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'There won't be another Murali'
Tony Greig and Dileep Premachandaran discuss Murali's retirement, life after him for Sri Lanka, and the state of spin around the world (33:53)
July 26, 2010
Time Out with Harsha Bhogle
'There won't be another Murali'July 26, 2010
Harsha Bhogle: Welcome everybody to Time Out, where we will be celebrating the career of one of the greatest cricketers to have ever played the game - Muttiah Muralitharan. We have with us, Tony Greig who has watched a lot of cricket in Sri Lanka - they love him there and he in turn loves them and has seen a lot of Murali over the years. And also Dileep Premachandran, who sees a lot of cricket - so he brings a journalists perspective
It is always a huge day in international sport when one of the game's finest practitioners decides he has had enough. And so today, we are going to talk about the exit of Murali from Test cricket and I have a great friend of Sri Lanka alongside me; Tony, welcome to the show. And Dileep, it is good to have you as well.
Tony, I am going to start with you; you played your cricket in the 1970s and saw some of the great bowlers of the 60s. Did you imagine 800 would be possible one day?
Tony Greig: We didn't really think in terms of these figures back then. Obviously the internet has brought figures to the attention of most players. We were far more preoccupied with how good the players were and not necessarily with their numbers.
HB: The mind goes back to when Freddie Trueman took 300 wickets; I remember reading a couple of books about that and what an astonishing achievement that was. Murali has not played that many Tests - he has taken about 6 wickets a Test and that is unbelievable.
TG: You are right. I remember the individual days; I remember when Dennis Lilliee went past the record and Lance Gibbs flew down to Australia - there was a fuss made on those occasions when someone became No.1 the thing about Murali though is that he has been No. 1 for so long. I suppose the fact that he retired and everything came together so incredibly, made it an even bigger day. I think back to the times that I played against the great Indian spinners and I was thinking in Galle: was there anyone as good as this bloke? They have been some great spinners in the years gone by, but no one better than this guy.
HB: I think Murali had one thing going for him- maybe we are being a bit uncharitable to Chaminda Vaas who toiled very hard - but Murali was often Sri Lanka's matchwinner. If you look at the great West Indian pace attack or the Indian spinners, the wickets were often shared around; so Dileep do you think these 800 wickets are as much a factor of Murali's skill as the fact that he always bowled the largest amount of overs because he was Sri Lanka's only genuine wicket-taker?
Dileep Premachandran: I would agree with that to an extent. I remember reading the other day that he bowled 40% of Sri Lanka's overs but the flip side of that argument is that he had to make the breakthroughs on his own a lot of the times where as a Shane Warne or an Anil Kumble probably had better support at the other end, and perhaps, had an easier time working their way into the game. But with Murali the pressure was always on him to do what the captain needed him to do.
HB: Tony, what difference did Murali make to Sri Lanka? The numbers say that before him they had two wins out of 38 … was it just that he was at the right place at the right time when Sri Lanka were starting to become a more confident cricket nation? Or did Murali lead the change in perception in people about Sri Lanka outside of the country?
TG: I think the timing was perfect. They needed someone to emerge that was a real force. The fact that he was a mystery spinner as well, after a few years, added to the whole spice of things. Arjuna Ranatunga had instilled some confidence in the team helped; the opening batsmen had a new and slightly more aggressive style in one-day cricket …all these things plus a few other bowlers created a situation where the timing was perfect. The thing that I question is: who would I have in my team? You would have your choice of fast bowlers and the attack would be good - would I have had Murali, or Warne, or [Lance] Gibbs, or [Derek] Underwood, or [Erapalli Prasanna] - on reflection I would have picked Murali as my spinner behind a good pace attack. Sure he bowled a lot of overs in Sri Lanka, but even if they had and Australian type attack, he would have created more problems for batsmen, especially after the openers were removed.
|"You could have an Australian kid coming up in about ten years who could bowl just like Warne, but you can forget about getting another Murali. There is no one who can come on the scene and bowl like that, with that amount of consistency and success" Dileep Premachandran|
HB: When Murali was at his peak in the late 90s, Sanath Jaysuriya was around and we cannot belittle his extra-ordinary contribution to Sri Lankan cricket; Aravinda de Silva for a few years would have been in the shortlist of the best batsmen in the world, Ranatunga was a strong captain and they had a strong supporting cast of players like Roshan Mahanama and Vaas had started to come around. So do you agree that Murali's timing was interesting - had he come in three years earlier it would not have produced the same results?
DP: Certainly. In some ways it is sort of analogous to Sunil Gavaskar and India in 1971. People talk about the 774 runs in West Indies but you also have to remember the support cast that was there - Dilip Sardesai made 612 runs; there was fantastic support from the fielders, all the spinners took wickets, Abid Ali chipped in with the ball, so there were a lot of contributions. Even in Sri Lanka's case, it was Chaminda Vaas's bowling in 1995 on the tour of New Zelaand that set up the series win - that was a catalyst for them to go overseas and win in conditions where people never gave them a chance before that.
HB: Inevitably the question will come, now that there is no Murali, how will it be for someone like Kumar Sangakkara now, as a captain?
TG: That is definitely a problem. I think he will have to turn a little more to Mahela Jayawardene who has been a fantastic captain. Sangakkara hasn't had a great time recently and it will only get tougher. If you can't turn to Murali, you have to find someone else. They seem to be quite confident that they will come up with somebody soon. But I don't think they will find anyone who was so different. Murali had three deliveries and they were all totally different from, say, the off-spin deliveries we saw from Prasanna. Prasanna, and the others had their palm facing the batsmen. Murali introduced something that was so foreign; because of the real flexi-wrist that he had, he bowled all his deliveries with the back of his hand facing the batsmen. He did that to confuse them even more, along with tumbling the seam of the ball so that it became tougher to see the way it was spinning. So the things that Murali introduced were so way out of left-field, that it was incredible.
HB: I saw Murali bowling in a Test in 1994 in India; Murali picked up a lot of wickets but they cost him about 34 or 35 per wicket. That was before the arrival of the doosra. And when batsmen then started going down to Murali, he would bowl flatter throught the air, he lost the flight that he had. I think the arrival of the doosra made Murali a better bowler. That is contrast to a couple of other bowlers like Saqlain Mushtaq, where the arrival of the doosra meant the end of the off-spinner. What is your view on Murali's doosra?
TG: I think you have got that partially right. I think Saqlain was getting towards the end of his career. Murali picked up the doosra from Saqlain and he took it one step further because he was more flexible. He became the mystery spinner after he got the doosra going. All the controversy hit at the same time but there is no doubt that he developed not only the doosra, but the in-between ball: the topspinner as well as the offspinner. So he had these three deliveries bowling over the wicket in the main - I don't think he really got used to bowling around the wicket. The better players of Murali picked his line. Brain Lara was easily the best player of Murali. Murali won't say that because Sachin is till around and Murali is such a nice bloke. I tried to get this out of him the other day but he wouldn't say it. But Lara's record against Murali showed that he wasn't that keen against left-handers. But the doosra and the topspinner made him a much better bowler.
HB: Every great bowler goes through phases where batsmen conquer him. Murali was conquered was time to time, before the doosra came, but when the doosra came, when he hit his prime, the only batsmen who conquered him was Lara, in that series in Sri Lanka that Sri Lanka won 3-0, but Lara made some 500-odd runs in a three-game series. But all talk of Murali must include his action. Do you think it helped him get more wickets and when history is written 15 years later it will be said that Murali had a trickier action that Warne and was therefore more successful?
DP: Without a doubt; the fact that all you could see was the back of his hand was a factor. I agree with what Tony said about Lara, because the numbers say it as well. Apart from Lara, the two batsmen I saw Murali struggle against was a series in 2004 when Darren Lehmann played him very well, when Australia won that series after conceding first-innings leads in all three games. The other batsman was Damien Martyn who played everything from the crease as late as possible. Those were two other guys I saw play Murali really well. obviously none as adept as Lara in 2001 but these two came pretty close.
HB: Tony, a lot of people say that Murali's action wasn't right, the ICC was lenient with him … what is your view on his action that led to this whole 15 degree thing from the ICC?
TG: The game can't stand still. In respect of the chucking rule, it was originally brought in to curb fast bowlers when there was no protection. What they were trying to do was stop the square-on through by them. That was understandable. As soon as helmets were introduced the danger went away to a degree. Murali brought about this measuring of angles of the elbow; he brought about a change to the law. And with all the measuring they found out that almost all bowlers had some flex, so we had been living under this misapprehension. Sure, we had some perfectly classical actions but I think finger spinners had a degree of flex. The great bowlers that I played against in India were smart about how they used it. All Murali did was bring it to our attention and we know have a better law. If somebody said that he is going to come up and bowl with the back of his arm and forearm facing the batsman I would have said bring it on. I have got a bit of a problem with the whinges about Murali's action: they are largely from players of yesteryears who didn't do that well. I am fully behind him. We have got to move on. I think he was good for the game. The doosra is good for the game. Now the offspinners have something.
HB: I thought Murali was fantastic for Sri Lanka. But Dileep, where do Sri Lanka go from here? You can't keep living in the past, your cricket can't be defined by someone who is not there. Sri Lanka now have four spinners in their ranks, all of them who bowl differently - Suraj Randiv, Malinga Bandara, Rangana Herath and Ajantha Mendis.
DP: It's not too bad but you have to remember that Bandara is almost 30, and Herath is past 30. The last few times I have seen Mendis he has been off the boil. Randiv looked impressed in his few ODI outings. But the first thing Sri Lanka need to do is accept the fact that Murali won't be around. His action and impact cannot be replicated in any way. You could have an Australian kid coming up in about ten years who could bowl just like Warne, but you can forget about getting another Murali. There is no one who can come on the scene and bowl like that, with that amount of consistency and success.
HB: Dileep, if you cast your eye around the people playing cricket now, someone who has been a breath of fresh air in the world of spin, has been Graeme Swann. Harbhajan seems to have hit a plateau…so has Danish Kaneria…so are you struggling to find the next big spinner in world cricket?
|"Apart from Graeme Swann there is really not a spinner out there who excites. I have some hope for Steven Smith who seems very confident and doesn't look like he'll take a backward step" Dileep Premachandran|
DP: For sure. Apart from Swann there is really not a spinner out there who excites. I have some hope for Steven Smith who seems very confident and doesn't look like he'll take a backward step. That is what I like about Swann. Even if you hit him for a six he will still come back and attack you. He won't get scared and spear the ball two feet outside off stump which seems to be the increasing tendency in the way cricket is played these days.
TG: I think Swann is the man I am looking forward to seeing bowl in Australia in the Ashes. I have never ever been confronted by such enthusiasm in Sri Lanka with their programme for youngsters. De Silva is really working very hard with the youngsters here. You see a lot of kids running up here with a Murali-type action and it won't be surprising if one emerges with a similar action. Will he be as good? I doubt it very much. I do not understand why the left-arm spinner is not trying to develop the doosra. We will see that happen sometime.
HB: Even chinaman bowlers seem to come once in a life time. Why are left-arm spinners around the world, stuck in one kind of bowling?
TG: I can't answer that Harsha. In my case I enjoyed the ball going away from the ball more. It is all a question of hard work. Every offspinner should be working hard on the doosra. It doesn't have to turn too much either; you won't be able to do it the way Murali did it because he was so flexible. It is just a question of getting some variation, going the other way. It's a bit like the old arm-ball. I thin k Murali has opened the gate. He has shown there is a place for finger spinners. He has been absolutely unbelievable in handling the nastiness that was thrown his way by not just being no-balled, but also in terms of the flak he has received in his career.
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