Cricketers pick their favourites

'The amount he spun the ball made him stand out'

Part ten: Alec Stewart on the best bowlers he has faced: Muttiah Muralitharan was one tough customer (00:00)

Producer: Ranjit Shinde

January 8, 2013


Muttiah Muralitharan

'The amount he spun the ball made him stand out'

January 8, 2013

Muttiah Muralitharan bagged his 793rd wicket, dismissing Sachin Tendulkar, 1st Test, Galle, 3rd day, July 20, 2010
Muttiah Muralitharan: "Will always be looked upon as one of the greatest ever" © Associated Press

Murali. Unbelievable performer. People talk about his action - put that to one side. To me he's been a fantastic bowler, both to Sri Lanka and the game of cricket, and I sympathise with him for those people who say he throws it, he's this, he's done that. He is a fantastic bowler and always will be looked upon as one of the greatest ever.

Anyone who can spin the ball - I won't say that much - is a regulation offspinner, then can bring the doosra in later on in his career and spin it that much away, is going to be hard work. His record speaks for itself.

I first played against him back in the winter of 1992-93 in Sri Lanka, and I had never seen anyone, first of all, with an action like that, spin the ball as much as that.

He burst on the international scene and he never ever looked back. Prolific wicket-taker. Also, he was able to bowl a lot of overs. I don't know how many overs he bowled percentage-wise in Sri Lanka's Tests, but he was a fit person. Obviously he put a lot of stress on various parts of his body, but he was brilliant.

Always called him "the smiling assassin", because he always had that big grin on his face, with the run-up, and he'd get you out. But it was the amount he spun the ball - you always had to say, "Right, I'm gonna cancel out the off side", because you were always taught to play with the spin. Even if the ball is pitched that much outside off stump, most offspinners, you'd get back and try to punch through the off side and get back and cut the ball. When you first play against Murali, that's what you'd do, but because it'd spin so much, you'd get bottom edges, you'd be back on the stumps, and he'd bowl you through the gate, etc. etc. So it was difficult to master and get on top of Murali.

He bowled some bad balls, don't get me wrong, but because of the amount he spun it, he actually got away with a lot as well. People weren't looking to dominate him as perhaps they would bowlers who didn't spin it quite as much.

The difference between Murali and Saqlain, basically, was the amount that Murali spun the ball, because they could both bowl the doosra. They say Saqlain brought it in first, then Murali developed it as time went on. That made him an even better bowler against left-handers, because to begin with, against left-handers he spun it so much going away from them, they could get back and cut it or just let it go. But once he developed the ball to come back in to the left-hander, most struggled against him. I remember talking to Graham Thorpe about how all of a sudden Murali had changed the way you looked to play him. So well done, Murali, for bringing in that development.

Saqlain or Murali, you'd have to go Murali, as much as I hate to say that, because Saqlain was my Surrey team-mate. Murali's record just says you've got to pick him.

Brilliant for Sri Lankan cricket, brilliant for world cricket. I take my hat off to him for what he's achieved.

Posted by Naikan on (January 9, 2013, 14:30 GMT)

Guys, personally I prefer Murali over Warne for a variety of reasons. However an issue such as this should not be ignored. The ICC buried the issue, as they had no way out. The original intent of the law "straightening of the arm" was to prevent a bowler from throwing the ball as at that distance a good arm can make a blinding fast throw. However a throw involves a retractive action and is not governed by just the straightening of the elbow. A throw is possbile by flicking the wrist without much straigthening of the elbow. In my view the ICC found no way to define all these aspects and had to go for the 15 deg elbow as a compromise. That also gave support to the Doosra - a delivery the human arm is incapable of without throwing (the limitation comes from the way a shoulder can rotate and the need to deliver the Doosra with the palm facing the bowler). Also see wikipedia.While Murali may have been exonerated there was no real resolution for this issue of clean bowling action.

Posted by   on (January 9, 2013, 2:25 GMT)

Can't believe people still talk about chucking. The laws were changes after scientific study which showed that 99% of all bowlers "chucked" in the old definition and the only time a straightening of the elbow became visible to the naked eye is when it was above 15 degrees. And he was much better than Warne, who had a battering ram of fast bowlers to make inroads before he came on to bowl, and also got so many wickets again England, the worst players of spin in the history of cricket possibly.

Posted by Nmiduna on (January 8, 2013, 17:33 GMT)

@ Naikan, your argument itself is contradicting. not only murali's, it was also found that many other so called greats in past and present (although i dont recall any spinners, i do recall mcgrath and lee, with all due respect for their greatness), about 99% of them bent at least at times more than the allowed angle. so how do you exactly know that past spinners didnt have the same advantage?.. murali's gift and curse at the same time was his congenitally deformed arm. it allowed him exceptional flexibility but gave wrong illusions. some might even say that murali in turn faced many tribulations and unbearable mental stress, he actually once thought of giving up cricket but survived through shear will and the help of his few but faithful supporters. being a sri lankan, i believe that warny was better as an impact player, who like KP, used his ego to mesmerizing effect. but in any comparing and contrasting, bringing 'chucking' into the table is unfair, ungainly and pointless.

Posted by Balumekka on (January 8, 2013, 16:38 GMT)

@Naikan: I join with Alec to sympathize people like you who always speak about Murali's action due to the ignorance. I usually hate posting replies for baseless comments, but since this sort of comments do harm the wonderful achievements by Murali, I thought of replying. Murali never straighten his arm. You can see the following videos where he bowls with a firm, fixed brace which do not allow any flexion or extension his elbow, and still gets same amount of turn from doosra and regular off spin.

Posted by Naikan on (January 8, 2013, 15:03 GMT)

While I have high regard for Murali (and especially as a really likeable personality), I will always take his achievement with a pinch of salt. His bowling record, before he got the go ahead for his action, was an average of about 30. Whether his action is acceptable is not the question, but the fact that many good spinners before him never got that freedom to do the same, meant that we will never know if Murali's achievement is unique and whether his record is fair comparison to other spinners of the past. If he had managed even 500 wickets with the old law in place (elbow bending 7 deg instead of 15 deg - I think), I would have rated his achievement to be greater than what he managed eventually.

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