Saturday, July 24, 2010

LEGEND: Sri Lanka spin bowler Muttiah Muralitharan

Muttiah Muralitharan

July 24, 2010, 12:00 pm

Sri Lanka spin bowler Muttiah Muralitharan, the eldest of a family of four, was born on the 17th of April 1972 in Kandy and attended St. Anthony’s College, a school run by Benedictine Monks where he started playing cricket.

Muralitharan’s grand parents were from India and settled in Kandy where his father started a confectionary business. Muralitharan was initially a fast bowler, but took up bowling off-spin on the instruction of his school coach Sunil Fernando.

He was first selected to the Sri Lankan side when the national team toured England in the year 1991. The next year he made his debut, in a Test Match at R. Premadasa Stadium in Colombo against the Australians.

The arrival of Muralitharan gave the Sri Lankans a match winning bowler, something they lacked for years and the team’s winning ratio, especially in Test Matches, improved drastically since his arrival. A year after his debut, Sri Lanka went onto record their first Test win against New Zealand and England. In 1995, the Sri Lankans won their first Test Match overseas when they beat New Zealand in Napier, Muralitharan played crucial roles in all these wins. The same year, he was also instrumental in helping Sri Lanka to win a Test Match in Pakistan.

But soon he was in trouble as he was called for chucking in 1995 in Australia in the Boxing Day Test Match in Melbourne by umpire Darrel Hair. Muralitharan was subjected to extensive medical research in Hong Kong and Perth to check the legality of his action and the International Cricket Council, the governing body of the sport accepted that a deformity by birth prevented him from straightening his elbow.

Former Sri Lanka captain Arjuna Ranatunga stood firmly by him during the height of controversy and despite the national selection committee being reluctant to include Muralitharan in the squad for the 1996 World Cup in the sub-continent; the captain insisted he wanted the off-spinner in the squad. Muralitharan went onto play all matches of that World Cup and was a key member of the side as Sri Lanka went onto beat Australia in the final in Lahore in 1996.

The bowler played a key role in Sri Lanka’s first Test win in England as well when he picked up 17 wickets, including nine wickets in the second innings as Sri Lanka won by ten wickets in 1998 at the London Oval.

There was trouble again later that year as Muralitharan was called for throwing again in Australia during a One-Day International in Adelaide by Australian umpire Ross Emerson. Captain Ranatunga briefly withdrew the team from the playing field and only returned after consulting board officials in Colombo.

Muralitharan underwent further tests and it was proved that his suspect bowling action was an optical illusion.

His peak years were form 2001 to 2004 where he claimed a rich haul of wickets. In the year 2000 he had claimed his 300th Test wicket in South Africa. In 2001 he played a key role as Sri Lanka won ten consecutive Test Matches, a Sri Lankan record.

In 2004, he broke the World Record for most wickets when he went pass Courtney Walsh’s record of 519 in Harare.

Muralitharan by this stage developed a new delivery, called the doosra, meaning second one as the ball went away from the right-handed batsman after pitching contrary to coming into the batsman. The delivery was ruled to be suspect by ICC Match Referee Chris Broad; later further study revealed that most bowlers bent their arms while bowling and the ICC allowed all bowlers a flex of 15 degrees while bowling.

In 2004, Muralitharan refused to tour Australia after then Australian Prime Minister called him ‘a chucker’.

Australia’s Shane Warne went pass his record as Muralitharan sustained injuries in the same year limiting his participation in Test Matches.

In 2005, he married Madhimalar, the daughter of a South Indian businessman. His only son, Naren, was born a year later.

In 2007, Muralitharan again became the highest wicket taker in Test cricket when he claimed his 709th victim, England’s Paul Collingwood at his hometown in Kandy going pass Shane Warne.He also claimed the World Record for most wickets in One-Day cricket in the year 2009 when he went pass Wasim Akram’s record.

Muralitharan, a perennial number 11 batsman, never took his batting seriously. For him batting was all fun and tried to entertain the crowd with his big hits. He did, however, score a Test half-century in 2001 against India in Kandy.

He was also named in the ICC World XI when they played a six day Test Match in Sydney against reigning World Champions Australia.

Muralitharan was named as one of the Wisden’s five cricketers of the Century in the year 2000.

Apart from wining the 1996 World Cup, Muralitharan was part of the Sri Lankan team that played the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean, where Sri Lanka lost to Australia in the final and in the 2009 T-20 World Cup final where Sri Lanka were beaten by Pakistan at Lord’s.

At the start of the year 2010, there were speculations that Muralitharan would retire from cricket. Initially it was thought the two Test series against West Indies at home in November would be his last, but he brought his retirement forward when Sri Lanka Cricket arranged a series with India in July. He announced that the first Test against India in Galle would be his last.

Muralitharan played a crucial role in Sri Lanka’s win in the Test Match by picking up a five wicket haul in the first innings and claimed the last wicket in the Indian second innings to finish with 800 Test wickets. He claimed eight wickets in his last Test.

President Mahinda Rajapakse was present on the last day of the first Test in Galle when Muralitharan retired.

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