Muttiah Muralitharan – Once In A Lifetime Career

Originally Written For 01-08-2010 Sunday Island.

2010.07.22 will go down in cricketing folklore as a day so poetically crafted that it reminded of a Cinderella story. The occasion was so huge, the person who’s responsible for all the pageantry Galle was subjected to needed 3 wickets to achieve a landmark which other bowlers have never dreamt of achieving or even if they did has no chance of success. Muttiah Muralitharan true to his billing toiled hard under the sun one final time in white cloths and unraveled his mystery again and turned Galle into a carnival atmosphere.

After Malinga-who looked like getting a wicket every ball he bowled- got rid of a resilient Abhimanyu Mithun, captain Sangakkara’s intentional or not, move to remove him left a clear playing field for Murali-not that he needed it-to snare the final victim and into virtual dreamland.

Like all those unforgettable years before, he wasn’t going to disappoint and the mission was complete when his “general” at slips combined for the 77th time. Everyone who tuned in numbers to bid farewell to the greatest cricketer Sri Lanka has ever produced went to raptures and it was time to celebrate.

No one in the history of Sri Lanka Cricket has carved a niche so epic. Ever since his turn from a paceman to a slow bowler under lucky circumstances-thanks to his coach Sunil Fernando-at St Anthony’s, Murali wasn’t the one to look back. After taking the school scene by storm to making the Test debut against soon to be close friends Australia, he slowly but surely took over the mantle of number one spinner in the island.

Although a dark chapter of his career was written in 95 at the MCG on Boxing Day, what would have served him well could have been the World Cup triumph that followed immediately. A moment like that-Murali to date refers to as the greatest moment in his career-can quickly squash the calamities of the past. It was a blessing in disguise no doubt.

Murali’s one of the greatest attributes is not living in the past. When his off breaks were beginning to be picked by the batsmen he developed “Doosra”, when asked about the umpires who “no balled” him, he said it was their job. So humble is this man, he is a great present and future ambassador for our country. More importantly, he’s a beacon of hope for the Tamil people in Sri Lanka to believe that actually Tamils and Sinhalese can co-exist together to bring glory to our motherland.

There will forever be rants about the legality of his action, and he’s done everything humanly possible to prove to the world that his is legal. Every great thing has its own critics and so does Murali. He took four tests at various places around the world, just think about how weird it would have felt bowling with chips all over his body? A normal would never have had the courage to stand against that adversity. As they say, ‘Adversity introduces a man to himself’ and Murali would have benefited from it than anyone. The umpires who called him for throwing-Darryl Hair and Ross Emerson-are unheard of these days. Another critic former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who disgracefully called Murali a chucker while declining to apologize lost his seat also in the preceding election and had his bid to become the ICC President unceremoniously blocked. Hair and Emerson had a legitimate right to do it while Howard had no business issuing such statements. Bishen Singh Bedi who acts like he has a personal vendetta against Murali is developing a reputation as a whiner regarding Murali even in India.

Twist of fate, may be.

His on field battle with Shane Warne is well documented and one weak spot this writer observed in Murali during his early days compared to Warne was his inability to pick up a wicket at a crucial juncture of a game. He used to pick up wickets but by usually bowling long spells while Warne always had that special delivery at the most opportune time. The day he shrugged off that little chink in the armor was during the third Test between India and Sri Lanka at SSC in 2001. India was cruising along at 97/0 and the series was level at 1-1, when Murali masterminded a major collapse taking 87/8 thus taking Sri Lanka to victory. True he bamboozled the Englishmen at The Oval, but this was the more incisive spell which showed signs of things to come. Ever since that day Murali was the go to man for the captain and more often than not he would oblige.

When praising Murali’s career two stones people tend to forget are Arjuna Ranatunga and Chaminda Vaas. Sure the cricket board, players and everyone stood for Murali but Arjuna was like a warrior, always standing by him when the atrocious times arrived. No one would have walked off the field protesting the umpire’s decision like Arjuna did. He never changed his stance towards his loyalty to Murali, shielding him like a national treasure, although some would call it arrogance, it was all worth it. Arjuna was ready to tarnish his image for the sake of Murali. If not for Arjuna it’s not an exaggeration to concede that Murali would have been a footnote in the history of cricket.

For the majority of wickets Murali got, the support he received from the other end from a certain guy named Chaminda Vaas is greatly under appreciated. Vaas may have got only 355 wickets-still a worthy effort in unhelpful conditions in the sub continent- but the untiring spells he put into tie one end up was tremendous considering Murali’s achievements.

Oh how come anybody forget, Murali the batsman. Afraid to face the leather ball or what, he has come up with some entertaining and important knocks. Categorized as a slogger, but an exception to the rule is clearly visible in recent times in his approach. Don’t think Mahela Jayawardena or the team thought about his profound shyness to the ball when he smacked 30odd in double quick time at Mirpur against Bangladesh to save his team from an embarrassing defeat. It was crystal clear that he had done a lot to improve his batting, no longer was Murali a slogger.

Apart from cricket, honest efforts through his foundation to help the people devastated by tsunami classify him as a true gentleman. Until his retirement most people didn’t know about his charity work but thanks to those tributes now it is a well known fact. And that in itself epitomizes that Murali for his all good work isn’t interested in letting the world to know about it to attract personal attention. People like Sir Ian Botham, Shane Warne and Michael Schumacher willing to be part of his work at Seenigama shows the high regard, Murali has in the world of sports.

With this retirement, cricket will be poorer because it has no signs of the freak legendary spinners Murali or a Warne –to certain extend Kumble and Saqlain-looming in the horizon.

The predicament is ever more visible seeing the guy Murali named as his successor, has bowled 75 overs in the current series for a reward of a solitary wicket. Graeme Swann has a great opportunity to evolve but the mastery and the craft Murali or a Warne used to have will not be touched upon. With these factors and no clear rival in close distance, it is safe to say that this record is not meant to be broken for years to come.

Eight hundred Test wickets, 67 five wicket hauls, 22 ten wickets in a match, 500 odd ODI wickets, this man has done it all. From the humble beginnings of Kandy to being the cornerstone of Sri Lanka Cricket, it has been without a shadow of a doubt one hell of a journey.

The mind boggling eyes, own unique way of celebrating a wicket, the one hand raised appeals, polite ramblings with the umpires will forever be missed.

Murali the down to earth person will be missed even more.

Now that Murali has retired, Test cricket will never be the same again. Proud followers of cricket should be privileged to have witnessed a career so magical that it is destined for hall of fame.

Age of Muttiah Muralitharan has just finished, but the legacy will live on.

For all the heartfelt and joyous moments you have given, let me echo the words of all cricket loving public, Thank you very much Murali, it was surely a wonderful ride!!!

The Island Link-Muttiah Muralitharan-Once In A Lifetime Career



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