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Thank you Murali for all the poetry produced with wrist and heart

It is the fifth ball of over number 54 in the first test against India at Galle. The bowler is Muttiah Muralitharan. The batsman, Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Here’s the commentary: Muralitharan to Dhoni: OUT, 86.5 kph, 794! And watta ball! Sharp turn from the rough outside off, Dhoni gets his foot across but half heartedly hangs his bat out, bowled through the gate, wasn’t expecting so much turn?

You won’t see that again, not ‘live’ that is. Not unless the Smiling Assassin comes out of retirement. A man has a right to retire or to hang around until he is retired. We can never resolve the debate whether this was the correct time for Murali to call it a day. We can’t complain, though. He’s given us 18 years. Over 1500 magical wicket-taking moments. He’s held brilliant catches and been involved in run outs that one wanted more than a single replay in order to fully digest the poetry of collect and throw. Each ball he faced, those he missed, those that saw his stumps disarranged, caught somewhere that the ball went on account of hit or mis-hit or dispatched to the boundary or over it, was pure entertainment. That’s a lot of ‘to be cherished’ moments All that’s over by the time you read this.


Muttiah Muralitharan

He will be remembered. There will be the doubters no doubt, but he will not be forgotten. His career will be dissected meticulously and the ‘top ten’ classic ‘Murali Moments’ will be debated and determined. Those fascinated with statistics will peruse databases, compare and contrast and proclaim again and again ‘He is King!’ It will be pointed out that Murali has 67 ‘five-fours’ in 133 tests as opposed to 37 by the next in line, Shane Warne, who needed eight tests more; that he had 22 match-hauls of 10 or more wickets whereas Warne has just 10, that he had a better average, economy rate and strike rate that Shane.

Lesser known details will emerge. Murali, for example, has a strike rate close to 70 in test cricket. Over 55 percent of his runs in tests have come in fours and sixers. He also holds the record for scoring most runs in test cricket while batting at the number 11 position.

Some of the not-so-pretty records will also be mentioned. Murali has the third highest number of runs (99) hit in a One Day International innings. Imran Coomaraswamy, writing for ‘Transcurrents’ on this remarkable cricketing personality, points out that Sri Lanka’s 30 plus home test victories since the turn of the millennium were based on a simple formula: ‘bat first, bat big and let Murali do the rest’. He refers to the test again Shaun Pollock’s South Africans in 2000. Sanath Jayasuriya, who readily attributes his admirable win-loss ratio as captain to Murali’s spinning skills, summed it up nicely, Imran recounts: ‘Murali bowled very well and everything else just fell into place.’ That was a 13 for 171 effort from 76 overs.

Yes, Muttiah Muralitharan will be remembered. We will remember all the good things he gave us. What Murali will remember, I wonder. What does he remember? We will not remember the fourth ball of the 18th over of India’s first innings in Murali’s last test match. Virendra Sehwag jumped out, got to the pitch and lofted it straight past the bowler and over the fence. SIX. He might remember that. Over the years, Murali has bee hit all over the ground. He’s been stingy, yes, but not immune to the occasional onslaught. He has had to think on his feet, adjust variation, strategize each of the over 50,000 deliveries he sent down to the various batsmen at the other end of the pitch, take as much as he gave, suffer insult as well as assault, in and out of the field. We won’t remember, but he might.

During his first test he scalped Tom Moody with a delivery that pitched at least 2 feet outside off-stump. Moody had shouldered his arms and the ball had dislodged leg-stump. Eighteen years and hundreds of wickets later, few will notice that Murali took 210 wickets in losing causes, that there was very little to celebrate in getting five-fors when your team has lost. We will not know what went on inside the man’s mind and heart during the lows of his career. He keeps a lot to himself, it seems, both on and off the field.

The statisticians will tell you how many fours and sixers her yielded, how many wickets in tests, ODIs and T20 matches, strike rates with bat and ball, catches taken, catches missed, how many LBW decisions, how many batsmen he lured out of the crease so that Kalu, Sanga or Prasanna could stump them, the number of ‘Man of the Match’ Awards in his name and other such facts.

What will I remember, ten years from now, if I am alive and can still recall? I think I would remember his smile. I would recall that fiercer competitor thought he was, he never rubbed salt in wound and never crowed over those he humbled with his exceptional spinning skill. He did his work. He took what blows came his way. He stood tall. He was slighted, but slighting was alien to him. He worked. Bowled. I am sure none of his victims felt belittled; they were just out-thought by a maestro who used ball, fingers, wrist, brain, state-of-pitch, weather conditions, match-situation, batsman’s temperament and his heart to create cricketing poetry.

I would like him to play forever and would like to imagine that he will never grow old. In the end that’s not important. What matters is that we were privileged to be born in this time, to share this earth with him, and to be entertained by him. Where life might take Muttiah Muralitharan after he leaves test cricket, I cannot predict. I can just say this: “Thank you Murali for the 3,282,023 or so reasons you’ve given us to be proud of you, ourselves and our nation, Sri Lanka.”

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