December 3, 2007

An undiluted champion

We Hebrews have a word for such occasions: mazeltov

You wouldn’t think there could possibly be anything more he could do to embellish the legend, but even as the warm breath of the Kandy Man’s most momentous feat enveloped the Asgiriya Stadium, came another reminder of his uniqueness.

When Fred Trueman became the first man to take 300 Test wickets at The Oval in 1964, he observed with typical drollness that, if anyone outdid him, he’d be “bloody tired”. Having sent down 38,000-odd balls to Trueman’s 15,000-odd, most of them in steamy, strength-sapping conditions, Muttiah Muralitharan had even more reason to prattle on about work ethics and sweat-drenched toil. Heaven knows he’d have been justified, in the heat of the moment, in hailing his historic delivery to Paul Collingwood this morning as the greatest ball of his career, an impeccable fusion of sorcery and sauce. What followed was as unexpected as anything he has ever served up for our delectation.

Collingwood was bewitched, bothered, bewildered and bowled by a ball that straightened: the “toppie” or doosra, or so we assumed. The author, astonishingly, disclaimed all responsibility: he’d tried to bowl the orthodox offie (as if anything he does can ever be regarded as such) but “the ball went the other way”, or so he confessed in typically disarming fashion to Sky Sports’ Nick Knight. Up in the commentary box, Sir Ian of Bothamshire was pinching himself black and blue.

In each of the seven categories to the right of the wickets column – best bowling, best match bowling, average, economy rate, strike rate, five-fors and 10-fors – Murali bests Shane Warne. Among that magnificent septet, those 61 five-fors are the most revealing (Robert Croft, the former England offspinner, justly equates such hauls to centuries). Yet even that staggering stat only hints at the colossal burden the tigerish Tamil has had to bear. Only one colleague, Chaminda Vaas (322 as I write), has scalped more than 100 Test victims; only Vaas (11) among Sri Lankans has taken five wickets in an innings more than five times. No bowler since Charlie Griffith, moreover, has had his action, and hence integrity, assailed by so many outrageous slings and arrows.

Through it all, almost without exception, he has resisted any urge to bitch back, to fire vengeful salvos about Brett Lee or Shoaib Malik or any other owners of dubious actions. Through it all, he has been mindful of the wider world, of tsunami victims and those less fortunate, as kind to dressing-room newcomers as he is respectful to the senior team-mates he has carried on that impossibly broad back. We Hebrews have a word for such occasions: mazeltov, meaning "congratulations". “Mazel”, though, means luck, and luck has played no discernible part in this cockle-grilling story whatsoever.

Warne may have done more to revive the art and heart of spin, but Murali has redefined our notions of sporting heroism. Verily, a champion for our times.

Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on December 27, 2007, 5:49 GMT

    Rahul, Technology does not exist where you can wirelessly connect bio mechanics equipment to players in live conditions. High speed camera's at 2000FPS show you the degree of flexation with an error of plus or minus of 5 degrees. ALL you amateur bio mechanic experts think the ICC and reputed scientists are clowns to over look the details. GROW UP!

  • testli5504537 on December 27, 2007, 5:44 GMT

    Anyone who keeps saying The ICC changed the rules to accommodate Murali should stop and listen to themselves sometimes. Unless you are uneducated a conspiracy theory as such, YES thats what it is.. a stupid conspiracy theory to claim the game's governing body and Australian scientists changed the rules to keep Murali in the game. In case you over looked it, under old laws of 10 degrees even Mcgrath and shaun pollock were chuckers! It was reported by news agencies world wide including cricinfo that pollock and Mcgrath had flexation of close to 12 degress. Thats ONE DEGREE less than Murali... Idiots!

  • testli5504537 on December 14, 2007, 0:46 GMT

    Hey Rowan

    I bet you're just a waiter, and at those corporate (note the correct spelling) events where you spoke with the players, your side of the conversation consisted entirely of "Can I get you something Mr. Gilchrist?"

  • testli5504537 on December 11, 2007, 13:54 GMT

    To those who can't seem to enjoy with others, I pity you.

    Does he chuck - I don't know, but he has been cleared by Bio-Mechanic experts from AUS. If you hate him so much down-under, you should have kept a gun on the docs head to declare him as such.

    Cricket is game that is played on the field with passion in your heart and a smile on your face. In that department, Murali will always be remembered as the greatest ever.

    BTW I am from India.

  • testli5504537 on December 10, 2007, 21:51 GMT

    A true ambassador to the game, the great has overcome a large degree of scrutiny from the ICC to career threatening injuries, yet continues to keep a smile on his face whenever he plays. The way he is going I can see him reaching 800 minimum and maybe beyond. Taking 5 wickets in a first innings against the second best team in the world as saw in Columbo today, stresses his desire to continue. Without doubt he deserves to be spoken under the same breath as Bradman, Hobbs, Sobers and so on. These elite figures all appeared in the top five Wisden cricketers of the last millennium and of course it may be deemed ludicrous to say in 2007, but surely it would require someone out of the ordinary to prevent Murali being the best cricketer of the 21st Century

  • testli5504537 on December 8, 2007, 22:47 GMT

    As expected this discussion has gone down a familiar path. My main observation is that one side of the debate seems to be susceptible to playing the race card at every opportunity. Funny how those crying racism are the ones using terms like "your white skin", "criminal past" and my personal favourite "you're all convicts, decended from thieves, murderers and rapists". Would appear to me that only one side is seeing race as an issue in this debate. From what i've seen the opposite side is arguing the point in term of cricket (you know the game: bat, ball stumps etc). Whether you think Murali is a chucker or not it can hardly be denied it is an issue in the game so to cry racism at every opportunity only denigrates your own argument. Those who live in glass houses...

  • testli5504537 on December 7, 2007, 21:53 GMT

    Congrats Murali!

  • testli5504537 on December 7, 2007, 20:45 GMT

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  • testli5504537 on December 7, 2007, 20:42 GMT

    cont.. comments accusing any player, team or official of match-fixing or of any performance being influenced by betting Try not to post two-word comments like “Great article”. Try to explain why you like the article. (This is also because increasingly spam contains only short phrases like the ones mentioned above – expanding on your comment reduces the risk of getting caught in a spam filter.)

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  • testli5504537 on December 7, 2007, 20:39 GMT

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