Murali ends his career with the ultimate victory

Brendan McArdale, Courtesy of the Age, 24 July 2010

WHILE Australia’s cricket focus might be on how Ricky Ponting tries to prove the critics wrong after batting first at Headingley, world cricket’s celebration this week must surely be about how Muthiah Muralidaran’s Test career finale ended in such glorious triumph for both him and Sri Lanka in Galle.

Thursday’s events had two interesting sides to them: not only did the magician achieve the incredible 800-wicket feat with the last victim available to him for the match, but India was yet again proven to be a flawed power. Here was the former minnow bringing the colossus to its knees. Sri Lankan cricket has achieved remarkable things over the years. Initially regarded as a disparate collection of wristy batsmen and handy spin bowlers, Sri Lanka has matured into one of the most competitive teams in the world in all forms of the game. Men of the calibre of Aravinda De Silva, Arjuna Ranatunga, Kumar Sangakarra and Mahela Jayawardana have led the way and others have followed. A World Cup was won, and respect has been earned.

There have been many obstacles along the way, including civil war and the Tsunami. Two years ago members of the touring team were shot while heading to a game in Pakistan. Yet still Sri Lankan resolve has never been broken.

Muralidaran has, of course, been the beacon throughout: for 18 years he has beguiled and bewildered batsmen the world over, rising from his humble beginnings in Kandy to rival Shane Warne as the greatest spinner we’ve ever seen. His big-turning off-spinner and unique doosra made him as watchable as Warne, and, to batsmen, no doubt as confusing.

And he has had plenty to overcome, not the least of which has been Western hostility to the rule changes that were implemented as a result of his and others’ actions. He subjected himself to an endless round of tests that surely would have broken a lesser man, but still the cynics were unhappy. Throughout it all he maintained his dignity, never at any stage becoming bitter towards those who tried to bring him down. He soldiered on and continued to collect wickets in unbelievable quantities, acknowledging his successes with a shy grin rather than the raucous celebrations so often seen from others.

During the past year or two his total dominance over batsmen began to wane; injuries became more frequent, and he was having to work a lot harder for his wickets as batsmen became more adept at playing him. All of which would have faded into insignificance in his hour of greatest joy on Thursday, as the Indian tail succumbed and his opening batsmen knocked off the required runs for victory.

Yet again India has been shown to be incapable of getting its act together on a consistent basis. Perceptions of on-field dominance are proving to be well off the mark  sometimes financial clout and depth of playing resources count for nothing if they aren’t properly harnessed.

Indian reputations have been inflated by the wrong criteria and one suspects some players have become soft. The most memorable image from the recent World Twenty20 competition in the West Indies was of the Indian players in their dugout as they collapsed to 5-24 against Australia’s pace. The likes of Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina sat humiliated and beaten just weeks after apparently ruling the world in the Indian Premier League.

Great men and competitors like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Harbhajan Singh will ensure that Indian cricket never plummets to the depths, and captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni is a terrific leader. But maybe it’s time for the younger brigade to take a leaf out of Muralidaran’s and Sri Lanka’s book and realise that hard work and the humble approach are often a recipe for success.

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