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Murali and the Bangladesh factor

The three-Test series between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh has so far gone along entirely predictable lines - the hosts have been utterly rampant, Bangladesh have capitulated meekly (with the exception of one partnership in the second Test), and Muttiah Muralitharan has collected another bagful of wickets to add to his already burgeoning tally.

In only his ninth Test against Bangladesh, Murali has a phenomenal haul of 70 wickets (till the first innings of the ongoing Kandy Test) at an average of 12.20. Add a further 87 wickets against Zimbabwe, and almost 23% of his 694 scalps have come against the lesser sides. It isn't Murali's fault that Bangladesh have played ten Tests against Sri Lanka and no more than six against any of the other top sides, but thanks to his rich haul against them, question-marks have been raised about the quality of those wickets, and if in fact Murali's stats have been bloated by the regular games against less-than-top-class opposition.

This week's Numbers Game examines that argument, taking into consideration all Tests since 2000. Over the last six-and-a-half years, Murali has developed his craft to such an extent that he is a huge threat against all opposition in all conditions. The table below confirms Murali's outstanding success against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe - he has 12 five-fors in 14 Tests since 2000 - but while the wickets haven't come at quite such a torrential rate against other sides, the drop is only marginal. Exclude all the matches he has played in the subcontinent and Zimbabwe, and the numbers still look impressive - nearly six wickets per Test and an average of less than 22.

*Includes the first innings of the Kandy Test
Extrapolating his numbers against the higher-ranked teams (third row in the table above) to the matches he played against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, he would have had 97 wickets from those 14 games - just 17 fewer than he actually did. Which suggests that playing Bangladesh and Zimbabwe over the last seven years hasn't significantly boosted his tally; he would have got the wickets anyway, against other teams as well.

Murali's struggle - in relative terms at least - has been when playing in Australia, India and South Africa. Even those numbers have improved recently, and he has an opportunity to further work on them when Sri Lanka tour Australia later this year.

Not many batsmen have mastered Murali over the last six years, but there have been a few who have had the better of the exchanges. Brian Lara's domination of Murali in 2001 is well documented, while Ricky Ponting, Stephen Fleming, Jacques Kallis and Imzamam-ul-Haq - apart from Fleming, the others rank among the best batsmen of this era - have all handled Murali pretty well too. The surprise entry in the list is Shaun Pollock, who has fallen to Murali just once in 159 deliveries. (Incidentally, Pollock has dominated Shane Warne too, scoring 172 runs and being dismissed twice, for an average of 86.)

The list of batsmen who've struggled against Murali consist largely of English batsmen, which isn't surprising considering he averages less than 20 runs per wicket against them. The three names which aren't from England are very distinguished names: Sachin Tendulkar has fallen to him three times in the recent past, while Adam Gilchrist and Ramnaresh Sarwan have come out second-best too.