They are the magnificent two

The greatness of Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne is beyond question, writes Ted Corbett, as he makes a comparison between the two biggest wicket-takers of all time.

So what is the difference between the two greatest wicket harvesters of all time? Look at the run-up if you want to know the man.

Shane Warne’s approach to the bowling crease is straight and slow and sombre, obviously intimidating, designed to put pressure on a dithering batsman, clearly asking questions, hinting at a ball that is not just difficult, but nigh on unplayable .

Muttiah Muralitharan’s curving, bouncing, run to the crease suggests a joy in his bowling, a wish to get on with the over, a hope that whatever he produces will be a tad too much for the batsman while suggesting he also relishes the contest.

Just before I was asked to define what separated Warne and Murali, I heard a tale of a school gym lesson in Sri Lanka where the instructor asks his pupils to leap through one, then two then three hoops. Then, as a finale before they went on holiday, he set the hoops on fire and they all willingly sailed through the flames.

You can imagine Murali wanting to defy the blaze and leap. You suspect that Warne might argue, might try to find an advantage, might watch the others jump first before deciding whether he would accept the dare.

Of course there is a simpler difference. Murali is the off-spinner who can, at will, spring a leg-break on a batsman; Warne is the leg-spinner with the ability to offer a googly, a top spinner, a slider, a zooter, a shooter and heaven alone knows how many other deliveries.

The classical off spinners — Jim Laker, Lance Gibbs, Australia’s Ian Johnson — all had an alternative. It was a ball that slid away towards the slips; Murali has taken that art a step further by producing a ball which turns, and often very sharply, towards the waiting short slip.

Few men have been able to do that in the past and it is still an art which he has almost on his own. Those who can, undetected, bowl a leg-break immediately after an off-break are few in number and many have tried and failed and retired soon after abandoning their attempt.

The greatness of both Warne and Murali is beyond question. Warne set the mark at 708 wickets before he retired to the traditional grace and favour residence of county cricket with Hampshire. Murali rushed past that record by dismissing Paul Collingwood, leapt into the air with joy and within a minute was almost sprinting back to the start of his run, ready for No. 710 whoever he might be.

Both are products of their heredity and environment.

Warne is the European, his family roots as clear as the roots of his oft-dyed blond hair.

Murali might have stepped from the pages of Kipling where dark-skinned chappies were always cunning and duplicitous as they hide in the shadows.

Yet, a closer examination of that statement shows how false it is.

Warne is the great deceiver, the bowler whose ability to court publicity is almost as complete as Mohammad Ali’s. He has used the press, the television, the photo call, the media briefing, the interview and the articles in the celebrity magazines to cast doubt in the minds of batsmen long before they strap on pads or pick up a bat.

In comparison, Murali is the open-faced bowler, doing all his talking with the ball on the field. Not for him the bold statement, the defiant message or the boastful deception. He worked for years on the doosra — best described as the googly’s googly — without ever uttering a sentence about his plans.

He launched it secretly and still there are only a handful of batsmen in the world, mostly Australian, who can confidently pick it from the hand.

Nor can many be sure which of the deliveries Warne prepares. He has given them so many names, suggested so many ways in which they emerge that his opponents have no time to recall that the ball can only move in two directions and that, for all the talk to the contrary, most deliveries hardly divert from the straight.

Warne relies on a single piece of knowledge; that the publicity, the atmosphere, the pressure surrounding a Test brings out the best and the worst in batsmen. That is why he is highly successful in those matches and why he does not take many more wickets in State and county cricket.

It is easy to characterise him as a typical boorish Australian, intent on booze and fags and a quick chat with a sunshine girl, but I thought he was particularly gracious when Murali took his record.

Warne had no number for the new champion, but he asked Ian Botham to hand on his congratulations.

No doubt some time in the future he will shake the hand that delivered the leg-break that should have been an off-break that rushed out poor Paul Collingwood and set the seal on a great career.

That is how champions ought to behave towards one another and in this Murali and Warne are not different but much the same.