It is entirely possible that Muthiah Muralitharan will play the second Test against India, although he has announced his retirement after the first. If he claims just seven wickets in the Galle match he would tally 799.
An impressive enough figure, but if the temptation to become the first bowler to claim 800 Test wickets cannot be resisted, that is understandable. Murali is human after all, even if his bowling and his struggles to succeed might suggest something beyond.
Whatever figure Murali finishes with is likely to stand forever given the diminishing interest in Test cricket, and despite his own modest assessment that someone like Harbhajan Singh might go past that figure. International sportsmen are supposed to be beyond statistics, and many claim that they are unaware of records since they do not play for them.
But that is a convenient sporting myth. You can wake up most international bowlers in the middle of the night and ask them how many wickets they have taken, and they will give you the correct answer. A couple of generations ago, such self-awareness was looked down upon, but today it is seen as a healthy sign that sportsmen understand the context in which they perform.
Obituaries are not supposed to dwell on a person’s weaknesses, only exaggerate his virtues. But no such consideration has been shown to Murali despite his role in cricket’s first proper attempt to define the legal delivery. Thanks to his action, umpires know there is a difference between what the eye sees and the computer calculates.
It was while studying Murali’s action that it was noticed that some of the finest bowlers in the game, known for their smooth actions, did, in fact, send down illegal deliveries. By the earlier system – the naked eye – someone like Glenn McGrath was seen as picture perfect. Then technology showed that he too fell outside the demands of the legal.
That led to a new world order where a kink of 15 degrees was allowed, and Murali’s unique action was seen as legal.
Those who criticise him base their observations on the naked eye; those who absolve him go by the letter of the definition. In a few years, when such reliance on technology is taken for granted, fans will wonder what the fuss was all about.
That is why the apologists for Murali do him a disservice by focusing on his hard work, his pleasant demeanor, his philanthropy as if to suggest that his human qualities somehow make up for his apparently illegal action.
This is wrong, because a player ought to be judged by his performance on the field, and Murali’s action is legal by the definition of the term. He has suffered more than most great players as a result of this misunderstanding.
Murali brought to the craft a unique touch, a new way of doing things. He remains the symbol of a resurgent Sri Lanka, an always talented side from its pre-Test days but one that needed a touch of iron to perform consistently. He has been the figure behind the team’s successes, both literally, for his performance, as well as for the unquantifiable elements that go into the making of that attribute called ‘inspiration’.
Above all, he expanded the horizons of the game, bringing in elements that make it more complex, and therefore more interesting, and providing challenges in the meeting of which international batsmen made their reputations. Nobody bowls like Murali; sadly not even Murali these days, and the time has probably come. But he will be missed, as any one-of-a-kind performer will be.
Murali Targets 800
Muttiah Muralitharan wants to take his world record haul of wickets to 800 before he retires from international Test cricket.
The 38-year-old, currently on 792 wickets, has told BBC Sport: “I always thought I’d reach the 800 mark.
“I can still reach it as I have one last Test. It would be magical ending.”
Muralitharan, regarded as the greatest bowler Sri Lanka has ever produced and one of the finest players to grace the game, would need eight wickets in Galle to reach 800.
His Test-wicket haul has come from 132 Test appearances, while he has also played 337 one-day internationals, taking 515 wickets.
However, he has decided to focus on playing one-day cricket until the 2011 World Cup and, thereafter, exclusively on Twenty20 cricket, explaining: “I have achieved most of the things I wanted to in cricket.
“There is nothing left to achieve so I can’t be selfish and play on.”
Still, the off-spinner admits he hopes his sensational Test-wicket haul is never surpassed.
“I think records are meant to be broken,” he said. “Someone will come and break it one day.
“But I don’t have to lie. Every person that achieves something special doesn’t want that achievement to be broken. I am no different. That is the way it should be. I want it to always be there but I think it will be broken. That’s the way records work.
“It will happen but I’m selfish and I want it to be my record forever.”
No Tailor-Made Pitch For Murali
Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) has planned a grand farewell for Muttiah Muralitharan, who will play his swansong Test against India beginning today, but will not prepare a tailor-made pitch to assist the spin wizard.
He is just eight wickets shy of touching the magical 800-wicket and SLC officials say Murali does not need a pitch suiting his style as he can strike on any pitch.
Curtains will fall on a dazzling international career which saw Murali becoming highest wicket-taker in Tests well as in one-dayers.
The cricket authorities have invited all former Test skippers to witness the Test and have even formulated a special Muralitharan farewell committee to organise the show.
“We are planning to give him a good send-off and we will ensure that the event is memorable,” SLC Secretary Nishantha Ranatunga said.
Murali is capable of striking in any pitch, Ranatunga said when asked if a pitch assisting Murali will be laid.
SLC will organise a brief event before the commencement of the first Test and a grand felicitation at the end of the match.
According to officials, the 38 year old bowler will be welcomed by local bands from Galle District when he will enter the stadium on the first day.
All former chairmen and secretaries of the board have been invited to witness the farewell Test match and the Galle cricket ground is being spruced up for the occasion.
India Vow To Spoil Murali Finale
India are determined not to join the party as Sri Lanka celebrate world record wicket taker Muttiah Muralitharan’s final Test appearance in Galle from today.
Local fans want Muralitharan to claim those eight wickets and lead Sri Lanka to victory in what will be a fitting end to a remarkable, but controversial, 18-year Test career. However, Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said his world number one team will not allow Muralitharan — who is commonly known as Murali — to have it all his way.
“Good luck to Murali, but we are here to win,” said Dhoni, who teams up with the Sri Lankan in the Twenty20 Indian Premier League for current champions Chennai Super Kings. “We all know Murali is a great bowler and his achievements speak for themselves. More importantly, he is also a great human being and I cherish his friendship. “However, this is Test cricket and we do not intend to give our wickets easily. Our batsmen would like not to give him the opportunity to reach 800 wickets during the first Test.”
The off-spinner’s track record at the Galle International Stadium indicates he may not have a problem reaching the 800-wicket mark. Muralitharan has claimed 103 wickets in the 14 Tests he has played against all opposition at Galle, 13 of them against the Indians in two matches.
India’s batsmen, led by world record holder Sachin Tendulkar, are reputed to play spin well, but Muralitharan grabbed 21 wickets in three Tests in the last home series in 2008 to lead Sri Lanka to a 2-1 win. The off-spinner has claimed five wickets in an innings an astonishing 66 times, almost double the hauls of second-placed Australian Shane Warne, who has done it on 37 occasions. Muralitharan has taken 10 wickets or more in a Test 22 times. Warne, who follows the Sri Lankan in the all-time list with 708 wickets, has managed that only 10 times. “Let’s all enjoy the moment,” said former Test batsman Aravinda de Silva, who is now the chairman of selectors. “There will not be a Murali again.”
— Kuldip Lal