No bowler, not even Alec Bedser who addressed Bradman ever so often, was charged by a more genuine and unforced inspiration as Murali when he has played for Mother Lanka. His name has been spelt as Muralitharan and also as Muralidaran but there has been a constancy in his approach to the game. He has pulled out from the ethos of his soul and given to bowling, fielding and batting his very essence of his life. He has been the Smiling Assassin to his foes but to his teammates and to spectators he has been the respected and loved Murali of a storied life.
Even when injured and only 50 percent fit he would play. He would, even with his bodywork at 30 percent. He has been the batsman’s enigma but the joy of commentators and of a vast sea of spectators. As early as 2002 Wisden rated him the greatest Test match bowler ever. He is the highest wicket taker in Tests with his 800th scalp in the last delivery he would ever bowl. In ODIs he has 533 victims with the last in his final over in Sri Lanka. Wankede stadium awaits further wonders today as Sri Lanka comes to grips with India.
Through his journey, he has been subjected to several injustices. Australia which has taken the mantle from America as a foul nation in sports, for ever in ball and chain, saw in the early years Murali’s potential that would spell doom to them. The authorities connived with Hair and Emerson to haunt him and to pinch our collective mind by ‘calling’ him for throwing even on a leg break.
The tactics of intimidation was too much for the young boy but, fortunately, he had in in his skipper Arjuna Ranatunga a doughty fighter who embodied the legendary role of Arjuna of folklore. With the skipper’s unrelenting force, Murali’s cricketing spine was strengthened and he has remained impregnable since.
Two years after the Aussie fiddle-diddle, he performed a solo act at London’s Oval when he snared sixteen wickets and single-handedly spun Sri Lanka to a win against mighty England.
About this time SL cricket would have the impetus of the young Chaminda Vaas who proved to be a fine accomplice to Murali in their darkest deeds. The partnership would last a handsome fifteen years and 589 batsmen would perish at their hands.
Bowling was not his only passion. His fielding has been electric even when he is of an age closing on his retirement.
And his batting takes on a pungent mood even if the opposing captain once crowded all the fielders around him. His agricultural hoists to mid-wicket and his smashed sixes have put a permanent child-like wide smile on his visage.
Now that he will be having more time for himself except for indulgence in the Twenty20s, Muttiah Muralidaran will be able to focus on another of his cherished desires and that is to care for the poor and the needy of the North of the country. The blueprint is already in place and to assist him are formidable past cricketers chief amongst them being Sir Ian Botham.
Today at Wenkhade he will do his bit to help his country to win the Cup that matters if only passengers like Samaraweera and Chamara de Silva are pushed off the train.
Web Editors Comments:
1. Sharmde Alwis is often a perceptive observer. But I cnsider him unkind to Samaraweera in particular. Thilan shored us up durng the Australian match ata reasonable rate thouh rain made that job aademic. Again he scored faster than any of the others entering the ground and facing a few balls during the death overs in the matches agaist Canada and Zimbabwe.
2. Both Thilan and Chamara silva wereacting under orders, namely, do not lose your wicket, when they were becalmed during the NZ game and subsequent developments confirmed the usefulness of their role.
3. And, YES, I am critical of Chamara’s innings vs Pakistan and in three other brief outings and asked for him to be dropped in an article written before the quarter finals.
4. On other fronts readers can find an analysis of the machinations versus Murali and the numerous personnel, not least Daryl Foster, who helped secure his caree in the article “Saving Murali” in Roberts, Incursions and Excursions in and around Sri Lankan Cricket, Colombo, 2011, author, ISBN 978-955-53198-0-5 which is available via www.vijithayapa.com OR www.srilankanbooks.com and costs Rs 1500 in Sri Lankan bookshops. This book, importantly, contains several of the photogrpahs displayed above and yet many more. The X-ray chart of his bust and arm is the work of Dr. Ravi Goonetilleke in Hong Kong.