Saturday, July 24, 2010

Now who will go beyond Muralitharan’s 800?

By John Cheeran
When I began to pay attention to cricket, Dennis Lillee was the ultimate bowler. The Australian fast bowler had 355 wickets when he bowed out of Test cricket. At that time, it appeared such an impossible task for anyone to overcome those numbers. Or in any case, the man would have been bloody tired to do that, as the English fast bowler Fred Trueman said when he became the first bowler to cross the 300 threshold in Tests.
On July 22, 2010, Muttiah Muralitharan, the Sri Lankan wrist-spinning off-spinner retired from Test cricket in Galle, completing 800 Test wickets, with the last ball of his illustrious career. 800 wickets in 133 Tests!
But in Galle, on Friday, there were no traces of Muralitharan being bloody tired. He still sported his winsome smile as Mahela Jayawardene completed the catch to dismiss Indian rabbit Pragyan Ojha.
Even Lillee, the unabashedly aggressive Aussie, would not have dreamed about such a fantastic figure during his playing days. For a cricket fan, 800 wickets, anyway, was a mind boggling thought in the early 1980s.
Now the question is that will anyone in the future of the game go beyond the mark of 800? Shane Warne, may be the complete spin bowler, the one with prodigious turn and classical action and aggression, in the history of the game, left his pursuit with an awe-inspiring tally of 708 wickets. India’s own Anil Kumble finished, far too away, with 619 wickets in 132 Tests.
Before Lillee rushed through international batting line-ups, the bowling record for the maximum number of wickets was with the West Indian off-spinner Lance Gibbs (309). I wonder whether anyone remembers Gibbs in the glut of wickets now?
Yes, Sharad Pawar is determined to spread cricket into Russia, USA and many other European countries. There could come a time when India would be playing Tests against Latvia, Serbia and Ghana. When Lillee was playing Sri Lanka was taking baby steps in Test cricket. There was no opposition called Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.
You cannot say with certainty that no bowler will overcome Muralitharan’s 800. Yes, Muralitharan had some unfair advantage thanks to his freakish action. He was the only wrist-spinning off-spinner in the history of the game. The Sri Lankan was a bowler with a freak action much to the chagrin of not only the irascible Australian umpire Darrell Hair, who no-balled him repeatedly during a Test Down Under, but India’s pristine practitioner of the craft, Bishan Singh Bedi too. Bedi who called Muralitharan a thief, however, saluted Muralitharan as a man of great qualities when the Sri Lankan Tamil retired after inflicting an embarrassing 10-wicket defeat on Indians and ruined captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s honey moon trip.
But to argue that Muralitharan’s success sprang from his action would be a denial of reality. Remember, Shane Warne, too, had taken an astonishing tally of 708 wickets without the benevolence of nature’s freakish side. But make no mistake, if anyone would scale the Mount of 800, it has to be a slow bowler with an appetite huge enough to scare away batsmen from the crease.

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