Muttiah Muralidharan – A spinner like no other

By Rohan Wijesinghe

Remember- Bedlam erupting that December day in Melbourne, the year being  1995 as Darrel Hair with his far from spotless record, no balled Mutthiah Muralidharan for the apparent sin of bending his bowling elbow. Following that landmark call, an ugly vocal sneer was orchestrated by the ear ringed, beer bellied Aussie fans, sadly citizens all, of an emerging super power and a powerhouse in cricket rankings, from time immerial.

Captain not so cool

Enter the heavy footed, barrel chested, ham fisted Arjuna Ranatunga to the proceedings, spitting pellets at the hapless Hair; and even having the audacity to wag his tongue and even his thumb at the disoriented Ump,

for good measure, as he  thundered up the gangplank in defence of his ace spinner-mercilessly grinding the boisterous Aussie fans into submission.

Swathed in electrodes

All the while, At the butt end of the crowds attack, Mutthiah Muralidharan remained characteristically dignified and unruffled, against a sea of vicious vitriol; as the drama unfolded; surely one of the sorriest spectacles in the history of the game. The faultline lay somewhere between the precious cricketing cities of Melbourne and London; Was the  plot hatched there as well? Knives were surely out and they were inches away from our precious spinners chest. Soon his torso was  a sorry mess of bandages and electrodes as the hounds bound him up for scrutiny, with our lad displaying extraordinary grace and dignity under fire. Success breeds resentment; and Murali was never short of success. Mercifully unplugged and relieved of all live wires, a beaming Murali emerged, triumphantly holding aloft his ‘All Clear Report’ to the utter glee of his beloved devotees. The ‘B Report’ brought still more glee. Ninety nine percent of the  bowlers tested, bent their ruddy elbows, above and beyond the 15 degrees permissible. Following that despicable diversion, it was rich spin history, all the way, as the bouncy right armer weaved his way to those 800 Test wickets in 133 Test Matches at 22.74. And if that was not enough sweat, the off spinner built 1024 houses for the tsunami affected, spread across the Lankan coastline covering 24 districts. That’s in betwixt bringing England-that ancient cricket empire- to her knees with a return of 17 for 118 at the London Oval in the year 1998.

A star is born

A star like no other descended upon the humble household of Sinnathamby and Lakshmi Mutthiah on the 15th of April 1972; The  devout Hindu couple lost no time in enrolling their little bundle of energy at that hallowed seat of learning, St Anthony’s College Katugastota, located half a hillock below the Historic Kandyan Kingdom; where only Eagles dare. Up there upon the salubrious hilltop, the chubby little ‘pacie’  turned  ‘spinner’ twirled and twisted his little arm this way and that, mimicking the  Majestic River Mahaweli,  that cascaded past his little classroom; the river sweeping all before it to the ‘sea’   whilst Murali had them all at ‘sea’- those toddlers who dared  pad up to him, that is. Even at that tender age, Murali guaranteed early showers for everyone with his baby float and flight.  The bouncy Anthonian’s  beloved guru,  Sunil Fernando- from the first time Sunil saw he knew; that he had a major force on his hands. In addition to pointing Murali towards the finer points of spin, he took it upon himself to ensure that the kid remained unspoilt, level headed and focused.

Snapping tungsten

As fate would have it the clean limbed young Anthonian, at the heed  and behest of that redoubtable, top seeded ‘Officer And A Gentleman’ S Skandakumar, followed the trail of success down to the Valleys of Wanathamulla and its hallowed cricket club, the Tamil Union C and FC. Murali climbed into first class cricket like a cat climbing into an armchair; whence he reshaped the history of the spinning  ball, with his grand concoction of doosra’s flippers and what not. The glint of battle seemed to send sparks  through his- oh so- expressive eyes. Which takes us down to his fielding. For the Anthonian under 12’s, he would field like a puppy, fresh off a leash, oozing intent, anticipation and dash; galloping around the ropes like a gazelle. His thousand megawatt smile would be- snapped of its tungsten- if a ever a toddler  spilt a catch or gifted a run.

Hack of a hook

Which brings us to his Batting.  The tailenders arrival at the wicket was a moment of delectable anticipation as he marched to the wicket  in a helmet seemingly larger than its contents. Having vigorously ‘tatooed’ out his guard-outside leg stump- he would settle down to his nervy two eyed stance. Thence; an exaggerated back and across step to square leg followed by fidgety flicks all over the shop to get his ‘eye’ in as it were. Anything short would be dragged through the meadow, with his  ‘hack of a hook’ stacked  with  a wood chopper’s elegance. With the passage of time he had learned to place the pitched up one’s up on the roofs and rafters; he certainly knew where his stumps were and so did the whole world; as he left all three of them , so wide open. His then was the ‘art of carting’ it around as he bludgened, swatted , snicked and ‘smiled’ his way to 1256 entertaining Test runs with 67 not out against the Aussies as his pride and joy. Loads of deplorable footwork, pots of pluck and curious run getting shots, made up the recipe’..

Such a sense of humour

Murali was not all grit and gristle. His ceaseless advise to top order batsmen on technique was a matter of much mirth in the dressing room. The legend would natter away all day in the dugout, up until the post match ‘Medal Hanging Shindig; whence the mere sighting of Greigy’s rather lengthy shadow would shut him up for the evening. There was then the occasion; whence playing for Lancashire he had the audacity to tell Flintof- returning to the dugout after a sixth successive low score- ruddy cock  shot Flintoff! What? Andrew’s reply is not printable, Sorry.

It is said that once at Lancashire; Henry the Horse would put his head between the shafts of the roller as Murali walked into bat at number 11; at the ready to roll the grass for the opposition innings. Tongue in the tonsils that! No offense meant, Kid and besides Manchester does have a motor roller now.

Calling it quits

On the 1st of July this year the Charismatic ‘King of Spin’ from the Kandyan Kingdom  summoned the press to call it quits. Twas crying time and the tears were for real. Historic  Galle was surely worthy of the historic occasion; with the platforms and Dutch Fort plastered with enormous cutouts of the Ace from Kandy; the Galle Esplanade itself Pavilioned and Bedecked in such glorious splendour as Lanka took a deep and grateful bow to the ‘Jewel’ in her crown. A tiny tilt of the hat here to Warnay’, our mercurial, maverick curator  Jayananda Warnaweera. Thanks for the sweat chum; as you take ‘your’ esplanade to bed with you.

Turbaned barbs

Cricket apart you were a cut apart Murali, besides being one of the nicest human beings to have ever spun a cricket ball. No amount of  barbs or  brickbats from  wooly thinking, bespectacled yet cross eyed, turbaned ‘has beens’, can dent your stature; they can only raise racial hackles and hatred at best. A sweeping bow to our Board as well for conjuring up that magical send off for our Magician. Truly epic stuff that.

Thanks for the memories

As for us of the cricketing fraternity; we’ll be waiting…….waiting and waiting for someone like you….. in vain though, we know.

The writer is a former Josephian, BRC, NCC and Sri Lanka Under 19 Opener and now a Cricket historian

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  • Carlton Bernardus

    Well done Chief Minister of the Central Province Sarath Ekanayake and Governor of the Cental Province Tikiri Kobbekaduwa in your effort to rename the Pallekelle Cricket Stadium as ‘Muralitharan International Cricket Stadium’ the whole nation can honour Muralitharan for his achievements. I’m certain Sri Lanka Cricket will endorse.

    Pallekelle to be renamed as Muralitharan Stadium
    S. M. Jiffrey Abdeen, Kandy Sports correspondent

    The Central Provincial Council at its recent sittings at the Pallekelle Complex has unanimously approved the motion that efforts should be made to rename the Pallekelle Cricket Stadium as ‘Muralitharan International Cricket Stadium’ said the Chief Minister of the Central Province Sarath Ekanayake.

    He made these observations in an interview with this correspondent on the subject of re-naming the Pallekelle Cricket Stadium which is owned by Sri Lanka Cricket. Chief Minister Sarath Ekanayake said that this proposal is only at its initial stages on a proposal made by the Governor of the Cental Province Tikiri Kobbekaduwa.

    Chief Minister said that since this stadium is owned by Sri Lanka Cricket, they will forward this proposal to the proprietors for necessary action. It is not only us but the entire country will support this move to re-name this stadium to honour Muralitharan.

    Chief Minister Sarath Ekanayake said Muralitharan is a legendary cricketer whose exploits in the cricket field with the cricket ball is unrivalled and will never be surpassed.

    The closest wicket taker is only at the half way mark. Now that Shane Warne is not in the cricket scene, and Anil Kumble has retired, there is no one around who could overhaul the record of 800 Test wickets.

    Is there any other better way we could pay tribute to this greatest bowler in the world and honour him by re-naming the Pallekelle Cricket Stadium as Muralitharan International Cricket Stadium. Chief Minister Sarath Ekanayake said that Muralitharan’s road to records were not a bed of roses.

    Early in his career he was called for throwing not once but twice at international level and he had to stop playing for sometime. Tests were carried out using the modern technology in the country where he was called for throwing and the tests proved that the actions by the two umpires were not correct and Muralitharan’s actions were legally within the permissable limits.

    He fought all these adversaries with a smile and he knew that what he was doing was correct and one day truth will emerge. This did happen and his detractors were wrong.

    Muralitharan is from Kandy and Central Province and he learnt his cricket in Kandy during his formative years.

    His brother Shashitharan played a major role in the construction of the Pallekelle Cricket Stadium against all odds before it was taken over by the Sri Lanka Cricket. Muralitharan resides only a few kilometres from this Stadium and therefore he has very deep connections with this venue.

  • Premasiri

    Murali is the most genuine bowler among almost all the bowlers who’ve been reported for suspicious bowling action. He is always in his short sleeves when he is in action as he has nothing to hide in his delivery action. In contrast Saeed Ajmal(Pak), Sohaeeb Akthar (Pak), Harbajan (Ind), AbdurRazaak (Bangladesh) have never failed to wear long sleeves when they are in business. Among all the critics of Murali BishanSing Bedi is the person who has made the most envious attack on Murali. Though Bedi has failed to accept the advantage Murali has had with his handicapped bent elbow, he gives full credit to his fellow team mate Chandrasekar who had got exceptionally fast full swing of arm when sending a quick delivery with the help of the polio bowling hand.