April 17, 1972, Kandy
Also Known As
Right hand bat
Right arm offbreak
St Anthony's College, Kandy
Perhaps no cricketer since Douglas Jardine has polarised opinion quite like Muttiah Muralitharan. For the believers, he's among the greatest to ever spin a ball. For the doubters, he's a charlatan undeserving of the game's greatest records, responsible for changes in the laws that they think have legitimised throwing. What was undeniable was his ability to turn the ball sharply on just about any surface, and bowl the sort of marathon spells that would have seen a lesser man retire after five seasons rather than 18. Whether Sri Lanka played at home, on pitches where he was often unplayable, or overseas, Murali was the go-to man for half a dozen captains. He seldom disappointed.
Scion of a family with confectionery interests in Kandy, he first came to prominence during a tour game against Australia in 1992-93, when no less a batsman than Allan Border failed to pick him. From the outset, his action was an object of wonder or ridicule, depending on which side of the fence you stood. A deformed elbow was only part of the story. Murali had exceptionally supple wrists and a shoulder that rotated as rapidly as a fast bowler's at the time of delivery. A combination of all these factors combined to enable him to turn the ball far more than most orthodox finger-spinners, but it was only with his mastering the doosra, the one that went the other way or held its line, that he became Shane Warne's rival in the wicket-taking and greatness stakes.
The controversies always kept him company, yet Murali seldom lost his wide-eyed smile, or the ability to run through batting sides. Darrell Hair called him for throwing on Boxing Day in 1995, and Ross Emerson followed suit three years later. In 2004, he was asked to refrain from bowling his doosra, after it was found to exceed the 15-degree tolerance limit that had been agreed on after extensive analysis of his and other actions. While the sceptics continued to denigrate his achievements, Murali even bowled on television in a special cast, going through his entire repertoire to try and convince the doubters.
Part of the World Cup-winning side in 1996, he was instrumental in the run to the final 11 years later, and he played his part in some of the country's greatest sporting moments. It was his 16 wickets that helped rout England at The Oval in 1998, back in the days when Sri Lanka were deemed worthy of only one Test. He averaged less than 30 with the ball in every country except India and Australia, and he finished a remarkable Test career with more than 100 wickets against India, England and South Africa.
Backed to the hilt by Arjuna Ranatunga, he blossomed in the late 1990s, and there was a period when the opposition routinely budgeted for 20 Murali wickets or more in a three-Test series. As the years passed, his shyness gave way to a quiet confidence and wry sense of humour, and he won admirers around the world for the energy, time and money that he invested in reconstruction after a tsunami had devastated the Sri Lankan coast in 2004. Often the only Tamil in the side in a time of ethnic conflict, he became as powerful a unifying force as any in the country. That he was such a hero with ball in hand was only part of the story.
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