February 2002: Features

1000 Test wickets?

Conventional cricket wisdom says that spin bowlers don't mature fully until their thirties. If that's the case, heaven help the cricket world when Muttiah Muralitharan turns 30 on April 17. Having got his first blocks of 100 wickets in 27, 15 and 16 Tests, Murali sped from 300 to 400 in just 14 matches, a rate of acceleration that would do a McLaren F1 race-car proud.

The World Test Championship means more matches, more wickets, more five-fors... more records. Based upon a projected 15 Tests per year, and his current rate of progress, Murali would only need to play until he's 36 to hit 1000 Test wickets.

Not likely - he won't be playing Bangladesh and Zimbabwe all the time, for one - but when you consider other modern offspinners (Colin Miller is still going at 37, John Emburey played until he was 42), not entirely impossible either.

Certainly, injury permitting, he should end up with around 800 wickets. Not bad for a man who looked like he might stall on 80 wickets when Darrell Hair no-balled him seven times for throwing at the MCG in 1995-96. And that estimate is based on Murali carrying on at his current rate. If he's yet to hit top gear, no bowling record in the book is safe.

Since January 1, 2000, Muralitharan has taken 177 wickets in 24 matches at an average of 19.03. In the same period, only two other bowlers have managed 100 wickets: Glenn McGrath has 111 (in 23 matches) and Shaun Pollock 100 (in 25).

Murali has also taken 16 five-fors and eight 10-fors in the 21st century. In the same period nobody else has taken more than McGrath's seven five-fors, and only two bowlers - McGrath and Harbhajan Singh - have more than one 10-for. They each have two.