July 14, 2010

In a freakish league of his own

Murali hasn't been combative like Warne or full of rage like Kumble; more unconventional than them, and tenacious to the core, he has surpassed them both
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Muttiah Muralitharan has made a mesmeric contribution to the game. It was no small thing for a boy from Kandy to attract the attention of selectors hitherto convinced that Colombo was their country's cricketing stronghold. It's no small thing for a skinny kid determined to bowl fast to switch to spin and to triumph. It is no small thing for a Tamil to prosper in a time of turmoil and torment and trouble. Nor is it a small thing to become the first great cricketer that your country has produced, to help it to lift a World Cup, to win a series in England, and to remain humble throughout. His action has been often enough criticised but has a bad word been said about him?

Already the list of achievements is long, but it is not yet complete. To top it off, Murali has overcome all sorts of hostility and devastating setbacks as his action was called into question, often publicly and mostly by a particular brand of Australian umpire. Humiliation does not come much stronger than to be called for throwing on the first day of a Boxing Day Test match in Melbourne, and from the bowler's end. Further embarrassments awaited in Adelaide and Brisbane, where a fool of a white coat called him while he was sending down innocuous legbreaks

Unsurprisingly, and despite hoots from the old guard, cricket went in search of a better way of dealing with throwing, long its thorniest issue, and emerged with a process as opposed to devastating rejection, only for that thoughtful recourse to be condemned as a feeble pandering to a powerful and unprincipled lobby. Part of Murali's achievement has been to force cricket to try to deal sensibly with the issue of confronting actions. A few offspinners continue to raise eyebrows, but blatant chuckers capable of breaking skulls have been identified at an early enough age to allow improvements to be made.

And even these successes are not quite the end of it. Through it all, Murali has remained popular and dignified. Sweetness may occasionally have deserted him but sourness never took its place. His slightly sheepish laugh remained intact. Upon taking a wicket, an event that occurred with a regularity denied to almost all contemporaries, he tended to drop his head into his chin in a shy way and chuckle to himself. Of course he was pleased but he was not about to flaunt his triumph. Floggings were accepted as part and parcel of the game. It was not in his nature to berate fieldsmen or umpires. To some degree it was a failing. He was almost too polite, lacked Anil Kumble's rage, his absolute refusal to acknowledge that the batsman was his master.

Whatever the position, Murali tended to keep bowling away. Durability has counted among his assets. Nothing on or off the field keeps him down for long. Until the last, too, his body has been as reliable as his brain. His career has endured as many gyrations as his bowling arm and always he has bounced back. To some extent the lack of fury, the very politeness that allowed the Tamil boy, raised in an unfashionable city, whose father was a confectioner, to survive everything the game has thrown at him, also held him back. Fatalism was part of his creed. It was not in his character to wrench matches from opposing teams, to change them with a sudden, soaring spell summoned from the bowels of his experience, called up from the recesses of his will.

Part of Shane Warne's magic existed in his mind, his ability to produce an extraordinary delivery at the vital moment, his theatricality, his defiance, his preparedness to personalise and confront. The bulk of Murali's magic was to be found in those exceptional fingers, wrist and arm. Where Warne was combative, Murali was restrained; where the Australian roared, he asked; where the blond teased, he probed; where the Victorian offended, he beguiled. Of course both were glorious bowlers, and Kumble as well. If distinctions must be made, Warne was the bowler to turn a match, Kumble the man to have in your side, Murali the fellow for worn surfaces. He has been the softest of them, and the most companionable.

Not that he lacked grit. Traduced, he went to England, placed himself in the hands of sceptics, put his arm in a brace so that it could not bend, told the cameras to roll, and bowled all his main deliveries live on television. It was a cricketing version of a lie-detector test and he passed with flying colours. Critics can cavil that he did not bowl flat out - not the easiest of tasks with an arm encased - but they were also forced to admit that he had surpassed expectations. More significantly Murali clearly expected to pass. And he was not mean enough to request that everyone else expose themselves to the same enterprise. Far too little has been made of this undertaking. At the very least it needs to be taken into account.

Through it all, Murali has remained popular and dignified. Sweetness may occasionally have deserted him but sourness never took its place. His slightly sheepish laugh remained intact

His ability to deliver his doosra without flexing his elbow caused widespread surprise. In some opinions, the ball simply cannot be bowled without a significant straightening of the elbow.

Ironically Murali's bowling was not necessarily improved by the doosra, though his career was certainly prolonged by it. Like Warne, he was at his most formidable in his early years, when he could make the ball talk and spin and seem to spit. Certainly he was unfamiliar, presented challenges Western batsmen, especially, had not previously encountered. But he was a handful for everyone. After all, he could land the ball on the edge of the pitch and bring it back to hit leg stump. Often batsmen prepared to cut and too late realised their folly.

Arguably Murali was not quite as dangerous with the doosra at his disposal. Different fields had to be set and a straighter line had to be bowled so that it did not stand out or lose the element of surprise. He was forced to aim more at the stumps and his offbreak was easier to tuck away to leg. In time he began to rely too much on the doosra for wickets, and eventually batsmen began to pick it. Perhaps he had little choice. By then the fingers had lost a little of their snap and the wrist could not perform its gyrations quite as well. To watch him from close quarters was to marvel at his wrist work, not least its ability to rotate through 360 degrees with ball still in hand. His action did not look half as jerky from a yard away as it did from the boundary's edge. Indeed it was disconcertingly fluent. His constancy of speed and pitch hint at smoothness.

Of course he had his weaknesses. Left-handers found him easier to play than did their less fortunate and favoured comrades. Sourav Ganguly, Andy Flower and Brian Lara countered him with a confidence missing from colleagues reduced to miserable poking and prodding. Lara's duel with Murali in a losing cause in Sri Lanka is considered by judges as shrewd and seasoned as Tony Cozier to count among the most fascinating the game has produced. Lara's display in that series is widely regarded as among the most brilliant the game has known. It takes greatness to subdue greatness.

Nor was Murali effective in Australia, where the hard pitches denied him purchase as the batsmen denied him hope. Although never crushed, he was often beaten in the antipodes. Handicapped by his team's lack of new-ball penetration, he was often reduced to the role of a workhorse. But there is usually something left on the table. Among modern Test bowlers only Malcolm Marshall has seemed complete.

Inevitably Murali has been compared to his distinguished peers, Warne and Kumble. Between them they have done so much to revive spin after it had been rendered apparently redundant by the great West Indies sides of the seventies and eighties. But it is not quite right to compare him to orthodox spinners. Warne was the master of disguise, a bowler of supreme accuracy and wit, but he did not produce anything new or strange; rather he turned a craft into an art, showed it was possible to be both Arthur Mailey and Clarrie Grimmett, the millionaire and the miser, to execute the skill with such precision and strength that a legspin attack could be launched and sustained without the high risks previously associated with the practice. Kumble was faster through the air and off the pitch than was common in the genre. Simply, he had the intelligence to identify his best speed and to turn it into strength. Although awkward and unusual, he too was essentially mainstream.

Murali was another case, belonged in a category of his own, or at any rate in the loose confederation of freakish spinners that over the decades have astonished batsmen and amazed spectators. In so many ways he belongs alongside Jack Iverson, Sonny Ramadhin, John Gleeson, Ajantha Mendis and other originals who resisted pigeonholing and dared to follow their own path come hell or high water. Significantly he has lasted longer than any of them, much longer. Once the others were rumbled, they did not last that long. Ramadhin was undone by alarmed and cynical English batsmen from private schools prepared to exploit absurdly unfair lbw rules in order to stop him. Despite the fuss over his action, Murali has been luckier. At times he has been bent but never broken.

Now it is time go to. Perhaps he has lingered a little too long but that is understandable, not least because his team has often needed him and his successor has faltered. Gradually he has gone from casting a spell to bowling long spells. The Galle Test against India will be his last. Often a happy hunting ground, it is an appropriate place to bid farewell. Moreover he played his part in restoring it after the tsunami. Murali's numerous good works and his native goodwill are not the least of his contributions.

Apparently he intends to make himself available for the 2011 World Cup, but he might not last that long. Of late he has looked tired and sore, and much less menacing. In any case Sri Lanka need to move along. He will be missed. At once a finger- and wrist spinner, his impact has been enormous.

He has been an entertainer too, thrashing around with the bat, performing pranks in the rooms, crossing divides. But his bewitching bowling set him apart: the flashing eyes, the smile that is never quit a grin, the hitch of the bowling arm, the trot to the crease, the arms half high, the sudden twist of elbow and wrist, the flick of fingers and the buzz of another ball on its way down the pitch. He has been a cricketer to appreciate and a man to admire.

Peter Roebuck is a former captain of Somerset and the author, most recently, of In It to Win It

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • BillyCC on July 17, 2010, 22:08 GMT

    Why are people suddenly bringing Kumble into the debate? Murali and Warne are miles ahead of Kumble in any measure. I can understand patriotism and bias, but the case must be backed up. Kumble's greatest asset was actually not spin, it was the bounce and the spitting ball from the pitch that allowed him to take his wickets, an asset enhanced by home advantage.

  • gautm on July 17, 2010, 15:55 GMT

    @nfer: I respect your sentiments and opinions. But all said and done Murali will remain a chucker in my books and that is MY opinion. I regard Chaminda Vaas as the greatest Sri Lankan bowler for toiling tirelessly on placid wickets and also with a GENUINE action because of which he suffered his fair share of injuries. The 15 degree relaxation rule that ICC brought in to allow bowlers of Muralis ilk to prosper will remain one of their biggest blunders.

  • Lion_of_Lanka on July 17, 2010, 14:17 GMT

    @gautm : ICC said he doesn't chuck. Wisden said he doesn't chuck. Bradman said he doesn't chuck. And recently in an interview WARNE said Murali doesn't chuck. "Murali's action has been passed by scientific tests ... I always thought it was probably legitimate" Eat your own words haters... Only Bedi followers (NOT ALL Indians are Bedi followers) and majority of Aussies think he chucks...You people can say whatever you want but that doesn't change the fact that he is the highest wicket taker in both ODI and Test and according to Wisden - the bible of cricket 'The greatest bowler of all time'

  • rupakr on July 17, 2010, 10:57 GMT

    Kumble and Murali excelled against Warne by being the better sports person and example for the younger generations. Personal controversy free, humble and absolute statesman like behavior when it comes to dealing with difficult situations.

    Wickets they took separate them but many things come into that equations, oppositions they played against, the pitches they bowled on, the captains they had and the other bowlers they had in the team.

    Measure of success as a sportsman and a human being is something we forget among the statistics.

  • rupakr on July 17, 2010, 10:57 GMT

    Kumble and Murali excelled against Warne by being the better sports person and example for the younger generations. Personal controversy free, humble and absolute statesman like behavior when it comes to dealing with difficult situations.

    Wickets they took separate them but many things come into that equations, oppositions they played against, the pitches they bowled on, the captains they had and the other bowlers they had in the team.

    Measure of success as a sportsman and a human being is something we forget among the statistics.

  • Lion_of_Lanka on July 17, 2010, 10:22 GMT

    @keralite : Different people got different opinions. If you don't think his action is legitimate well, it's okay because no one cares about what you think...But please don't say that Murali is where he is right now because of India. It's one thing to say that Indian cricket board financially supports us but please don't say that Murali's existence in the cricketing world is because of india.

  • gautm on July 17, 2010, 9:30 GMT

    So the greatest chucker of our times calls it a day finally huh... How the ICC bent the rules to allow him to flourish exposed and confirmed their ineptness towards handling the game. Instead of nipping it in the bud, they allowed chucking to become legal and encouraged bowlers worldwide to emulate Murali. Murali is a very nice guy on and off the field.. Period.. But there is no denying that he should not have been playing top level cricket. If he really had problems with his elbow/arm/wrist or whatever it was that caused him to bowl that way, he could have played cricket for the disabled. Anyway the damage is done and he is the highest wicket taker in record books.. I sincerely hope that a bowler with a genuine action breaks this record in my lifetime although it will be near-impossible.. But my hope lingers

  • keralite on July 16, 2010, 14:53 GMT

    I am an Indian and I don't like the Aussies. But the Australians were not totally wrong in Murali's case. I don't consider his bowling action to be legitimate. If Indians did not back him ( and Sri Lanka) he would have been nothingggggg....

  • harikeshan on July 16, 2010, 9:12 GMT

    @ Majr - you sound revengeful and harbor a lot of hatred towards the Australians...India dominating because of the money power is nothing less than what the so called white man did. Remember what goes around comes around. Instead of stereotyping all Aussies and lashing out at them at every given opportunity, hope we can all take a moment appreciate the contribution this great yet humble legend has given back to the game of cricket.

  • Neil247 on July 16, 2010, 4:11 GMT

    Warne was the better bowler...Murali was the better chucker

  • BillyCC on July 17, 2010, 22:08 GMT

    Why are people suddenly bringing Kumble into the debate? Murali and Warne are miles ahead of Kumble in any measure. I can understand patriotism and bias, but the case must be backed up. Kumble's greatest asset was actually not spin, it was the bounce and the spitting ball from the pitch that allowed him to take his wickets, an asset enhanced by home advantage.

  • gautm on July 17, 2010, 15:55 GMT

    @nfer: I respect your sentiments and opinions. But all said and done Murali will remain a chucker in my books and that is MY opinion. I regard Chaminda Vaas as the greatest Sri Lankan bowler for toiling tirelessly on placid wickets and also with a GENUINE action because of which he suffered his fair share of injuries. The 15 degree relaxation rule that ICC brought in to allow bowlers of Muralis ilk to prosper will remain one of their biggest blunders.

  • Lion_of_Lanka on July 17, 2010, 14:17 GMT

    @gautm : ICC said he doesn't chuck. Wisden said he doesn't chuck. Bradman said he doesn't chuck. And recently in an interview WARNE said Murali doesn't chuck. "Murali's action has been passed by scientific tests ... I always thought it was probably legitimate" Eat your own words haters... Only Bedi followers (NOT ALL Indians are Bedi followers) and majority of Aussies think he chucks...You people can say whatever you want but that doesn't change the fact that he is the highest wicket taker in both ODI and Test and according to Wisden - the bible of cricket 'The greatest bowler of all time'

  • rupakr on July 17, 2010, 10:57 GMT

    Kumble and Murali excelled against Warne by being the better sports person and example for the younger generations. Personal controversy free, humble and absolute statesman like behavior when it comes to dealing with difficult situations.

    Wickets they took separate them but many things come into that equations, oppositions they played against, the pitches they bowled on, the captains they had and the other bowlers they had in the team.

    Measure of success as a sportsman and a human being is something we forget among the statistics.

  • rupakr on July 17, 2010, 10:57 GMT

    Kumble and Murali excelled against Warne by being the better sports person and example for the younger generations. Personal controversy free, humble and absolute statesman like behavior when it comes to dealing with difficult situations.

    Wickets they took separate them but many things come into that equations, oppositions they played against, the pitches they bowled on, the captains they had and the other bowlers they had in the team.

    Measure of success as a sportsman and a human being is something we forget among the statistics.

  • Lion_of_Lanka on July 17, 2010, 10:22 GMT

    @keralite : Different people got different opinions. If you don't think his action is legitimate well, it's okay because no one cares about what you think...But please don't say that Murali is where he is right now because of India. It's one thing to say that Indian cricket board financially supports us but please don't say that Murali's existence in the cricketing world is because of india.

  • gautm on July 17, 2010, 9:30 GMT

    So the greatest chucker of our times calls it a day finally huh... How the ICC bent the rules to allow him to flourish exposed and confirmed their ineptness towards handling the game. Instead of nipping it in the bud, they allowed chucking to become legal and encouraged bowlers worldwide to emulate Murali. Murali is a very nice guy on and off the field.. Period.. But there is no denying that he should not have been playing top level cricket. If he really had problems with his elbow/arm/wrist or whatever it was that caused him to bowl that way, he could have played cricket for the disabled. Anyway the damage is done and he is the highest wicket taker in record books.. I sincerely hope that a bowler with a genuine action breaks this record in my lifetime although it will be near-impossible.. But my hope lingers

  • keralite on July 16, 2010, 14:53 GMT

    I am an Indian and I don't like the Aussies. But the Australians were not totally wrong in Murali's case. I don't consider his bowling action to be legitimate. If Indians did not back him ( and Sri Lanka) he would have been nothingggggg....

  • harikeshan on July 16, 2010, 9:12 GMT

    @ Majr - you sound revengeful and harbor a lot of hatred towards the Australians...India dominating because of the money power is nothing less than what the so called white man did. Remember what goes around comes around. Instead of stereotyping all Aussies and lashing out at them at every given opportunity, hope we can all take a moment appreciate the contribution this great yet humble legend has given back to the game of cricket.

  • Neil247 on July 16, 2010, 4:11 GMT

    Warne was the better bowler...Murali was the better chucker

  • McGorium on July 15, 2010, 20:33 GMT

    @Mayan Priyadarshana: "Kumble is no way near where murali and warne are, please dont put kumble in same category[...]". Why exactly? Because he has 70-80 wickets less than Warne? Or because he didn't turn the ball as much as Warne? Try reasoning this out for yourself: How does a bowler who doesn't turn the ball manage to get 619 wickets? Sheer luck? That's more than Glenn McGrath, BTW, another bowler who seemingly did nothing with the ball, except land it in the right place ball after ball, a trait he shares with Kumble. Kerry O'Keefe, one of Warnie's mentors, described Kumble's bowling in Aus in 2004 as "It is one of the most cleverly orchestrated campaigns of leg-spin bowling in this country that I have ever seen". Google it. High praise coming from someone who watches Warnie every summer. Kumble is mentally stronger, and dare I say, more cerebral than both. He's certainly less spectacular, but so is McGrath, compared to say Wasim. The mind makes up for what the body lacks.

  • McGorium on July 15, 2010, 20:17 GMT

    @mark00, Pradeep: You can turn that argument around and say that murali had 180 odd wickets against Ban and Zim, and their top-order is tail-ender quality (People like Ashraful have averages that you might expect a #8 to have). Warne didn't choose to exclusively bowl at the tail and neither did Murali decide to bowl against Zim or Ban. They were both greats of the game, and its best to leave it at that.

  • magic_torch_jamie on July 15, 2010, 19:26 GMT

    For me Peter Roebuck remains head and shoulders above dedicated cricket columnists, both for the quality of his prose and his analysis. The response of the watcher to the three great spinners of the age was also different. Warne brought a certain knowing admiration, particularly of the fact that he used psychology to winkle the batsmen out and that his was the most conventional physicality of the three. Kumble engendered a blase reaction. His contribution was curiously forgettable and yet it seemed like the longer he bowled the more likely he was to take a wicket.

    And then Murali. He brought utter joy, a disbelieving shake of the head, a conviction that something just must be afoot to produce a trajectory of such improbability. Nope, he bowled like that and carried the Sri Lankan attack (sorry, Chaminda) for an unbelievable while, sending down vast numbers of overs virtually every time. He has surely done lots for the whole image of the Tamil and cricket is much the poorer.

  • pradeep_dealwis on July 15, 2010, 17:02 GMT

    @ Mark00 totally agree with you....though Warne did probably did have an ability to do spectacular things out of nowhere like no one else ..Murali was not short of amazing performances when the game was drifting ..just that Vaas was the only one capable of applying the pressure from the other end.while Warne had a whole host of quality bowlers to make it a positive result for AUS. Also although the fact that AUS had a better bowling lineup does justify the point people make that there were less wickets for Warne to take, hence Murali having a better Wickets/match ratio, Warne also should have a better average since he usually had to bowl to the tailenders and there was always pressure on the other side.

  • pradeep_dealwis on July 15, 2010, 16:35 GMT

    to call Murali a wonder on "worn" wickets is unfair..he has bamboozled the best on batsman's paradises....specially in one-day cricket...and actually he has struggled on dusty slow turners in India ( maybe because of the superior players of spin as well)..but done well on bouncier harder surfaces..can remember couple of amazing ODI performances at Sydney. but your take on the 3 greats of our time is perfect...in a way they could be compared to the three batting greats...Warne and Lara were geniuses capable of outstanding performances and changing a game out of nowhere...Tendulkar and Murali were consistent and had to carry a weight of a team and expectations of a nation almost on their own ...Kumble like Ponting, talented but not as talented as the other two, but with perseverance and great intelligence and a stunning desire to succeed....probably the last generation of greats cricket will see for a long time....that era of cricket is sadly drawing to an end.

  • 68704 on July 15, 2010, 11:54 GMT

    Peter, your artcile is a gentle eulogy that Murali richly deserves. It is possible that Australians love Warne more and Indians swear by Kumble whilst Srilankans think Murali is God's gift to their beautiful island. Sadly the cricketing world is aligned parochially. But from whichever part of the world , no one can dispute that the gentle, smiling , Murali is a tremendous ambasssador of the game. Proving the fact that nice guys too can finish first, that you can smile your way into the record books without gnashing your way into them. I enjoyed watching Warne more because of the way teh South Africans and Englishmen tried to play him. They were like "rabbits under headlights' as Healy I think said. But your article does not mention BS Chandrasekhar India"s prominent unorthodox bowler with over 200 test wickets (236 test wickets to be precise , I hope my memory is right". But good piece, being gracious to a geat who is leaving at the right time. ramanujam sridhar

  • on July 15, 2010, 9:34 GMT

    Jar30 has been taking lessons from Sunil Gavaskar :P

  • on July 15, 2010, 9:00 GMT

    Kumble is no way near where murali and warne are, please dont put kumble in same category with M and W

  • on July 15, 2010, 7:21 GMT

    Murali is a class apart and stays above all comparison, He is one of the best that the game of cricket has had. He is just like Sachin tendulkar who cannot compared for his class and consistency, there are lots of similarities between these two some of them that appeal to me are the fact they stayed humble and polite throughout their career, they never had a troubled personal life unlike Shane warne, they never ran out of form, they delivered at all key occasions and the best one is they both had an on-field fight with shane warne and as time went by they became good friends off-filed too.

  • pointcatch on July 15, 2010, 6:51 GMT

    A great cricketer and, as a man, an ornament to the game. I haven't got too much I can quibble with in the article. But the ignorance of a couple of the comments on here are, as always, dispiriting. No-one who reads the Australian cricket media regularly can seriously describe it as racist. And in my experience there is a real openness to a range of views and a general determination towards fairness (allowing for the occasional excess) that I don't find bettered anywhere, and I do read around. Comments like those are often accompanied by remarks that show not only an ignorance about Australia but also about cricket in general which reflect no credit on the writer.

  • on July 15, 2010, 6:46 GMT

    We welcome your article peter. A very good article after a long time about murali

  • on July 15, 2010, 6:45 GMT

    Its a nice and fair article peter. Murali is a great bolwer

  • natmastak_so-called on July 15, 2010, 5:25 GMT

    shane is head and shoulder above murli .....................only in offfield entertainment.

  • rtom on July 15, 2010, 3:57 GMT

    Nobody in Asian subcontinents doubts the class of Murali in comparison with Warne and Kumble. All three were greatest of spinners. i have not seen the famous spin quartret of India in late 70's and 80's. so i cannot make a statement about those. But for me, in my generation, these three were simply awesome.. when they come to bowl.. its a magic !! cricket will definitly miss murali and already missing Warne and Kumble !! "If distinctions must be made, Warne was the bowler to turn a match, Kumble the man to have in your side, Murali the fellow for worn surfaces" Aptly said... people who call Murali a chucker.. are nuts !!

  • Teece on July 15, 2010, 3:41 GMT

    He's been amazing, but not the very best. Roebuck is right about Warne being the bowler who seized the big moments. But Murali simply outlasted most of his doubters, and won over the rest. Majr, want some dip for that chip on your shoulder? Way to connect a tribute piece to the tiresome anti-Australia crusade. Also, what's with comments like "Kudos to Mr.Roebuck for writing such an unbiased...article"? It's an opinion piece, so it's not unbiased and nor is it meant to be. It's the writer's opinion.

  • Lollylegs on July 15, 2010, 2:52 GMT

    Tiresome tiresome comments from Jarr30. Glass houses and all that. As an Aussie, it was a pleasure to watch Murali in action and I am very priveleged to have been able to see both Murali, Kumble and Shane Warne in their prime. Please do not compare them - it is a pointless exercise. There is no answer to this - let us just accept that cricket is better for all of them having played the game. I will say, however, regarding Murali - what an amazing ambassador for his country and I can tryly understand why SLans hold him in such high regard. Not only did he cop his "suspect action" on the chin, the smile, the batting, the humour and most of all the love of his nation always came shining through. Somtimes Jarr30, let us just remember why we all play, watch and support the greatest game of all - cricket.

  • Sinhabahu on July 15, 2010, 1:58 GMT

    A beautiful article, Peter. As a Sinhalese and a Sri Lankan, I am proud of him. He is the greatest of them all and we will sorely miss him.

  • Mark00 on July 15, 2010, 0:45 GMT

    The law related to chucking has never prohibited bending the arm at delivery. Only straightening the arm is considered illegal. What's more, the law itself was flawed as it unfairly relied on the human eye which can be easily fooled.

    When it became clear that the human eye is a poor judge and is incapable of fairly enforcing the rules, the ICC conducted a study of past and present bowlers. They found that bowlers like McGrath, Lee and even older bowlers like Lillee were straightening their arms during delivery.

    You can find old videos on youtube with Lillee and Thomson bowling in front of a wall painted with to measure speed. Simply freeze the video just before delivery and you can see a significant bend at the elbow. One recorded delivery of Thomson suggests an angle of 25 degrees or more (perhaps due to hyper-extension like Akhtar).

    So those calls by Emerson and friends were not legitimate. It was nothing more than a pre-meditated hit job.

  • Mark00 on July 15, 2010, 0:23 GMT

    I'm surprised that Roebuck thinks that Warne was more likely to alter the course of a match than Murali. I disagree, and, I believe, so will the numbers.

    Apart from vastly superior statistics (warne's got an inferior average despite a greater percentage of tailenders), Murali has bowled some extraordinary spells. That they didn't always result in wins (he didn't have mcgrath, lee, etc to maintain pressure and take additional wickets) should not count against Murali.

    Instead we should look at feats that would contribute to a match winning performance such as the frequency at which a bowler takes two or more wickets in a single over.

  • BillyCC on July 14, 2010, 23:48 GMT

    immortalpop, thanks for your comments. Do I take it then that you believe the tests within the science is flawed?

  • BillyCC on July 14, 2010, 23:39 GMT

    Nice article Peter. A fair and balanced assessment of a great bowler. Majr, you have no idea what you are talking about as Bela Lugosi rightly points out.

  • crichill on July 14, 2010, 19:33 GMT

    Fair article through i much prefer Harshe Bogle's article. He doesnt need to score points off Warne or Kumble for people to realise how good of a player he was.

  • knowledge_eater on July 14, 2010, 19:15 GMT

    He was gifted thats why he was able to do what others can't. Three things 1) Flexible wrist 2) His shoulder had ability to do extra inward rotation 3) His hand is slightly bent in flexure position. Due to all these three birth gift, he was able to create his own style of bowling. He could have bowled normal not exciting off spinning style, but then whats the point of doing that if you are gifted like this. Lot of bowlers (fast bowlers) hands are hyper-extending (Akhtar and many more), its a birth gift, no-one question it, because their bowling style is not abnormal. Being abnormal is not bad thing, its unique style. Why don't we stop all the THICK bats or why don't we just stop all those ugly left handed batsman who plays abnormal shots !!Harder to take wicket of them due their unconventional batting style !! He is gifted and he is taking full advantage of this. We all should be fair in analysis. And I think we will improve. Being different is not bad thing.

  • US_Indian on July 14, 2010, 17:50 GMT

    It has been long since I have read a really good article on Cricket and Kudos to Mr.Roebuck for writing such an unbiased, a very analytical and a complete honest article which I believe has come straight from the bottom of your heart. I am an Indian and a Tamilian, but the reason I admire Murali is from a totally a different perspective. He is such a nice human being, humble, honest, hardworking, trustworthy and reliable under any circumstances. Whatever the so-called experts (prejudiced australian and others like Bishen Bedi) say about him, he has disproved them time and again and taken life as and how it comes, withstood all barrages of accusations with a smile and reached the everest of cricket. He is a legend, hope and deservingly he get knighted, i doubt though but still I salute him for all he has done for cricket........Sir Murli.

  • immortalpop on July 14, 2010, 16:35 GMT

    "His ability to deliver his doosra without flexing his elbow caused widespread surprise. In some opinions, the ball simply cannot be bowled without a significant straightening of the elbow."

    People always get this wrong and it's hard to believe it when it comes from an ESPN employed cricket writer. You've just confused two different concepts - 'flexing' and 'straightening' (or extending) in your big, bold texted statement. Even if he doesn't straighten is arm by more than 15º he still bends (flexes) his arm by up to 45º before delivery, which enables him to swivel his wrist so much. Making him bowl with a cast on his arm only proved that he is capable of bowling with his arm bent at a lesser angle, but this restricts his ability to to use his wrist to same extent. This is the advantage that he has was handed rather than just accepting the original decisions to call him throwing - legitimate calls in their day.

  • on July 14, 2010, 16:12 GMT

    The comments by Majr are of poor sportsmanship and lack a view of cricket that deeply disturbing. Brett Lee was tested for a 'suspect' action in early 2000 prior to the Murali incident and was completely cleared. So to say that no Australian player has been subjected to this treatment in rubbish. Also the domination of India in the administration of international cricket will cause serious strain on the emergence of future cricketing nations. Cricketing nations such as England and Australia who had dominated the administration of this sport for long eras came to realise that no nation should govern the development of the sport to the detriment of future. When governance of the ICC is concerned, all test playing nation should be considered equal with a special consideration for those other developing 50 and 20 over playing nations to be helped to become competitive. If one nation or block of nations dominates, its days as a fair and unbiased sport will disappear.

  • Jarr30 on July 14, 2010, 16:04 GMT

    GREAT ARTICLE Peter...Murali deserves all the sucess he has achieved over the years. Aussies racist media have always humiliated asian players and never gave them thier due credit. Murali was a big threat during the Aussie series, so they thought why not no-ball him for his action.Cheater Ponting's cry babies tried pulling the same stunts against Harbajan singh when India went to Australia but failed miserably against India's might and harbajan was on top.Embarresed aussie media had to run for cover when India Massive media backed India and harbajan.

  • Scube on July 14, 2010, 15:37 GMT

    Excellent tribute to a true legend! Liked the way the supposedly "smart" umpires were referred to! It would have taken SL atleast couple of decades more to reach where they are on the test arena if not for Murali! He singlehandedly fast-tracked his nation to the top tier of test playing nations! To me, Murali is the Sachin among bowlers for being genuinely down to earth despite being exceptionally talented!

  • CanTHeeRava on July 14, 2010, 15:30 GMT

    This is so much better than Harsha Bhogle's take on Murali's retirement. This is more like cricket. However, Peter could have gone a bit further to really dissect 'the bowling action' controversy that surrounded the world of cricket during the late 1990s and how people have changed their mindset to suit the situations.

  • dyogesh on July 14, 2010, 15:21 GMT

    Murali is a gem. There is real childishness and a down to earthness when he speaks. Amidst the superstars with exaggerated self-worth, he is truly a gem.

  • on July 14, 2010, 15:17 GMT

    Murali is the No. 1 (Australians should agree that)

  • decaby on July 14, 2010, 15:06 GMT

    murali is the best spinner bar none... i was really love the Lara piece in the article... Murali has to always mention tht Lara is the best batsman he has ever bowled tooo...

  • Percy_Fender on July 14, 2010, 14:55 GMT

    I have always believed that because Murali was from Sri Lanka, and the likes of Malcolm Speed was the President of the ICC and of course the negative impact of a "cricket tragic"'s views, this all time great was subjected to the humiliating experience which these photographs bring out. I wonder if the Australians will ever agree to have Lee or Magrath tested in the manner they tested Murali. This is what I mean when I say that the Australians dominated with the purpose of humiliating the third word countries. If India is vulgar in their domination pf the ICC because of their money power, I think that is better than this. They can still teach a thing or two to people who have come to believe that cricket is meant only for the pucca people.In the years to come things will fall more in place I know.I really wish that the Australian media would realise the current trend and play their part in bringing about this change howsoever painful it may be to accept India's domination.

  • on July 14, 2010, 13:30 GMT

    nice article.murali cannot be replaced. and if he played in a stronger team (like australia) he would have got more accolades. but no bowler ever has done so much murali has done single handedly for sri lanka

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  • on July 14, 2010, 13:30 GMT

    nice article.murali cannot be replaced. and if he played in a stronger team (like australia) he would have got more accolades. but no bowler ever has done so much murali has done single handedly for sri lanka

  • Percy_Fender on July 14, 2010, 14:55 GMT

    I have always believed that because Murali was from Sri Lanka, and the likes of Malcolm Speed was the President of the ICC and of course the negative impact of a "cricket tragic"'s views, this all time great was subjected to the humiliating experience which these photographs bring out. I wonder if the Australians will ever agree to have Lee or Magrath tested in the manner they tested Murali. This is what I mean when I say that the Australians dominated with the purpose of humiliating the third word countries. If India is vulgar in their domination pf the ICC because of their money power, I think that is better than this. They can still teach a thing or two to people who have come to believe that cricket is meant only for the pucca people.In the years to come things will fall more in place I know.I really wish that the Australian media would realise the current trend and play their part in bringing about this change howsoever painful it may be to accept India's domination.

  • decaby on July 14, 2010, 15:06 GMT

    murali is the best spinner bar none... i was really love the Lara piece in the article... Murali has to always mention tht Lara is the best batsman he has ever bowled tooo...

  • on July 14, 2010, 15:17 GMT

    Murali is the No. 1 (Australians should agree that)

  • dyogesh on July 14, 2010, 15:21 GMT

    Murali is a gem. There is real childishness and a down to earthness when he speaks. Amidst the superstars with exaggerated self-worth, he is truly a gem.

  • CanTHeeRava on July 14, 2010, 15:30 GMT

    This is so much better than Harsha Bhogle's take on Murali's retirement. This is more like cricket. However, Peter could have gone a bit further to really dissect 'the bowling action' controversy that surrounded the world of cricket during the late 1990s and how people have changed their mindset to suit the situations.

  • Scube on July 14, 2010, 15:37 GMT

    Excellent tribute to a true legend! Liked the way the supposedly "smart" umpires were referred to! It would have taken SL atleast couple of decades more to reach where they are on the test arena if not for Murali! He singlehandedly fast-tracked his nation to the top tier of test playing nations! To me, Murali is the Sachin among bowlers for being genuinely down to earth despite being exceptionally talented!

  • Jarr30 on July 14, 2010, 16:04 GMT

    GREAT ARTICLE Peter...Murali deserves all the sucess he has achieved over the years. Aussies racist media have always humiliated asian players and never gave them thier due credit. Murali was a big threat during the Aussie series, so they thought why not no-ball him for his action.Cheater Ponting's cry babies tried pulling the same stunts against Harbajan singh when India went to Australia but failed miserably against India's might and harbajan was on top.Embarresed aussie media had to run for cover when India Massive media backed India and harbajan.

  • on July 14, 2010, 16:12 GMT

    The comments by Majr are of poor sportsmanship and lack a view of cricket that deeply disturbing. Brett Lee was tested for a 'suspect' action in early 2000 prior to the Murali incident and was completely cleared. So to say that no Australian player has been subjected to this treatment in rubbish. Also the domination of India in the administration of international cricket will cause serious strain on the emergence of future cricketing nations. Cricketing nations such as England and Australia who had dominated the administration of this sport for long eras came to realise that no nation should govern the development of the sport to the detriment of future. When governance of the ICC is concerned, all test playing nation should be considered equal with a special consideration for those other developing 50 and 20 over playing nations to be helped to become competitive. If one nation or block of nations dominates, its days as a fair and unbiased sport will disappear.

  • immortalpop on July 14, 2010, 16:35 GMT

    "His ability to deliver his doosra without flexing his elbow caused widespread surprise. In some opinions, the ball simply cannot be bowled without a significant straightening of the elbow."

    People always get this wrong and it's hard to believe it when it comes from an ESPN employed cricket writer. You've just confused two different concepts - 'flexing' and 'straightening' (or extending) in your big, bold texted statement. Even if he doesn't straighten is arm by more than 15º he still bends (flexes) his arm by up to 45º before delivery, which enables him to swivel his wrist so much. Making him bowl with a cast on his arm only proved that he is capable of bowling with his arm bent at a lesser angle, but this restricts his ability to to use his wrist to same extent. This is the advantage that he has was handed rather than just accepting the original decisions to call him throwing - legitimate calls in their day.