The Paper Round May 9, 2004

'It makes me sick' - Jarman

Wisden Cricinfo staff

Murali: on top of the world © AFP
The moment all Sri Lanka were waiting for arrived at 1.51pm Zimbabwe local time on Saturday. Muttiah Muralitharan had Mluleki Nkala caught at bat-pad by Mahela Jayawardene, and became the leading wicket taker in Test cricket. Understandably, the cricket world has reacted energetically to this event. There's no holding back when it comes to Murali. You might think his deliveries are illegal, or you might think he's the greatest thing that happened to spin bowling in recent years; either way, you cannot ignore him.

"Had Muralitharan been a boxer like Muhammad Ali, the former world heavyweight champion he would have proclaimed to the world in typical Ali style: `I am the greatest'," writes Sa'adi Thawfeeq for the Sunday Observer, Colombo.

But, not everyone is as fulsome in praise simply because Murali has scalped 521 wickets. "Now Murali stands at once as a champion and an outcast. His record-breaking performance will provoke a mixture of congratulation and resentment," writes Peter Roebuck in the Indian Express. "Even in triumph, Murali cannot command the respect sought by every man and craved by every performer. His head must be spinning as much as his sharpest off-break. He has deserved better from the game than a mixture of hysterical support and abject condemnation."

And, Murali's record has touched people even in lands far away from Asia. "Whatever the earnest mien of some Test players, cricket is a game best played with a smile and a flourish," writes Kevin Mitchell in The Guardian. "Give me Gower before Boycott, Sehwag ahead of Ganguly. And most definitely give me Muttiah Muralitharan above his army of mean-spirited critics."

G Rajaraman, writing in Mid-Day, the Mumbai tabloid, says "The cricket world may be divided into those who believe Muralitharan is unadulterated genius and those who think that he should have no place in the game - and play baseball instead - but even the harshest of his critics will concede, however grudgingly, that his raging desire to practice his craft has its roots in will-power. Instead of letting a persecution complex take over his psyche, Muralitharan has got on with his game."

Erapalli Prasanna expressed happiness at Murali's feat. Speaking to The Telegraph newspaper in Kolkata, he said, "I am delighted spinners can now be placed on a par with fast bowlers. That spinners are setting targets for pacers is highly satisfying. It caused a lot of pain to hear that spinners have no role to play in modern cricket. People started saying cricket lacks quality spinners. It's a matter of great pride that Murali and Warne's achievements will be widely talked about now."

If one person is unhappy about Murali's achievement, and has no problems saying so, it is Barry Jarman, the former Australian captain and wicketkeeper. Jarman, who was the first match official to raise suspicions about Murali's actions. "It makes a joke of the game - it makes me sick talking about it," Jarman is quoted as saying in The Daily Telegraph of Sydney. "Everyone knows he bowls illegally. I saw his photo in the paper the other day and put and old school protractor on his arm. It was bent at 48 degrees [the legal limit for spin bowlers is 10 degrees]. I put it up in the pub to show everyone. He is a lot worse than the University of Western Australia people reckon he is."

And, you can be sure Jarman won't be the only person to lash out against Murali. For the moment, though, there are those who are happy letting Murali enjoy his big moment. "I think it is an amazing feat and a great thing for Sri Lankan cricket," said Steve Waugh. "The authorities have deemed his action legal so there is nothing more he can do."