made everyone sit up and take notice, that this was no ordinary spinner and probably that is the reason, he personally rates this effort as his best ever.

13 for 171 vs South Africa, 2000: Bat first and let them face the spinners is the mantra when playing on flat turners. And this is exactly what skipper Jayasuriya did. The batting clicked almost instantly to put up a score in excess of 500 and after that, it was just the Murali-tune making the Proteas dance. Galle tends to bring out the best in this player born in Kandy, and here he brought his full bag of tricks, complete with off-breaks, top-spinners and doosras. So much so, that the lone South African to put up any sort of resistance with a ton, Darryl Cullinan, had this to say, "I could have been out three or four times. He's unique." Nothing like a compliment from the opposition.

11 for 196 vs India, 2001: Sub-continental teams consider it sacrilegious to lose a series to a team from the same region. And the off-spinner made sure that his team did not suffer from this ignominy. On the flattest of pitches seen in a long time at the SSC, India were motoring along at 1 for 97 when disaster, rather Murali struck. A haul of 8 for 87 in the first innings meant that the backbone of the Indian batting had been broken, and they had collapsed to 234 all out. The series, keenly poised at 1-1 before this moment, had all but slipped from the clutches of the touring Indians.

10 for 135 vs West Indies, 2001: This series had seen the rivalry between Brian Lara and Muralitharan come to the fore. Already 1-0 down, Lara had played his team's nemesis with relative ease but the bowler was hell bent on making it another win, inspite of rain washing away 130 overs. And with hauls of 4 for 54 and 6 for 81, the match was won by a huge 131 runs, with Murali hurriedly taking the last four wickets off 21 balls conceding only 4 runs.

13 for 115 vs Zimbabwe, 2002: True, Zimbabawe are in shambles now, but back then, with the Flower brothers, Stuart Carlisle, Heath Streak and Henry Olonga in the side, they had it in them to put it across any team in the world on their day. Any which ways, it is never easy to pick up nine wickets in an innings whatever the opposition and that too in the first innings of a Test. For the second time in his career, Murali came agonizingly close to the feat of 10-in-an-innings with a haul of 9 for 51 and only a dropped catch from Russell Arnold denied him the honors. Had he achieved the feat, it would have been the best ever Test figures beating Laker's 10 for 53 and Kumble's 10 for 74.

11 for 212 vs Australia, 2004: It was Warne vs Murali with the two spinners going at it hammer and tongs. Whatever the leg spinner did, the off spinner could always do one better, and testimony to it is the fact that while the Aussie got a ten wicket haul in the match, Murali returned eleven to his name. The only problem was that Warne had the rest of his gritty team backing him, and thus Australia registered a very determined win.

10 for 83 vs West Indies, 2005: The Windies were missing the batting might of Lara and still they managed to make a fight of it, dismissing Sri Lanka in the first innings for an odd 148. While Vaas shot them out in the first innings for 137, a hamstring injury meant he couldn't bowl in the second innings. It was all left to Murali to do and do it he did, taking 8 for 46, depriving the opposition another opportunity to fight back.

11 for 132 vs England, 2006: Murali had taken a ten wicket haul in the previous match as well, but it didn't matter much due to the histrionics of a certain Kevin Pieterson. But in this match at Trent Bridge, the wicket was low and slow, and the sun was beating down on it during a hot English summer. A perfect platform for arguably the best spinner to lay his trap as England chased 325 with two days to play. However, by the end of the fourth day, a haul of 8 for 70 meant that the series had been leveled 1-1 instead of being lost 2-0.

10 for 118 vs New Zealand, 2007: Seldom does a spinner get a flat and dry track to bowl on, in this part of the world. Ask Daniel Vettori and he will affirm this. So it was really no surprise that the two world class spinners on display made hay while the sun shone at the Basin Reserve. While the Kiwi also took ten wickets, his team's batsmen suddenly lost their touch against the guile of Murali, who returning with his nineteenth ten-wicket-haul made sure the series was drawn 1-1. With this feat, he also became the only bowler to take ten-wickets-in-a-match against all Test playing nations.

Obviously then, the haul against the Indians in the last match is comparable to any of these earlier match winning performances that he has put in. These are the ten best of his long career, out of a staggering 21 such hauls, and by no means is he finished just yet. With two Tests still to go in the series, the signs are looking ominous for the Indian batsmen who are facing Muttiah Muralitharan at his cleverest and hence, most menacing.
 
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