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Friday, 23 July 2010

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Thank You Murali

The conclusion of the first Test between Sri Lanka and India in Galle yesterday marked the end of another golden chapter in Sri Lanka cricket. It was an emotional evening for everyone present at the Galle International Stadium as the world's greatest bowler ended his illustrious career with another devastating performance to have the Indian batsmen all at sea.

Yesterday was the last day that one could see the world's greatest bowler ever in action in a Test match. Yes! Spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan has finally decided to call it a day and end his Test career, that too on a high note.

Thousands of sports media personalities have written and spoken many things about Muralitharan. But I could humbly say that I am one of the first few sports writers who have written about Muralitharan at length, way before he came to the limelight in the international arena.

Yet, I know two other sports writers have written about Muralitharan before me for sure - our Kandy sports correspondent S.M. Jiffrey Abdeen and sports correspondent turned politician Hafiz Marikar.

My memory goes down to a sunny Saturday evening in 1989, if I may be accurate, when I peddled by bicycle from my home town of Negombo to the Air Force grounds at Katunayake. The purpose of my visit to the SLAF Base cricket ground at Katunayake was to meet a particular person after a cricket match.

The person whom I met there was an emerging schoolboy cricketer during that era and at that point I got a feeling that the young lad has the makings of a great spin bowler. Nevertheless, I did not think that the young boy would go this far and become the greatest Test bowler ever.

He is none other than Muralitharan who had his basic graduation in cricket at St. Anthony's College. In two successive seasons, he captured over 100 wickets each - 129 scalps during his final season for Katugastota Antonians. The impressive performances gave a bitter taste to many leading schools batsman in that era and ultimately, young Muralitharan was crowned the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 1991. It was the then Minister of Housing and Construction B. Sirisena Cooray who gave away the glittering trophy to Muralitharan in the presence of the then Chief Editor of the Sunday Observer H.L.D. Mahindapala who is now domiciled in Australia.

The sole purpose of my visit to meet that emerging cricketer was to find the correct spelling of his surname - from the horse's mouth. During that early part of Muralitharan's school cricket career, many spelt his surname in different ways and I just wanted to find out the correct one from the most appropriate person.

In the inter-school match reports of St. Anthony's College, Katugastota, different sports reporters spelt his name in many ways - Muralidharan, Muralydaran, Muraliyadharan, Miralitharan, Muralytharan etc. But now, it has become a household name.

Making your final appearance in any given field - be it sport or otherwise, is an emotional moment for any human being. When it comes to Muralitharan, he was making his farewell appearance in a Test match, ending a long 18-year-old career. But the spin wizard was with his usual business of capturing wickets and he made it an exemplary farewell and a fitting tribute to a great bowler by capturing his 67th five-wicket haul in a Test innings.

Perhaps, the Indian batsmen would have thought an emotional Muralitharan may take things a little lightly and would give them some liberty. But it was not the case when it comes to the most vicious bowler in Test cricket. The brilliant fashion in which he captured five Indian wickets for 67 runs gave a feeling that he should have postponed his retirement at least by an year or so.

But Murali had other ideas and signalled his retirement on a high note, developing a dialogue whether the world's greatest Test bowler was little too early on to hang his boots.

Murali made his Test debut on August 28, 1992 at the Premadasa Stadium in the second Test of Sri Lanka's home series against Australia. That was the day Murali bowled his first over in Test cricket but he finished with only one wicket for 32 runs in his 17 overs. His first wicket in Test cricket came through a leg before wicket decision to remove Craig McDermott for nine runs. He was expensive in the Australian second innings, finishing with 2 for 109. But that average performance was the beginning of another golden chapter in spin bowling.

But Muralitharan's road to success has not been through a bed of roses. He had to face tremendous pressure and unreasonable mental agony ever since Australian international umpire Darrell Hair called him for throwing in that infamous Boxing Day Test at the MCG in 1995. Subsequently another Australian umpire Ross Emerson too called Murali , casting doubts over his suspected bowling action.

After years of controversy, Muralitharan's action was finally cleared through scientific evidence on his bowling arm. This even led to a global dialogue at the ICC and the world governing body finally decided the angle of degrees which a bowler could bend his arm at delivery.

As a human being, Murali was emotional and would have perhaps suffered due to those unreasonable questioning of his bowling action. All these happened because he had the habit of taking wickets. Had Murali been an average bowler, he would not have come across this agony. But at the end, Murali had courage to face all those and prove his honesty and reach the pinnacle of Test bowling.

Undoubtedly, his retirement announcement would be good news for the leading batsmen in the would circuit and emerging Test batsmen because whey would not come across the vicious deliveries of Murali in future.

Thank you Murali for all your hurricane efforts in taming batsmen of any class, thereby taking Sri Lanka Test cricket to greater heights.

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