Rob Steen
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Sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton

The ultimate MVP

Murali was so far ahead of the rest, and so vital to his team's cause, it's astounding. The numbers tell the story

Rob Steen

August 4, 2010

Comments: 82 | Text size: A | A

The Galle crowd watch with anticipation as Muttiah Muralitharan searches for wicket number 800, Sri Lanka v India, 1st Test, Galle, 5th day, July 22, 2010
Murali: the stats have it © AFP
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A health warning: anyone still clinging stubbornly to the conviction that Muttiah Muralitharan's action disqualifies him from universal appreciation, admiration and heartfelt gratitude - i.e. those who see fit to ignore the fact that his success, in physical terms, owes everything to an elasticated right wrist and almost equally freakish right shoulder - may find it wisest to read no further.

"It is better for our souls to believe in something marvellous that turns out to be false," mused Simon Barnes in the Times on Monday, apropos athletics's drug-spattered reputation, "than to sneer at something that turns out to have been marvellous all along." And how much better for that soul, that intangible essence of humanity, to revel in the knowledge that something that seems marvellous really is just that. This young century has witnessed three competitive artists whose feats so far exceed the norm that they attract wonder and cynicism in equal measure: Lance Armstrong, Usain Bolt and Murali. If I were a betting man, I'd wager every penny in my possession that Murali will be the one my great-great-grandchildren will be celebrating.

The blind, the jaundiced and the obstinate may still withhold their respect, but for the rest of Planet Sport the response to the freshly completed Test career of the poster boy for Sinhalese-Tamil unity can only be jaw-dropping awe. Let's ignore, for now, the stoicism and the charity work, the unbending determination to defeat deformity, and the fact that all attempts to produce another offbreak-bowling wrist-spinner with a kinky elbow have so utterly failed. Let's ignore subjective distractions such as the venue and the quality of the opposition. Let's focus on the bottom line, the unadorned, naked final figures, the ones with which posterity cannot possibly quibble.

The headline statistic? A toss-up, surely, between 800 wickets and six wickets per Test. Then come the secondary marvels - an average and strike rate, 22.73 and 55.0 respectively, normally associated with only the finest fast bowlers; a ten-fer against each and every opponent.

Has any individual ever been so intrinsic to the success of a professional sporting team? Over these past 18 years only one other bowler, Chaminda Vaas, has provided the sort of support that blessed the careers of Shane Warne, Malcolm Marshall, Dennis Lillee and Waqar Younis. Murali has seldom been considered as part of an attack, a mere cog in the wheel; no one has come closer to a one-man firing squad.

When he took his 800th and final Test wicket - No. 795 for his country - with that improbably dramatic flourish in Galle, the next most wickets for Sri Lanka in Murali's 132 Tests was Vaas' 309 - less than 40% of the spinner's pile. No one else managed 100. Think about it. Collectively Sri Lankan bowlers tallied 1968 wickets across that span, of which Murali accounted for 40.4%. Among the 24 other Sri Lankans who took more than 10 of those wickets, only Lasith Malinga did so at a better strike rate (52.3) than Murali's 54.9 - and the latter bowled rather more overs, 6657.1 of them to be precise. Imagine shouldering that sort of burden, that weight of expectation. Now imagine shouldering it amid a scathing chorus of scepticism. Never mind all the "Mr Cricket" guff that has been getting Mike Hussey's goat for the past five years: Murali has spent two decades being Mr Pressure.

The closest comparison, in terms of bowlers who have played upwards of 30 Tests, is Richard Hadlee. In 86 outings for New Zealand, Sir Dick (as nobody ever calls him to his face) took 431 wickets at 22; his most prolific accomplices were Lance Cairns (130), Ewen Chatfield (115) and John Bracewell (95), both of whom paid at least 10 runs more per victim. Only 12 other colleagues, moreover, mustered more than 10. Hadlee took 35.7% of the 1207 wickets taken by Kiwi bowlers during his career.

Hadlee also harvested six times as many five-fers as his closest peer (36 to six) and nine times as many ten-fers (nine to one). Yet even these remarkable ratios bow the knee to Murali's extraordinary dominance - five-fers: 67 to nine; ten-fers: 22 to two. No other bowler, it should be added, has managed even half as many double-digit swagbags.

Hadlee's impact was seismic. With him, New Zealand won 22 Tests (nearly one-third of their aggregate tally) and lost 28; without him, their overall record reads: won 46, lost 117. The Murali Effect is still in another galaxy. With him, Sri Lanka won 54 and lost 41. Without him, they have won seven and lost 28.

 
 
This century has witnessed three artists whose feats so far exceed the norm that they attract wonder and cynicism in equal measure: Lance Armstrong, Usain Bolt and Murali. If I were a betting man, I'd wager every penny that Murali will be the one my great-great-grandchildren will be celebrating
 

For habitual match-winningness over the long haul, not even Warne can compare. In victories Murali took 438 wickets at 16.18, strike-rate 42.7; in 38 more such matches (92 to 54), Warne's respective returns were 510, 22.47 and 51.2. Among the 13 who have contributed 200-plus wickets to wins, Marshall, Lillee, Waqar and Wasim boasted better strike rates than Murali, but none, in this context, save for McGrath, captured as many as 290 victims, much less 438. The next most productive Sri Lankan bowler, Vaas, took 166; none of the other seven senior Test nations have as many as 100 scalps separating first and second in this particular pecking order, much less 272.

Now consider the sheer consistency. When his teams took first dig, Murali bagged 379 victims at 20.60; when they bowled first, 421 at 24.63. In all first innings he grabbed 458 at 23.94; in the second, 342 at 21.08. The first innings of a match brought him 230 at 26.47; the difference between his output in the second (228 at 21.39), third (236 at 21.11) and fourth (106 at 21.01) was barely half as thick as a wafer-thin mint. Now that's what I call metronomic.

In batting terms Don Bradman and George Headley are Murali's rivals-in-chief. Both did the job of two men. In 22 Tests the "Black Bradman" racked up 2190 runs at 60.83, collecting 10 of West Indies' 19 centuries (52.6%) and more than 21% of the total runs. Among the four colleagues who tallied 350 runs during that span, the best average was 32.84 by Clifford Roach, whose two centuries left him alone in registering more than one. In 52 Tests the "White Headley" accounted for 24.3% of Australia's runs (Stan McCabe, his most productive team-mate, collected nearly 5000 fewer than his 6996) and 41.4% of their centuries (29 out of 70). Eight team-mates, mind, topped 350 runs at 45-plus. Only five of Headley's Tests, moreover, were won, and nine lost. No bowlers, all cry.

SO, TO RETURN TO The Big Question, has any individual been as important to an athletic unit as Murali has been to Sri Lanka? Diego Maradona to Argentina perhaps, but that was primarily for the duration of the 1982 and 1986 FIFA World Cups - and look how the pressure told on him. Some might cite Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, but he was abetted by stonking slam-dunkers such as Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. In Garrincha, Jairzinho, Tostao and Rivelino, Pele had an entire supporting cast of Oscar-worthies. Garry Sobers? Messrs Hall, Gibbs, Kanhai and Hunte were hardly mediocrities.

In the phenomenon stakes, if we equate a century with a five-fer, Bradman's 29 tons in 80 knocks is mathematically superior to Murali's 67 nap hands in 230 innings, but while The Don matched Murali when it came to single-handedly demoralising opponents, even without him, Australian XIs bearing the names of Ponsford, O'Reilly, Grimmett, McCabe and Mr Miller would have frightened the pants off most.

Yes, Vaas, Sanath Jayasuriya, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara have all been first-class second bananas, earning their nation untold respect, but would Sri Lanka have become winners without Murali? Granted, that's akin to wondering whether the Carthaginian elephants would have conquered the Alps without Hannibal: impossible to prove yet equally impossible to deny. So let's put it another way. As someone who has been laughing helplessly at A Night At The Opera and Duck Soup for more than 40 years, I find it even harder to envisage enjoying watching Sri Lanka sans their frontman than the Marx Brothers denuded of Groucho.

Sure, our hero had no need to stoop to Bishan Bedi's level as he did last week, but then who are we to begrudge him such a belated and fleeting act of self-affirming petulance? There's only so much disrespect a man can stomach. Besides, if there's any justice, that prolonged wait for the first knight in the history of spin should soon be over. And no, it doesn't require a degree in advanced clairvoyance to predict that the shoulders Mrs Windsor taps with her trusty sword will belong to someone with a more disarming smile than Alastair Campbell.

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

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Posted by DrAtharAbbas on (August 7, 2010, 1:03 GMT)

This is not to devalue Murali: all what has been said here is absolutely true. If we keep him within cricket, would be a MORE FAIR STATEMENT.

Claiming to go beyond cricket and include all sports is an overstatement. especially when we are including cricketers from the 20th century. There are so many sportsmen in other sports. It is hard to name just a few.

If we confine ourselves to the English speaking world and then further confine to British sports only, not knowing about Jahangir Khan is quite surprising

world number 1 at early tean age, who in any sport has a winning streak of 5+ years and more amazing results than him, Any form of that sport, any tournament, anywhere, even beating Mark Talbot playing an american version of squash (world number 1 in his format) after two weeks of practice, one obviously needs to write a book about Jahangir Khan to just state his records.

Ideal worship require a little exxageration, the writer is obviously doing it here.

Posted by donbanda on (August 6, 2010, 20:51 GMT)

Have you noticed how the illustrious Parkinson has wisely stopped being critical of Murali over the past few years while Bedi keeps mouthing his envious drivel. The man has nothing to be envious about as he is not even in the same universe let alone league. Excellent article Mr Steen.

Posted by dinith_sw on (August 6, 2010, 11:21 GMT)

To Sir Murali!

Knight him!

Posted by mahjut on (August 6, 2010, 10:24 GMT)

I will try again: @ statz: no, i'm afraid "in FACT, all things considered, Warne is better than Murali" is not, in fact, a fact at all - it's an opinion (and as i said opinion beats fact almost every time). So this is for you and @ Graeme Lester. I am not trying to convince you of anything but - here are the facts - and I can't think of a better way to compare the two...than by comparing their AWAY records against the top 6 test playing nations (excluding SL and Australia - for the obvious reason that they didn't both bowl against both): So, vs Eng, Warne had an ave of [21.94] where Murali had {19.29} and Warne's SR was [52.3] while Murali's was {48.2}. The pattern will remain now [Warne's Ave.] {Murali's ave} / [Warne's S.R.] {Murali's S.R.}: Ind [43.11] {39.58} / [81.0] {81.8} ... N Z [21.30] {19.96} / [51.4] {52.2} ... Pak [28.00] {21.48} / [60.5] {50.1} ... S A [24.31] {26.02} / [60.3] {60.5} ... W I [39.64] {18.24} / [78.2] {41.9}. Total [29.71] {24.09} / [63.95] {55.78}.

Posted by prashant1 on (August 6, 2010, 3:06 GMT)

Moral of the story: Place a great player in a poor team and the chances are that he will shine relatively much more than a great player in a great team.

Posted by mpql on (August 6, 2010, 2:15 GMT)

Not only is Murali the greatest bowler ever, he is for me the greatest cicketer ever. In a world where batsmen are the lead singers and get all the praise, Murali has outshone all the batsmen for his impact on cricket and for Sri Lanka, which he single-handedly raised from a second-class team to one of the best teams in the world today. No praise is too much for this great man.

Posted by chirpi on (August 5, 2010, 22:45 GMT)

@Ranjith Pathirana: I do not follow your logic. Why would Queen of England / England government have to give 'sir' title to Murali? 'OBE' , 'sir' titles are awarded to the subjects of the Queen who serve her in any exceptional way. Do Sri Lankans still accept her as Queen and server her? If not, it is unreasonable to expect her Majesty to award the title to Murali.

Posted by chirpi on (August 5, 2010, 20:49 GMT)

@Graeme Lester: You are mistaken if I am trying to convince you. If you are not convinced by now, nothing can convince you. I was just irritated to see that comment in every article I read about Murali and felt compelled to respond. Especially after the author started the article with a healthy warning "anyone still clinging stubbornly to the conviction that Muttiah Muralitharan's action disqualifies him from universal appreciation, admiration and heartfelt gratitude may find it wisest to read no further" .

Posted by   on (August 5, 2010, 20:45 GMT)

Ruined many a batsmans career by chucking (for those who say he can straighten his arm- watch some footage of him fielding). For this he is somehow a saint? People must feel sorry for him for being misunderstood? Please - he is was and always will be a cheat.

Posted by chirpi on (August 5, 2010, 20:36 GMT)

@CricFan24 : You inadvertently pointed out why Murali is great :). That is exactly the reason I think Murali is better than Warne. If Warne had played in the Sri Lankan Team, he would not have managed half the wickets he had taken. He benefited from being part of the greatest cricket team. By the time he walked in to bowl, great bowlers like McGrath, Gillespie and Bret Lee had already chocked the batsmen who were desperate to score some runs of spinners and his batsmen had already put up huge scores to defend. What is his record in spinner friendly conditions like India where he failed to get support from fast bowlers? On the contrary If Murali had played in the Australian Team, he would not have to to bowl 50 over spells match in and match out and played longer than now. That would convert into more than 1000 wickets :)

Posted by MangoDolittle on (August 5, 2010, 19:27 GMT)

Let's agree, Murali is the greatest spinner ever. Don't try to compare him with other athletes like swimmers, runners, or cyclists.

I don't think spinners are as athletic as other high energy athletes. All you do us taking few jogging steps and delivering the ball with some spin and accuracy. Lance consume ton of energy during one ride and there are 21 of them without much breaks.

He was never chuckled, otherwise he wouldn't have had a lengthy career.

Murali, all the best in your post retirement life. Never be a politician. Open up a cricket school and teach kids to become good sportsman.

Never become a sports writer or a commentator unless you are restricted to a chair and can't move since it is the most unproductive job in the world.

Posted by pradeep_dealwis on (August 5, 2010, 17:06 GMT)

at the good Indian cricket lovers..ur hero worship of Tendulkar is very sweet , and the gr8 man deserves all the praise and the worship , but its getting to b very annoying. and ur estimate of the ur team is WAY too high. my opinion is Murali is the closest to Bradman STATISTICALLY , though still a good distance away, if one CAN compare bowlers and barsman statistically. Qualitatively Murali, Tendulkar, Marshall, Lara, Miandad, Warne,Richards, and so many others would fall into that "great " cricketers list , with nothing really to separate them . Bradman will be way ahead. But none can compare to Murali's contribution to SL in test, in ODIs the team would still have been world beaters without him, and in test SL would have struggled big -time. even with the class acts like Aravinda, Jyasuriya and Vaas. Sachin is greatness personified and carries a massive amount of pressure, but India still would have been an OK team without him, and is still not a great with him.

Posted by   on (August 5, 2010, 17:01 GMT)

greatest add one michal felps

Posted by pradeep_dealwis on (August 5, 2010, 16:39 GMT)

Murali indeed is a legend and deserves every tribute! @ muralithechucker yes indeed Murali did chuck, but so did Warne, McGrath and every other bowler. so says Scientific research. So quit crying like a baby. Being a Sri Lankan , i do think the comparison with Bradman is too much. like L4zybugg3r said the deviation from the norm is so massive that Bradman is almost Superhuman. But batting and bowling are different. Murali i would equal only to Malcom Marshall, the two greatest bowlers ever. And to my Indian Friends, true no one has or evr had so much expectation on him like Tendulkar, but no one person had to carry the weight of a Test Team like Murali.

Posted by mahjut on (August 5, 2010, 15:53 GMT)

Ahh Rueben Kincaid; the old "illegal is illegal" - to lure us into believing (having to choose between illegal or illegal) that the delivery is illegal when in fact it is not. far better a quote to use is "don't believe everything you see - test it, preferably scientifically". And indeed, thankfully, cricket did just that ... and came back with a fact and not an opinion. the fact was that there were many cricketers flexing closer to 15 (also under conditions they must have been equally able to manipulate) than Murali and the law was changed to accomodate them. Of course, evidence is no match for opinion and therefore there will always be those ... whatchagonado!?

Posted by mahjut on (August 5, 2010, 15:38 GMT)

@ aussieicon ... what are Warne's figures in australia against australia? If you're comparing, make it one you can actually compare... @anyone else mentioning the bending rules to accomodate him. go through articles of the time of the rule changes and you'll find that after support for murali the ICC decided to do wholesale investigations and changed it to accomodate certain fast bowlers - NOT Murali

Posted by CricFan24 on (August 5, 2010, 13:23 GMT)

The author has missed the "point". Murali may well have been indispensable for his team. But what does that really mean? It means he was in a poor team! THAT IS ALL. Does anyone really think Warnie would have had lesser stats if he instead of Murali was in the SL team?

Posted by   on (August 5, 2010, 13:20 GMT)

It will take a lot more than your comments Chirpi to convince me that he was better than Warne.

Posted by   on (August 5, 2010, 13:18 GMT)

@Ankit Jain

To those who play down Murali's achievement by saying he "chucked", I would say start "chucking" and take 800 wickets. Start now.

Well Said. Couldn't have put it better myself :)

Posted by flowersintherain on (August 5, 2010, 13:03 GMT)

I am tired of all those ignoramuses who keep repeating that the throwing law was changed to accommodate Murali. If they actually bothered to research what happened, they will learn that when bowling actions were studied using slow motion cameras, it was discovered that a significant number of bowlers, including Glen McGrath and Brett Lee were chucking regularly, as defined by the old law. The law was changed to accommodate them and to reflect the reality of what was happening on the pitch.

Posted by flowersintherain on (August 5, 2010, 12:57 GMT)

I am tired of all those ignoramuses who keep repeating that the throwing law was changed to accommodate Murali. If they actually bothered to research what happened, they will learn that when bowling actions were studied using slow motion cameras, it was discovered that a significant number of bowlers, including Glen McGrath and Brett Lee were chucking regularly, as defined by the old law. The law was changed to accommodate them and to reflect the reality of what was happening on the pitch.

Posted by Psychopathetikka on (August 5, 2010, 12:47 GMT)

Many "pundits" (here and elsewhere) have called Murali a "chucker" (and will continue to do so). They say this because a certain anomaly in the elbow caused Murail's arm to bend at an more than allowed. And in compliance with the previous ICC standards Murali could have been labelled a "chucker" unless he changed his bowling action. But the ICC changed the rules and relaxed the restrictions on "bending" the arm while bowling. Why? It's because they found out that most of the other bowlers did the same thing.Thus cricket today is full of "chuckers" (they have some in Australia too). Murali was the "test subject" and many other bowlers are able to bowl today because he allowed himself to be tested.. So "pundits", I ask you - Shall we ban all the bowlers that bend their arm while bowling and instead have ball machines to do it? They have no arms to bend..

Posted by Mark00 on (August 5, 2010, 12:39 GMT)

If Murali was a chucker, so were Gillespie, McGrath, and Lee. It was only when reports came out that these and many other bowlers unknowingly chucked their stock deliveries (including Lillee) but were not being called by umpires, the law was changed to 15 degrees. As for Warne vs Murali, there's no comparison. Warne's wickets comprise of a much higher percentage (37%) of tailenders. The idea that facing more top and middle order batsmen rather than tail-enders would have somehow improved his career average is simply absurd.

Posted by RogerC on (August 5, 2010, 10:33 GMT)

Some people here are saying talking about suspect action. Can any bowler, particularly a slow bowle, get 800 wickets purely with a suspect action? If that is the case, so many bowlers will be trying Murali's action. Please learn to accept his genius without nitpicking. Warne is accepted in spite of so many negatives. He was even caught for doping in 2003. One can suspect that Warne used the drugs earlier too, since there is no particular reason for him to use it in 2003 world cup. Does it discredit Warne's achievements? Murali is the most insulted cricketer in the history of the game, still he came off with highest dignity.

Posted by eddy501 on (August 5, 2010, 9:30 GMT)

Great work Rob, however taking the Don and Headley to one side would BCL be the modern day 'one-man-team' in the batting stakes as Murli was in the bowling? Thats why i believe they had/have such great respect and appreciation for each other (Murli naming BCL as his greatest foe). BCL played the last 10 years of his career as the lone 50+ avg batter in the Windies team. Murli played all of his carreer as the one true world class player. People always, always mention pressure that SRT plays under, and he does, but not the same as Hadlee, Murli, Lara, Bradman, Headley....3 cheers for Murli (have you noticed the two greatest bowlers ever have the intial MM!!)

Posted by muralithechucker on (August 5, 2010, 7:50 GMT)

Yes well he has good numbers but dont forget they changed the rules to accomadarte him, with lets say a more than suspect action (chucking). Sports generally change the rules for geniuses of the sport. eg Walter Lindrum, Josh Kronfeld, Wilt Chamberlin Just to name a few.

Posted by   on (August 5, 2010, 7:23 GMT)

The elbow bending laws are archaic. They were created to prevent bowlers from generating undue pace and harming the batsmen. I don't see why they are extended to spinners too who don't generate extra pace. To those who play down Murali's achievement by saying he "chucked", I would say start "chucking" and take 800 wickets. Start now.

Posted by NISH67 on (August 5, 2010, 6:22 GMT)

Great article Rob ! A true reflection and analysis of a great career . Gandhabhai take a hike mate , this article deals with Murali not Tendulkar - Shut up for once and let someone else take the accolades he deserves without bringing up a person whose name is not even mentioned in passing in the article proper !

Posted by Aussieicon91 on (August 5, 2010, 6:03 GMT)

Warne had other great bowlers who took wickets off him whilst Murali was benefitted by not having other great bowlers because the pitches Murali played on favoured him so much. Warne has a better average in India. Murali played the majority of his career in the subcontient (spin friendly conditions) compared to Warne who played less then 30% of his career in the subcontient. Look at Murali's record in Australia.

Posted by chirpi on (August 5, 2010, 4:31 GMT)

@Graeme Lester: This is a stock comment you will see if you view any article that says something good about Murali. :)

What does the stats say if you break it up against each country? Warne piled up wickets against England while Murali did so against Zimbabwe. During 90's and early 00's , IMHO Zimbabwae were much better playing spin than England. So when I look at the stats in detail my appreciation of Murali's feat only increases (compared to Warne).

Posted by madhukada on (August 5, 2010, 4:13 GMT)

AMEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by Mark00 on (August 5, 2010, 3:52 GMT)

Right conclusion but flawed analysis.

Posted by AdityaMookerjee on (August 5, 2010, 3:48 GMT)

Murali had an advantage, over the batsmen, he bowled to. The more your arm is at an angle, while bowling, the more difficult it is to pick up the length for the batsman. In a bowler with no unusual arm joints, such a bowler, straightens his/her arms, quite a while before the delivery. But, the opposite to what I just wrote may be true, too. A bowler who bowls with a bent arm, especially a spinner, keeps the ball in the air, longer, hence the batsman has a longer time to read the delivery in the air, where the delivery is about to pitch. The rule of the straight arm, while bowling, was probably made to give the game a more orderly conformity, to make the game the same for all bowlers.

Posted by   on (August 5, 2010, 3:39 GMT)

Why murali isn't in cricinfo legends list? Still playing sachin is there but no murali the greatest ever bowler,highest wicket taker in ODIs and Tests.

Posted by   on (August 5, 2010, 3:32 GMT)

Murali is not just the best spinner ever, he is the best bowler of all times ( I,m Sorry Sid Barnes ), or perhaps the greatest cricketer of all times ( I'm sorry again, Sir Gary and Sir Don ) and I say this as an Indian proud of Sachin and Veeru and Kumble.

Posted by Reuben_Kincaid on (August 5, 2010, 2:05 GMT)

Imagine how much better Murali's figures would have been had he been allowed to overstep the crease by 2 metres every ball too, just because he was a good bloke from a humble background. (Of course, when tested in labarotary conditions he would have miraculously not oversteped the crease and that would have proved that his match deliveries were also all delivered from behind the crease). An illegal delivery is an illegal delivery, and few of his wckets were taken with an action that would have been tolerated at any time prior to the 1990s when the ICC really lost the plot.

I'm not sure that Sir Dick is necessarily a good bloke, nor perhaps Warney nor Imrah Khan, and they definitely didn't come from backgrounds as challenging (or perhap exotic to the dewey-eyed) as Murali, but their actions were pure and their records legitimate.

Posted by Avenash on (August 5, 2010, 1:38 GMT)

Great piece Rob. It's the first article I've read and numbers actually look sexy to the eyes...Murali is a pure genius, not doubting that...the stats are there to show!

Posted by RogerC on (August 5, 2010, 1:30 GMT)

Murali will bring some dignity back to the "Sir" since it has lost some of its sheen of late. His real contribution to the world is not his statistical achievement, but the way he fought those who hated him. One can learn a lot of life skills from Murali's career.

Posted by ZEUS00 on (August 5, 2010, 0:49 GMT)

Bedi was a good bowler, Murali is a legend, now there's a massive qualitative difference between the two! Only losers resort to bitter sarcasm, and we've seen quite a few of them having a go at Murali during his long and illustrious career. The Aussies (including Warne) think they are being very 'subtle', when they 'casually mention' Murali's controversial action, even when they are paying 'tribute' to him! But Murali has taken it all in his stride quite gallantly, which is why he richly deserves the knighthood.It's not that we haven't debated over Murali's action here in NZ, we have, but it's always been done with objectivity, kindness and respect for perhaps the greatest bowler ever. And yes Rob, the mantle of Sir Dick should be conferred upon one of Murali's jealous critics, not the phenomenal Sir Richard Hadlee.

Posted by Munkeymomo on (August 5, 2010, 0:28 GMT)

It's such a shame that the third of the great spinners has retired (although he certainly deserves some time off!). The three (Murali, Warne, Kumble) proved that spin can be the most deadly weapon available if executed properly. So rather than bicker about who was best, just revel in the aura of a great, of three greats, legacies that they have left because cricket will be poorer without them.

Posted by Zahidsaltin on (August 5, 2010, 0:06 GMT)

At least we have now a cricket great at par with bradman and may be a bit better if take changes in the game and variety of opposition in to considertaion.

Posted by asela1313 on (August 4, 2010, 23:52 GMT)

Thanks Rob for a great article and identifying a great athlete period.

Posted by sanzo5 on (August 4, 2010, 23:14 GMT)

This article is about murli... stop commenting about sachin and team india people... each have their own ways of success and fame.... if murli is carrying the burden of srilanka and his teams expectations.. the little master has been carrying the expectations of of over a 100 crore humans and his team mates too for more than 20 years... cricket couldn't have had a greater player than him in behaviourale traits as well....

Posted by hatrick26 on (August 4, 2010, 22:21 GMT)

@Da-Silva..I don think you need to bad-mouth other team/players and I could bring out stats why Muralis isnt that great. Everyone agrees that Aus is the best team when Murali/Tendulkar played.. What are their stats against them? If you just do that comparision, case closed. Oz had its psychological disintegration for any top visiting player including Tendulkar/Lara/Murali so dont bring that argument of his umpiring episodes in Aus. I was never convinced of Murali's action ever, even before D Hair saga. Just because ICC has let in Murali and others with questionable action, it doesnt mean it is right. They did for Asian pressure and it would also mean less bowlers (incl. some from Aus/SA/India) of questionable action in an increasingly batsmen's game. You talk as if Murali was one of the big reasons SL won the World Cup in 96 - News for you..it was not. It was due to Desliva,Jayasuriya and the others. Check his stats in 96 (7 Wkts). Pretty ordinary.

Posted by BillyCC on (August 4, 2010, 21:58 GMT)

L4zybugg3r, I've done some calculations on Murali compared to other bowlers and it is difficult to get the standard deviation calculation because which measure do you use? He does not have the best average, strike rate or economy rate. In terms of wickets per match, Sydney Barnes matched Murali's. I think you just have to accept that Murali's figures as a combination are spectacular due to both their magnitude and their longevity. His average and strike rate for a spinner are excellent. And his strike rate per match is phenomenal over such a long period of time.

Posted by   on (August 4, 2010, 20:58 GMT)

@Nandika - Dont worry, Murali will get added to the legends of cricket. I believe cricinfo is adding one player at a time. So, Murali will be added sooner or later (I hope sooner).

Posted by KiwiPom on (August 4, 2010, 20:43 GMT)

You can peddle all the statistics you like - and they are indeed impreesive - but the key thing about Murali is not his statistics. He has essentially invented a new type of bowling and this, I believe, is how history will best remember him. Not only that but he has also caused a change in the wording of the laws. I can accept the comments of the likes of Bishen Bedi and, earlier, Stephen Boock and others who used classical methods and understandably see this newcomer as something of a maverick. But in all sports, cricket no less, physical attributes are part and parcel of why we have or lack talent. Murali has been at the cutting edge of spin bowling development and like all pioneers he's had to plough through a minefield to get to where he now is. The achievements and statistics of classical spinners can legitimately stand on their own and allow these players to be compared with each other. Murali has nothing to do with this.

Posted by mahjut on (August 4, 2010, 20:42 GMT)

OK Graeme. I have the stats here. I did it a while ago (about the time of Warne's retirement when someone told me about the BD/Zim/... thing). I thought the best way to compare the two has to be their AWAY records against the top 6 test playing nations (excluding SL and Australia - for the obvious reason that they didn't both bowl against both): So, Versus Eng Warne had an ave of [21.94] where Murali had {19.29} and Warne's SR was [52.3] while Murali's was {48.2}. The pattern will remain now [Warne's Ave.] {Murali's ave} / [Warne's S.R.] {Murali's S.R.}: Ind [43.11] {39.58} / [81.0] {81.8} ... N Z [21.30] {19.96} / [51.4] {52.2} ... Pak [28.00] {21.48} / [60.5] {50.1} ... S A [24.31] {26.02} / [60.3] {60.5} ... W I [39.64] {18.24} / [78.2] {41.9}. Total [29.71] {24.09} / [63.95] {55.78}. Warne: 1 (aided and abetted by Cullinan - shame, a very good bat, but one glaringly obvious achillies heel) Murali: 8, Draws: 3. I post this cos i have the stats not cos i want to diss king Warne

Posted by Statz on (August 4, 2010, 20:41 GMT)

Also, Sheen's comparison with Warne's stats in wins is misleading. There are many matches where Warne won't have been a deciding factor due to the quality of his teammates and they will distort his stats in wins. Whereas Murali will almost certainly be a factor when they win due to the fact that he is bowling something like half the deliveries in a match. So it will only have his good performances in that sample.

Posted by Statz on (August 4, 2010, 20:35 GMT)

Murali's feats of highest aggregate wickets and wickets per match have little to do with being that much better than other bowlers. In reality, he isn't. Do the amount of 10fers he achieved more than anyone else actually point to his superiority over other players? No.

The reality is, he was an all-time great bowler in a side that heavily relied on him bowling a lot of overs, wherein in that same side he had little competition for wickets. His avg. and SR are impressive (less impressive when you remove minnows and acknowledge the fact that home pitches were practically doctored for his precise skill) and he is certainly no Bradman of bowling. In fact, he's inferior to Warne, all things considered.

Did Sri Lanka rely on him a lot? Certainly in Tests. But you can't equate him with the Jordans or Maradonas because his side was rarely formidable or equivalent to being the best.

Let not my sober look at his record fool you, I regard him the greatest sub-continental cricketer after Imran.

Posted by   on (August 4, 2010, 20:32 GMT)

Does the Queen of England still bestow OBEs for Sri Lankans? Are there advisors at the Buckingham Palace who follow greats when Her Majesty has no time? This is the sport created by British empire and I am amused how the OBEs have been awarded so far!!! Time to wake up and do some justice Your Majesty. I am sure Murali doesn't care and neither do other Sri Lankans. It is the Backingham Palace that is under scrutiny. Even Jayasuriya would have qualified if he was born in England, Australia or New Zealand.

Posted by   on (August 4, 2010, 18:47 GMT)

Excellent article. Murali is a genius plain and simple. The best of the best. His measure of success comes from the fact that he was great against everyone not just against countries that can't play spin (Sorry Warnie you were great but not against India). All sour puss who question his achievements should be ignored at best, sorry Bedi: Murali was correct in stating you are an ordinary spinner, how can one forget how you turned a regular draw into victory for Pakistan, I can still see that six from Imran sailing over the fence 30 plus years later. There will be only one Murali and all "true" cricket fans should tip their hat and say thank you for the memories. He put Sri Lankan test cricket on the map. There was an extra bounce in the step of the Sri Lankan team when Murali walked on the field, though I wish he was on our team (India). Murali+Anil, and with Sachin, Dravid, Laxman and Ganguly - OMG!!! well at least one can dream :-) Happy for Sri Lanka and Murali.

Posted by Shaitaan on (August 4, 2010, 18:46 GMT)

Yes Da Silva-1996, everyone can tell how much of a 'South African' you are. But why point fingers at others? Your champion side with its champion bowler and batsmen with inflated averages has not won a SINGLE test match in Australia, South Africa and India -- currently the top three teams in the world -- over a period of thirty years. Your champion bowler has a bowling average of 48.666 in these countries. And that doesn't make him less of a champion -- even great players have weaknesses. Why not introspect a little before pointing at others? And by the way, a person who fudges facts and make sweeping generalisations to make a point is just... sad, really. Stick that in your petty parochial pipe and smoke it!

Posted by jimbob_9590 on (August 4, 2010, 15:24 GMT)

I truely do find what I am going to say difficult, Murali is nations hero an inspiraton to Millions and the has been involved in some truely absorbing session of cricket. And apprently a lovely guy. However he is nothing more than a cheat, whilst I realise that he had issues with his elbow the amount at which it was bent when bowled in Sri Lanka was significanty more than when he bowled in other countries where the umpires had the conviction to call him for throwing. The article points to the amount of wickets he has taken compared to his team mates as a disadvantage, yet it is also a massive advantage. Murali would bowl all day and would have to tak 6,7 or 8 wickets because if he didn't no else would. Warne for example had McGrath and Gillespie sometimes he didn't get on to bowl until there were only 3 wickets left. Murali was also Sri lankas best player and so pitches were built for him teams with a more balanced attack could not do this as it would be to the detriment of the team.

Posted by pr3m on (August 4, 2010, 15:19 GMT)

I don't think somebody with a suspect action can be called the best at anything he's suspected of not doing proper. But I do not begrudge Murali his wickets or records. There must have been tremendous work that went on behind making that wrist bend and weave magic. Having said that, lets not hyperventilate like some people are doing, and call him the best cricketer of all time. We all know that's bogus.

Posted by mrgupta on (August 4, 2010, 14:53 GMT)

@Da-Silva1996: few things, first i doubt that you are a South African. Probably a Sri-Lankan living in SA. Second Sachin was the Top scorer in the WC2003 with a record yet to be broken (673 Runs). Also Sachin was the top scorer in 1996 WC so its a feat( Top Scorer in two WC) not yet matched in the World Cups. Thirdly, If you are still living in 1996 India made it to WC2003 Final same as SL in 2007. Indians have Won many more matches "outside Asia" than SL and have beaten Aussies and SA in Tests in their own yards unlike SL. Fourth, if Murli holds the record of max wickets in Test and ODI with highest 5 fors then Sachin holds the similar record in terms of batting and in an Era when batting was more difficult and had the highest avg in 1990s. Murli's action is often doubted and he is not acknowledged by all in Cricket world unlike Sachin who is the most respected of them all. I am not doubting Murli's feats but you shud not play down another Legend just to prove your point

Posted by gibsonlespaul1 on (August 4, 2010, 14:51 GMT)

Hi Rob, I love your article and Murali is definitely one of my favourite cricketers of all time. I was willinglMurali to his 800th wicket, even though I support India. But you should consider one thing before saying that Murali is the Bradman of bowling: Bradman's average is more than 50% higher than anybody else who has scored a decent number of runs, while Murali's average and strike rate are behind the likes of Marshall, Ambrose, McGrath etc. For me, undoubtedly greatest spinner, but I'm not sure about greatest cricketer or greatest sportsman of all time.

Posted by ROXSPORT on (August 4, 2010, 14:46 GMT)

As to whether Sri Lanka would have achieved such heights without Murali, my answer is YES, in ODI's, as it was really Sanath Jayasuria & Arjuna Ranatunga who brought about that transformation (aided in no small measure by Aravinda DeSilva). But it is an outright NO-NO in Tests. Without Murali, Sri Lanka would still have been a pedestrian team.

Posted by mahjut on (August 4, 2010, 13:35 GMT)

@ Graeme Lester: If i get a chance later i'll put them up here from my other computer. If you're hoping they'll make Murali look even greater - you won't be disappointed - if you're hoping it'll show him up against Warne - you will be!!

Posted by hmia1001 on (August 4, 2010, 13:31 GMT)

Murli should be awarded with "Sir". I guess this is what Bedi and Company are fighting against, so that Murli cannot be honored. I believe the game has many greats in addition to sachin.

Posted by Paresh.K on (August 4, 2010, 13:30 GMT)

Thankyou Rob, finally some one has understood the value of Murli. the best spinner of all times. Period.

Posted by Jayhess on (August 4, 2010, 13:28 GMT)

The Law was amended to accommodate him. It has been proven that it is physically impossible to legally bowl the doosra. It is no longer taught in Australia. And how is it that a strike rate of 55.0 is so great? Places him 35th of all bowlers with 100 test wickets or more. Big deal! Of course you are going to take a heap of wickets when you get to bowl over 44,000 balls. Next closest in the top 35 delivered a mere 29,000. If the top striker George Lohmann had bowled 44,000 balls he would have taken over 1200 test wickets!! And although he had uncovered pitches (and God knows Murali has had his share of 'helpful' strips), all but 3 of Lohmann's 18 tests were against Australia. That is just one example of why Murali is grossly over-rated and little more than a long term cheat.

Posted by amarchandra on (August 4, 2010, 13:27 GMT)

"The unbending determination to defeat deformity", oh the irony, Mr. Stein! There is no question of the vast numerical superiority that, frankly, makes any analysis redundant because it stands out so brilliantly. There is equal greatness in his conduct as an empathic human being. But, in spite of your eloquent read-no-further warning, for many honest folks with absolutely no axe to grind, when reviewing frame-by-frame replays, there is simply something not right about some of the deliveries, freakishness, so-called optical illusions and all.

Posted by EJCartledge on (August 4, 2010, 13:21 GMT)

Murali took nearly one-quarter of his total wickets against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh; Warne took less than 2% of his wickets against those teams. Furthermore, the game's guardians didn't have to change the rules of the game to accommodate Warne's bowling action. End of story.

Posted by Awad on (August 4, 2010, 13:14 GMT)

Murali, an unfortunate accident of a powerful Asian Bloc and ridiculous ICC leniencies. The guy chucked and had it been a different era, they would have banned him to the stone ages. The rules were altered to accomodate him and this is where it stinks. Its hilarious to see the Lankans are screaming he was great. They never won a test match in Ind, SA and Aus even with their supposed strike 'bowler' hurling his javelins. And for the record, The King was blonde, he came from Victoria and he spun his leggies the country mile, without the need for the 15 degree trash.

Posted by MrIndianCricket on (August 4, 2010, 13:02 GMT)

Mr Silva1996, I think it's really unfortunate that you bring Tendulkar and Indian fans in the midst of celebration of an artist. Murali is a great, an all time great but you can't compare a batsman and a bowler. The reason why Bradman is considered the best is not because of his average of 99.94, but the fact is that 99.94 is nearly double of the next best (whichever way you want to look at it). If you take out Murali's home record and minnows, you'll be surprised that Warne is just a little better. Now if you want to still compare, a batsman's greatness is often measured by his ability to do well across the globe in diverse condition. Indians and Lankan batsmen on seaming and bouncy tracks is a big test. For spinners, India and Australia/SL are often a big test - in such a case both Warne and Murali struggled in India. BTW, I still consider Murali as the greatest Bowler and Bradman as the greatest Batsman and Sobers as the greatest cricketer .. EVER.

Posted by RJ_Upasena on (August 4, 2010, 12:56 GMT)

Great research and expertly expressed Rob. It is always a pleasure to read a article that contains numerous stats but also still retains literary flair! Murali is indeed a living legend, having seen the astounding angles he could rotate his wrists at close quarters I am doubtful that we will ever see another spinner of his ability ever! What amazes me to this date is the supreme control he had over those rubbery wrists to impart varying degrees of spin and flight not to mention land that ball to a length of his desire. Murali also had immense passion for the game and thoroughly enjoyed his bowling... I am going to miss watching him bamboozle the best with the bat especially in test cricket. Thanks for the memories you little legend from Kandy!

Posted by ydacderaj on (August 4, 2010, 12:36 GMT)

Why Graeme ?, his stats have been broken down numerous times, even taking out Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, he still statistically trumps Warne. Most of the resentment towards Muralis action stems unfortunately from racism, im Australian, and live in Australia, but its obvious that there is much resentment towards him, which is a pity, as he is such a character, and good representative for the game

Posted by   on (August 4, 2010, 11:36 GMT)

Nice summary Rob but can we see a breakdown of Muralis figures against each country and those same stats for Shane Warne please.

Posted by Nandika on (August 4, 2010, 11:29 GMT)

I dont know about the problem bishan bedi has with murali.Why cant he see magrath and shaun pollock actions.they also have suspected actions wiith 15 deagree law for bowlers.So bishan bedi why dont u go ICC and tell about pollock and magrath.i thin it is all about jelous.Great players never critisice others.This is gentlemen game.

Posted by Nandika on (August 4, 2010, 11:10 GMT)

Great article Rob.You did explain how murali became a greatest bowler of all time.But one think i cant understand why cricinfo.com didn't add murali in the cricket legends page.he should be there beacuse of his greatness.But Sachin Tendulakar is there but he still playing cricket.So why not murali.Ii suppose please add murali to that Cricket lengends page.

Posted by Da-Silva1996 on (August 4, 2010, 10:23 GMT)

Murali is the greatest cricketer ever ever.Period.Its a real amusing Indian fans keep mentioning Tendulkar because of his many runs.Please back off! Murali was in a minnow team which transformed itself into world beaters and Champions of 1996. Being a South African, i accept that Murali is cut above all the greats who played in dinasour era who were good at that time only but i doubt any of them would be able to achieve the same in our modern era.Tendulkar once said a few years ago when Ganguly & co. were in the team that it was the best team he played in but they failed miserably in World Cup tournaments even himself too...I hope that a documentary will be made on Murali, the greatest cricketer and gentleman of the game from a little island called Sri Lanka that thumped the rest of the world with talent not hype....like overrated India.

Posted by L4zybugg3r on (August 4, 2010, 9:31 GMT)

I'd be interested in seeing Murali compared to Bradman in terms of a rare event. I believe Bradman was 6 standard deviations above the mean in terms of batting averages - which is extremely unlikely.

Posted by Charindra on (August 4, 2010, 9:25 GMT)

Fantastic article Rob. And as a preemptive comment, let me say that even if you take out Bangladesh and Zim, Murali still has better figures than Warne. And just imagine how many wickets Murali would have ended up with had he played England more in the 90's, as Warne had the fortune of doing.

Posted by   on (August 4, 2010, 9:21 GMT)

Murali was definitely one of the greatest bowlers ever, but as a Sri Lankan, I see him as Jayasuriya's equal in terms of greatness. Sanath's recent poor patch has made people forget how many times he single-handedly carried the team to victory with his batting.

Having said that, both Sanath and Murali made the bulk of their contributions in a set Sri Lankan team that had achieved greatness. The greatest Sri Lankan player without a doubt is Aravinda de Silva.

Posted by Harmony111 on (August 4, 2010, 8:43 GMT)

Hi Rob, that was an excellent piece. We all knew Murali was (and is, will be) a great bowler but had no idea just how great. All along, we believed that Bradman is the one and only super dominator but your analysis of Murali's record shows he has had an equally if not more staggering career. Add to it the constant accusations of some obstinate ex players and other experts and then one can see just how much pressure he soaked up. It's like a research scholar being constantly accused of having a forged degree and then that person going on to win the Noble prize. I myself used to think that Murali's action isnt ok but when I saw a few videos on youtube that proved that while Murali does have a bend in his arm, he gets his spin powers from his unique shoulder and wrist elasticity. That hard casing in which his bowling arm was put made it clear that he doesnt break any law while bowling. Hats off to Murali for even agreeing for such an examination. I will miss Murali. We all will.

Posted by   on (August 4, 2010, 8:03 GMT)

yes a real mvp he was as he never gave up trying.

Posted by Sanks555 on (August 4, 2010, 7:56 GMT)

While Murali deserves all the praise, I feel there is an overall lacunae in cricket analysis. The analysis does not take into account first-class cricket. Now, players like Viv Richards and Malcolm Marshall scored three or more runs/took three or more wickets in non-Test first-class cricket for every run scored/wicket taken in first-class cricket. How can we comment on their careers without taking into account 75% of their achievement?

And the county sides cannot be called weak compared to Test teams like Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, and even Pakistan. I think the Somerset side of 80s, featuring Botham, Richards, and Garner, would have given any Test team of today a run for its money.

Posted by gandabhai on (August 4, 2010, 7:02 GMT)

"Two decades of pressure " Sorry Rob,S R Tendulkar owns that particular line . Do love Murli though .

Posted by   on (August 4, 2010, 6:58 GMT)

brilliant article, statistically murali is arguably the best test bowler ever

Posted by BillyCC on (August 4, 2010, 6:57 GMT)

The article describes Murali as the ultimate MVP which is an excellent description. I suspect Jordan and Bradman would have achieved a greater percentage of man-of-the-match performances but Murali is right up there.

Posted by Rohan1 on (August 4, 2010, 6:41 GMT)

Agreed, Murali was more critical to Sri Lanka than other bowlers were to their respective teams. Or batsmen. But doesn't that reflect more on the quality of the rest of the team?

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Rob SteenClose
Rob Steen Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton, whose books include biographies of Desmond Haynes and David Gower (Cricket Society Literary Award winner) and 500-1 - The Miracle of Headingley '81. His investigation for the Wisden Cricketer, "Whatever Happened to the Black Cricketer?", won the UK section of the 2005 EU Journalism Award "For diversity, against discrimination". His latest book, Floodlights and Touchlines: A History of Spectator Sport, will be published in the summer of 2014

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