“Age does not wither nor custom stale….” Murali to the Forefront Again

Mahinda Wijesinghe

Courtesy of the Island, 28 Sept 2010

With all the speculation about what the composition of the Sri Lanka squad should be for the upcoming 2011 World Cup in a few months time, veteran Muttiah Muralidaran, has staked his claim with yet another ‘Murali’ performance and given the Selectors a gentle reminder. It is just not possible to keep him out of the picture. As Shakespeare in his immortal play, ‘Antony & Cleopatra’, described the controversial Queen: “Age does not wither nor custom stale her infinite variety.” It seems neither age nor custom stale Murali’s infinite variety either!

During the final of the Airtel Champions League T-20 played on 26 September at Johannesburg, the ‘smiling assassin’, playing for Chennai Super Kings, he simply strangled, stifled and suffocated the Warriors. His mean figures of 4-0-16-3 helped fashion a facile 8-wicket win and annex the title with an over to spare. Indeed, bowling the 20th over, and with the Warriors having three wickets in the dugout, Boje and Theron could only manage to eke out a pathetic 4 runs against the wiles of Murali!

Murali’s fairy-tale heroics in the recent Third Test at Galle against India when he bade farewell to his Test career by reaching the dizzy 800-wicket mark must still be fresh in the minds of most. Needing 8 wickets to reach the hitherto unconquered Everest of wickets, Murali captured his 67th five-for haul in the first innings, and then bagged the balance three wickets required in the second innings – and that with the last ball he bowled in his Test career. Murali got himself a bonus as well when Jayawardene snapped the catch to dismiss tail-ender Ohja and established yet another Test record of 77 catches between a bowler and the same fielder whilst heralding a Sri Lanka win as well. Would J. K. Rowling have attributed such feats to his beloved Harry Potter?

That is what Murali conjured up when he reached 800 Test wickets. What about the drama when he reached the 700-wicket mark three years earlier? The date when the Test began, against Bangladesh, was 11 July 2007 at Asgiriya in front of Murali’s adoring home crowd. He needed the small matter of capturing a match-bag of 12 wickets if he was to reach the goal in this game itself. Remember it was only 8 wickets he needed at Galle. These were not the only noteworthy milestones dangling tantalizingly to the Sri Lankans. If Sri Lanka wins this game it would not only result in her 50th Test win and a clean sweep of the 3-Test series but also could herald the 60th five-for and the 20th ten-for hauls for the Kandy man if he was to achieve his target.

This is how the miracle was achieved. In the first innings, he captured 6/28 and Bangladesh was bundled out for 131 in reply to a massive Sri Lankan total of 500/4 declared. Our hero was now half-way there. As the Bangladesh second innings progressed, he had bagged 4 wickets when the visitors 8th wicket fell at 176. Would he be able to capture the balance two wickets? With the tension building all around the ground, Murali began what turned out to be his dramatic 21st over. With his 5th delivery he bowled Shahadat Hossain and in the next and final delivery of the over he dismissed Syed Rasel to achieve his goal and bring about a 193-run win for Sri Lanka.12 wickets to reach 700-Test wickets, 60th five-for and 20th ten-for hauls and a 50th Test win for Sri Lanka, all of this achieved in a single Test!

Wonder what Murali would have had up his sleeve if he had to scale the 900-wicket mark!

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