Murali powers past yet another milestone
The ball was tossed up, Syed Rasel carved out a typical tailender's slog to mid-off, and Muttiah Muralitharan became only the second bowler - after Shane Warne - to enter the extremely exclusive 700-wickets club in Test cricket. Before the Kandy Test, he needed 12 wickets, and there were doubts as to whether he could get them all in one game, but knowing Murali's sense of timing - he was playing on home turf - it was hardly surprisingly that he raised his game for the occasion.
Over a career spanning 15 years, Murali has come a long way from the bowler who needed 27 Tests to get to his first 100 wickets. The table below traces his progress in 100-wicket intervals, and what's striking is the improvement in average and strike-rate every time, which suggests he is still growing in stature as a bowler. His average has come down from 31.49 after 27 matches to 21.33 after 113, while the strike-rate has reduced by 18 deliveries per wicket.
His last 195 scalps, especially, have come a mindboggling rate: after 87 Tests, his tally stood at 505. In 26 matches since then he has nabbed 18 five-wicket hauls and seven ten-fors, averaging 17.27 runs and 38.7 balls per dismissal. (Click here for the entire list of Murali's 700 victims.)
|Wicket no.||Tests||Average||Strike rate||5WI/ 10WM|
In a side which has usually lacked bowling depth, Murali has been their one consistent matchwinner. Just how much the team depends on him is obvious from the numbers below: in the matches that he has played, Murali's taken 41% of the total wickets nailed by all bowlers, while his average is far superior to what the others have managed. The fact that he has taken 72% of all five-fors (60 out of 83), and 91% of the ten-fors (20 out of 22) tells the story of just how indispensable he has been to the Sri Lankan attack.
|Wickets||Average||Strike rate||5WI/ 10WM|
|Other SL bowlers||994||35.35||74.48||23/ 2*|
* Both the ten-fors were taken by Chaminda Vaas
As a matchwinner, Murali ranks right on top, with his 373 wickets costing him just 15 apiece. In fact, only Shane Warne, with 510, and Glenn McGrath (414) have taken more wickets in wins.
|Bowler||Tests||Wickets||Average||Strike rate||5WI/ 10WM|
|Muttiah Muralitharan||45||373||15.19||41.4||36/ 16|
|Malcolm Marshall||43||254||16.78||38.1||17/ 4|
|Curtly Ambrose||44||229||16.86||44.4||13/ 3|
|Waqar Younis||39||222||18.20||35.0||14/ 4|
|Dennis Lillee||31||203||18.27||39.0||17/ 6|
|Shaun Pollock||48||218||18.33||47.8||9/ 1|
|Anil Kumble||39||266||18.40||44.3||20/ 5|
|Wasim Akram||41||211||18.48||42.3||13/ 2|
|Glenn McGrath||84||414||19.19||47.7||18/ 3|
|Courtney Walsh||52||239||19.72||46.2||10/ 2|
|Shane Warne||92||510||22.47||51.2||27/ 7|
With his stock delivery being the one that turns into the right-hander, you'd expect them to handle him better, but Murali averages an incredible 14.34 against them. The lefties have done much better against him, managing an average of more than 26. (Click here for last Friday's Numbers Game, which looked at, among other things, batsmen who have done well, and badly, against him.)
|Murali against ...||Wickets||Average||Strike rate|
The one blemish in a near-impeccable record is his stats in Australia, where he averages 63 runs per wicket. To be fair to him though, he played two of his three Tests there in 1995-96, well before he became the terror he is now; Sri Lanka's tour to that country later this year will give him the opportunity to set that record straight, and also to get past Warne's record of 708 wickets.
Though he is 35, Murali has lost none of the zip or zest for the game. At the rate at which he is going, he could well make it past 850 or even 900 wickets. If you're an opposition batsman, that isn't very good news at all.
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo