MURALI - the smiling assassin who ruffled hair | Daily News

MURALI - the smiling assassin who ruffled hair

If a popularity poll is held, not only in Sri Lanka but all over the cricket world to select the best ever off spin bowler in the history of the game, it will be a one horse race with Sri Lanka’s MUTTIAH MURALITHARAN winning that contest with no votes for a second best.

MURALITHARAN from the time he began to spin a ball at St. Anthony’s College, Kandy in junior cricket showed magic even at that level. All former Antonian greats who watched him, juggle the ball like a magician, predicted that the sky was the limit for him. And MURALITHARAN did not disappoint.

When he graduated to the first team at SACK he had shed his fondness to bowl fast and his coach Sunil Fernando saw the potential in him as an off spin bowler and urged him to concentrate on off spin bowling.

Bags full of wickets

In his new role he simply mesmerised all opposing school boy batsmen. They who did not have a clue and bags full of wickets came like an avalanche every season. MURALI proved that he was too good for school cricket as he toyed with batsmen.

He joined the Tamil Union Cricket and Athletic Club and began to prosper with his wizardry with the ball, leading the club to honours. It was not long before when the call came to serve his country.

His entry was not startling probably due to nerves which every cricketer suffers when playing in the big or the elite league. Once he got the feel of performing on the big stage, he shed his shyness and nerve. And with every outing he began to stun batsmen and the world of cricket.

Phenomenal rise

MURALITHARAN’S phenomenal rise, brought in its wake the green eyed who could not bear to watch this stunning phenomenon. They began to question his action that was magic hitherto unseen. He got the ball to talk as it were and opponents began to prepare wickets that would not respond to his unplayable variety of spin.

But whatever wicket, even if they had rolled out a concrete wicket, he had the rare ability to turn the ball prodigiously on any surface. It is said that he could make the ball spin even on ice. Such was his rare talent that made all other spinners in world cricket envy him.

His wickets that he captured came like the Mahaweli River in spate. He did not have much success with his off spinners. But once he learnt to bowl the ‘doosra’ which is delivered with the off spin action but when it pitches goes the other way like a leg break. This mesmerising delivery was taught to him by Saqlain Mushtaq the Pakistani off spinning champion and once MURALITHARAN mastered it he used it like a nuclear missile to destroy opposing batsmen.

Mind boggling

Success in Test and one-day cricket is mind boggling and to enumerate his achievements would need reams and reams of newsprint and instead of going on to detail them, it is being reproduced below so that readers could amaze themselves on the web he spun as the greatest off spinner sensation that the world of cricket will never see again.

MURALITHARAN’S success in T20 cricket is nothing much to caw about because he could play in only 12 matches. Had he played in more games another record would have been his.

MURALITHARAN'S phenomenal rise did not go down well especially with the Australians who wanted their own leg spinning sensation Shane Warne to be top of the pops in world cricket.

Hurdles cleared

They endeavored and did everything possible to steel his success. But the hurdles the Aussies placed before him he hurdled like the famous and stylish Edwin Moses of the USA and breasted the tape first much to the irritation and annoyance of the baggy green caps.

MURALITHARAN was ‘called’ on two occasions by Australian umpires Darrel Hair and Ross Emerson as delivering unfair deliveries which they termed chucking. Hair called him in 1995 in the Melbourne Boxing Day Test and Emerson followed Hair calling the bowler in 1999 in Adelaide.

Hair calling MURALITHARAN had all Sri Lankans fuming which prompted a Sri Lanka domiciled in Australia Basil Chitty to coin a verse in jest that read: HAIR OR NO HAIR, MURALI’S BALLS ARE FAIR,’ much to the joy of the Sri Lankans and irritation of all Aussies.

Acrimonious tour

I was there covering this acrimonious tour for the ‘DAILY NEWS’ and ‘SUNDAY OBSERVER’ when Emerson called MURALITHARAN and that incident evokes memories that nearly ended the tour and had Captain Cool Arjuna Ranatunga’s career on the line.

I have written about this incident many a time, but to repeat the incident would be to refresh memories. Ranatunga stood by his bowler and had a finger wagging incident with Emerson, threatening to even take the team off the field.

Manager and my team mate at SBC Ranjit Fernando immediately got on the line to the then President of SLC Thilanga Sumathipala who is also the current President of the SLC who asked Fernando to tell Ranatunga to get on with the game and that he would deal with the incident.

Fernando the diplomat

Ranatunga dodged the after match press conference and Fernando who deputized took all the bouncers thrown at him by the fuming Aussie media and like a diplomat did not lose his cool but answered all questions with great aplomb.

Sumathipala in consultation with cricket representative in Australia Dr. Quintus de Zilwa a famed Cardiologist and cricket enthusiast and Fernando ordered that the best lawyers be got to defend Ranatunga who match referee former South African Captain Peter Van der Merwe was going to ask for a life ban on Ranatunga from the game.

The lawyers managed to get ‘Captain Cool’ a six match suspended sentence and when Fernando broke the news exclusively to me and I broke it in return to the horde of Aussie media men that Ranatunga had got off with a suspended sentence they were livid. Along with cheer leader 'LIONEL the Legend,' Saddhatissa and some Sri Lankans in Adelaide where the inquiry was held I managed to get a few placards done one of which read: ARJUNA HERO, EMERSON ZERO and shouted slogans in front of the Adelaide Oval where a crowd had gathered to watch the England- Australia game.

Stood to a man

When MURALITHARAN was ‘called’ every Sri Lankan stood to a man to support and defend him. Names that need to be mentioned are the then Sports Minister, S.B. Dissanayake and SLC President in 1995 Ana Punchihewa. He went through every testing possible in Australia and they found nothing wrong in his action, but a deformity in his wrist and that he was extending it beyond the limit.

MURALITHARAN being cleared was sweet music and joy to the Lankans and he continued to bemuse and baffle batsmen and in process earned the wrath of the Australians especially because he put to second best their leg spinning maestro Warne to a far second best.

Recently Sri Lanka Cricket named the stadium at Pallekelle ‘MURALITHARAN INTERNATIONAL CRICKET STADIUM which was a fitting tribute to this off spinning sensation whose bowling figures in Tests and one-dayers that no bowler could even come within sniffing distance to equal or surpass.

Off spinning sensation

MURALITHARAN’S stats: Bowling -TESTS 133. Innings – 230. BALLS BOWLED 44,030 – RUNS -18,180 – WKTS. BEST 9/51 – 5 WKTS – 67 – 10 WKTS 22. ODIS – 350 – innings – 341 - balls bowled -18,811 – RUNS – 12,326 – WKTS – 534 – BEST 7/30 – Five wkts- 10. T20 – Matches 12 – innings 12 – balls bowled 282 – runs – 297 – wkts 13 – best 3/29 -



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