The first Test between India and Sri Lanka will see Sri Lanka'a favourite son display his bag of tricks one last time in Test cricket and at the end of it, the leading wicket-taker will walk into the sunset after having served his country extraordinarily well over a long period.
It is rather unfortunate that Muralitharan will have to contend with the criticism that he did not conform to the laws of the game and as a result does not deserve the credit. Regardless of the fact that his action will always be spoken about, none can alter the fact that the history of the game will hail him as the leading wicket-taker in Test cricket till the time someone goes on to surpass his record.
Whether his action was legal or not can always be debated but the argument is futile especially after the international governing body had cleared him on more occasions than one. It has to be said that Muralitharan cannot be blamed for continuing to torment the batsmen in the manner he knew and did over a long period of time and in the manner he released the ball from his hand if the ICC could not muster enough courage or wisdom to retain the basic laws of the game.
While there may be several individuals who will not hail his deeds, they must appreciate the fact that Muralitharan has displayed enormous mental strength to fight his way through several ignominious episodes.
It all started when Darrell Hair called him for chucking and did not stop until late in his career but right through all these situations Murali kept his head and continued doing what he was best at — spinning a web of intrigue and winning matches for his country.
It is not easy for a cricketer to get over the public humiliation that one undergoes when called for chucking on an international stage. However, the Sri Lankan board sought the aid of science and technology to put up a case for Murali and succeeded in getting his tenancy in international cricket continue rather peacefully.
The reservations expressed by the former greats and the accusing glares that people reserved for him did not deter the genial Muralitharan in his quest to pick up wickets by the bags.
He will be unique in every sense of the word as not only his style of bowling was different but also that the question of why or why not has not yet surfaced as it normally does when a leading cricketer announces his retirement.
It has been more about him not deserving the tag of leading wicket-taker but as he gets into the field at Galle he will probably be looking at securing eight more scalps to round off his tally to 800 wickets in Test cricket.
A lot of his fans will miss him but I for one would miss him at the batting crease more than at the bowling crease. He like Walsh did things differently while batting which provided a lot of amusement. But facing him from 22 yards when he is at best is not amusing for the batsmen and the Indians will be wary of him at Galle.
He along with Mendis made life miserable for the Indians a few years ago so much so, the public demanded the ouster of the fabulous four. That was the kind of impact Muralitharan had on even the best of batsmen and his exit will be a great loss for Sri Lankan cricket and even more so for Mendis who would have benefited immensely if Murali were to bowl with him in tandem.
The big spinning off spinner will hopefully play in the coming World Cup but in a slam-bang format there are lesser opportunities for him to display his guile and for that reason alone, the discerning will ensure that they see him one last time at Galle. But the limitations in the quota of overs one can bowl in the ODIs have not stopped Murali from scaling the top on the list of wicket-takers either. He will obviously continue his association with the CSK in the IPL as he has healthy ties with Chennai and the State of Tamil Nadu.
He is very popular with his colleagues in the CSK as he is with most of his colleagues and contemporaries all over and hence he will be not be short of well wishers on the eve of his last appearance in Test cricket. While the cricketing fraternity may not exactly advocate a youngster to emulate his action, it should make it a point to advise the younger lot to emulate Murali in being humble and in being a fighter to the core against all odds.
It is sad that the leading wicket-taker will not get his share of credit as he quits the stage. But controversies have followed Murali rather than the ace spinner diving headlong into them. One wonders whether he will react to the adverse comments post retirement but given that he has not done so in the past, one can expect him to carry on with life with that flashy disarming smile of his. Well done Murali and wish you all the best in the future.
(This article first appeared in Sportstar's issue dated July 22, 2010)
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