When that great bard, William Shakespeare wrote the lines, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”, he could not have envisaged an off spinning genius from Sri Lanka entering that arena almost four and a half centuries later .
As the curtain comes down on a truly memorable theatrical which has held the undivided attention of the cricketing world for almost two decades, that spinning genius will soon take his final bow before a world audience that will rise as one, to repeated encores . In a career studded with intrigue, challenges, and phenomenal achievements, Muthiah Muralitharan, will shortly leave the Test arena with life’s most precious assets, Humility and Integrity, securely intact.
In 1991, when a shy young schoolboy from St Anthony’s College, Katugastota entered the playing field of Sri Lanka ’s finest cricket venue, the Colombo Oval, to pursue a professional career , the talent was plain to see. So it came as no surprise when he caught the eye of the Cricket Board’s spinners coach then, that amiable Australian Bruce Yardley, when he wheeled down nearly 50 overs for as many runs taking 7 wickets against Hugh Morris’ visiting England A team the same year.
‘That guy is going to rock world cricket before long’ were Bruce’s prophetic words as we reflected on the match over a pint of beer. In the ensuing years Murali did more than that as he set out to put the nation’s cricket squarely on the world map, along with his ever loyal skipper Arjuna, team mates Aravinda Sanath, Mahanama,Tillekeratne, Vaas, Gurusinghe, Kaluwitarana , Dharmasena, and Pramodya in particular, the warriors who brought home the prestigious world cup in 1996.
In August 1998, in the traditional one off test that the English Cricket Board was accustomed to grudgingly grant Sri Lanka in those days, Sanath’s batting heroics and Murali’s spinning wizardry brought our nation her first ever test match win on England’s soil, appropriately on their own Oval ; a match that will be remembered for a sensational collapse of the hosts on the final day. With both sides crossing 400 runs in their first innings one could not have blamed the pundits for predicting a certain draw at the end of the fourth day’s play.
John Crawley’s wicket on the stroke of lunch on the final day and Darren Gough’s dismissal, bowled round his legs to seal victory, sent ripples through the media that the maestro had produced yet another variation to his spinning repertoire as he finished with 16 wickets in that historic win. Murali’s triumphant return to the Island led to celebrations at his cricketing home the Tamil Union, where he was felicitated for securing 200 test wickets. Even before the champagne glasses could dry, Murali was on to 300, then 400, 500….a speed that led to envy and deplorable efforts to distract and downgrade his achievements. Instead they only succeeded in strengthening the genius’ mental resolve as he added another 592 wickets in the years following that initial felicitation in1998.
In his manager Kushil Gunasekera, he found the all perfect gentleman who recounts with humour that in their 8 year relationship, he has often been left to wonder as to who was managing whom !! The Foundation of Goodness, a truly humanitarian project that Murali and Kushil initiated post -tsunami, has attracted some of the finest names in the sporting world as partners and co- sponsors .When Murali focused on his target for those rendered homeless by that tragedy at 1000, an astonished Kushil inquired if he was talking about his tally of wickets !!. The final count to that commitment was 1024 houses and Murali achieved what he set out to do, a reflection of his greatness.
The encores will reverberate long after the curtain has descended as the cricketing world continues to recall the life and achievements of a cricketing icon and a remarkable human being who never lost the common touch nor the precious values of his upbringing.
Thank You My Friend, and Bless You, …. a fresh challenge now awaits you in the rebuilding of our beautiful nation , and the reconciliation of its wonderful people.
(S.Skandakumar, is a Former Hony Secretary, Sri Lanka Cricket )