His feat has not been recognised adequately

MUTTIAH MURALITHARAN'S incredible feat of capturing 400 wickets in Test cricket in the fastest time, as well as his being the youngest to do so, has hardly received the recognition it should have, even in the sub-continent where he belongs.

By now we are all aware of the duplicity of standards of the so-called developed world, but to find the hangover of the complex still persisting in the sub-continent is disappointing to say the least.

Surely, if Murali had been of a lighter skin colour there would have been reams of newsprint and electronic news media coverage of the event. Shane Warne crossed the 400-wicket mark by playing more Tests than Murali had done and he was also a few years older than the off-spinner at that time. Yet he is called the greatest spinner of all time.

Warne, on two tours to India, has had landing trouble as the Indian batsmen have repeatedly gone down the pitch to him and hit him to all parts of the ground, even against the spin. If any batsman tries doing that to Muralitharan, he will find himself back in the pavilion.

The Indians are such good players of spin bowling, but even they have not been able to master Muralitharan whose flight, loop, spin and bounce make him the hardest bowler to attack in modern cricket.

The reason why the number of Tests taken to capture 400 wickets was brought up was simply because when we talk of batting the benchmark has always been Sir Donald Bradman. It's not just his phenomenal average but the frequency of his centuries that is truly mind-boggling. I remember being asked when I scored my 30th century how it felt to overtake Bradman's record. It was an understandable enough question in a cricket-mad country like India. But I had to put things in perspective and tried to make the questioner understand that only if someone scored 30 centuries in 52 Tests (which was what Sir Don played) it would be a record. Anything else would only be a statistical achievement.

Unfortunately, the developed countries' thinking is duplicitous for they use the number of Tests parameter only when it suits them. So when Kapil Dev went past Richard Hadlee's 431 wickets the media there was highlighting that he took more Tests than the New Zealander did to go past the mark. The same people today are pretty silent when Murali has taken 400 Test wickets in lesser Tests and at a younger age than all the others from the developed countries.

The kind of disparaging articles written about Kapil Dev in New Zealand and the ridicule he was subjected to by some commentators, who had not bagged even a quarter of his wickets, leave alone having his skills, was a reflection of the duplicity that is so much a part of the developed world when it comes to achievements by the developing world. They will always find some excuse to show that their achievements are better than those from the developing world.

I recall another interesting happening when after a poor tour of Australia I was asked by an Australian journalist, "Now that you have failed in the Tests would you call yourself a great batsman?" Taken aback by the query, because I had never ever bothered to grade myself, I did manage to ask him why he asked that question. His reply was, "Since you didn't score on hard, bouncy pitches you cannot be called a great batsman!" "Fair enough," I said, though I did not care to inform him that on my previous tour to Australia I had three centuries against Jeff Thomson and co on the same pitches. But I did tell him that if the criterion for a great batsman was to score on hard, bouncy pitches then by the same token the criterion for a fast bowler to be called great should be him capturing wickets on slow pitches. He agreed with that, but when I queried whether we should then call Dennis Lillee a great fast bowler because he had taken just a couple of wickets on the slow pitches of Pakistan, he said, "No, Dennis is an all-time great fast bowler. That was just a bad series for him." Of course, there were the other usual excuses like food, conditions and umpires thrown in as well.

Unfortunately, 20 or so years down the road this duplicitous attitude is still there as can be seen by the way Muralitharan's feat has been virtually ignored. Even more unfortunate is the fact that in spite of seeing these double standards we still allow these ignoramuses to use the space in our media to write the rubbish that they do. Guess, mindsets do not change easily. They will have the same set of notions from their great grandfathers' time and we will continue to believe that whatever drivel they write is still the gospel truth.

Nevertheless, it is time to rejoice at the wonderful achievement of a truly wonderful ambassador of the game. The big wide eyes, the smile, the mind ticking as the fingers send the doom ball to the batsman make Muralitharan the greatest spinner of all time. His superlative fielding is a bonus. It's easy to turn the ball from leg to off for wrist spinners, but to get the ball to turn from off to leg for finger spinners is one of the hardest things in the world. Murali does it regularly on the flattest of pitches where once off-spinners could not turn the ball an inch and then blamed the make of the ball.

Well done Murali! You are truly a special cricketer and the greatest of spinners.