The wily enchanter

Muttiah Muralitharan: 8 for 87 v India, 3rd Test, SSC

Every now and again a bowler comes along who is different. But Muttiah Muralitharan is more than just different; he's as good as any spinner in the history of the game. And his 8-87 against India on a first-day pitch in Colombo showcased him at his very best.

His career statistics bear testimony to his greatness as a spinner, but figures alone cannot express the magnificence of his performances. India came into that Test in Colombo on a high, having won the previous game at Kandy. The openers went into lunch unbeaten and India looked on a roll.

Enter Murali. On a first-day pitch where most spinners would have tried to tie one end up, he mesmerised batsman after spellbound batsman, and turned the match on its head. The man who runs through left-handers like most of us run through our breakfasts, decimated the defences of the three lefties in the side - Sadagoppan Ramesh, Sourav Ganguly and Hemang Badani - and took five other wickets besides.

What was exceptional about this performance was that it came against India; no team plays spin as well as they do - ask Shane Warne. Murali gets prodigious spin on any surface he plays on, more so than legspinners, because of the incredible use he makes of his wrist which supplements the turn that his fingers impart to the ball. He has become especially lethal in the last couple of years because of the one that goes that other way - the so-called `doosra'. Saqlain Mushtaq developed a `doosra' first, but Murali now has more variations of it, and has made it his own.

More than just his exceptional talent, it is his confidence that has made Murali such a potent bowler. His career looked at risk a few years ago at the Adelaide Oval, where England played Sri Lanka and umpire Ross Emerson no-balled Murali for throwing. Arjuna Ranatunga, to his credit, stood by him and almost marched his team off the field in protest. Fittingly, Murali hit the winning runs, and went on to become the best spinner in the world. Assured of the faith of his team and his cricket board, he grew in confidence and, consequently, in stature. And he's far from done.