Spinning records at will

Muttiah Muralitharan is congratulated by wicket-keeper Kumar Sangakkara and Sanath Jayasuriya after the spinner had surpassed Wasim Akram’s world record of 502 ODI wickets.-AP

Muttiah Muralitharan has spent countless hours at the nets sharpening his skills, progressing from a one-dimensional bowler with a big off-spinner to one with a bewildering variety, writes S. Dinakar.

Muttiah Muralithran has this reputation of fighting his way back. He has often bucked the odds during his illustrious career. In other words, you can never really count this feisty Sri Lankan out.

It was perhaps fitting that he set the World ODI record when the Indians were playing him with a combination of footwork and confidence. He achieved the feat during the fourth game of the Wealthsurance series in Colombo. The ace spinner is also the wo rld record holder in Test cricket.

The evening was setting in after a fruitless afternoon when Murlitharan struck with a lovely delivery — the first ball of his 10th over — that spun sharply away from the left-handed Gautam Gambhir. Drawn into a stroke, Gambhir edged to keeper Kumar Sangakkara. This was wicket No. 503 for Muralitharan, taking him past Wasim Akram’s 502.

There were not too many spectators at the Premadasa Stadium but the moment marked a historic occasion for spin. In the era of big bats and shorter boundaries, spin was king.

Given the situation Sri Lanka was in, his celebration was subdued. The moment, however, marked another triumph of spirit in a career of miles and milestones.

The record guzzling off-spinner — he has 769 scalps in Tests — plans to retire after the 2011 World Cup. “I would have nothing more to achieve after that,” he says.

Interestingly, Muralitharan began his ODI career at the same venue — Premadasa Stadium — against the same opposition, India. He bowled well, scalping Praveen Amre. Then, he flighted, spun and teased his way to become the game’s biggest match-winner.

Former Sri Lankan coach Dav Whatmore talks about Muralithran’s resilience. Lankan skipper Mahela Jayawardene highlights Muralitharan’s commitment.

Muralitharan has spent countless hours at the nets sharpening his skills, progressing from a one-dimensional bowler with a big off-spinner to one with a bewildering variety. His subtle changes of speed and trajectory and use of the width and the depth of the crease have seldom allowed the batsmen to breathe easy. Sharp spin is enhanced by bounce with his unique wrist action and supple fingers. Muralitharan imparts tremendous spin to the ball.

The huge off-spinner — his stock delivery — would be followed by the doosra, the flipper, the top-spinner or the arm-ball. Muralitharan can also control the extent of spin. The flight and the natural dip in his bowling pose more challenges to the batsmen. And he can sustain his intensity through a spell.

Muralitharan, 36, achieved his ODI feat in 328 matches while Akram needed 356 games to scalp 502 batsmen. The next spinner in the list of top wicket-takers in the ODIs is India’s Anil Kumble with 337.

Says former Sri Lankan captain, Arjuna Ranatunga, who backed Muralitharan during a trying phase: “Even during difficult periods, when his bowling action was doubted, he never lost belief. He would still smile and laugh.”

Muralitharan relished the big stage. He claimed 23 wickets in the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean as Sri Lanka reached the final. The off-spinner’s seven for 30 against India in Sharjah (2000) is fourth in the list of best all-time figures in the ODIs.

While his skill is unquestioned, the statistics also tell the story. When Murali equalled Akram, he achieved the feat in 327 matches at an average of 22.66.

Stats up to the end of the fourth ODI.-Compiled by V.V.Rajasekhara Rao.

Among bowlers with 300 or more ODI wickets, Muralitharan’s strike-rate of 35.0 — at the point of equalling the record — is only below Waqar Younis’ 30.5 and Brett Lee’s 29.2. Both Waqar and Lee are fast bowlers. So is Akram.

Consistency has been the hallmark of Murali’s bowling. He can strangulate in the middle-overs, bowl in the end. With the advent of Power Plays — the batting Power Play in particular — Muralitharan faces another challenge. The chances are that he would find an answer. Probably, he would invent another ball! You can never really keep this man down.