New Delhi, Dec 2 (IANS): Muttiah Muralitharan is widely adored and hugely regarded as one of the greatest spin bowlers to have ever played the game. In a 19-year international career for Sri Lanka, which also includes a 1996 World Cup triumph, Muralitharan had the ability to turn the ball on any pitch and bowl marathon spells to keep his team in the hunt irrespective of whether it was a Test match or a 50-over game.
With a short run-up, supple wrists and rapid shoulder rotation, Muralitharan’s unique bowling action propelled him to become the only bowler to take 800 Test wickets, while taking 534 scalps in ODIs, while battling huge doubters over his style of bowling and being asked to refrain from bowling the doosra.
Muralitharan’s storied life and cricketing career has now been adapted into a biopic titled “800”, aptly named after reaching the milestone of 800 Tests wickets against India in 2010. The film, directed by MS Sripathy and Madhur Mittal casted as Muralitharan, is now releasing on JioCinema on Saturday in various languages, including Hindi and Tamil.
Ahead of the release, Muralitharan spoke to IANS on how his biopic came into fruition, the instances and people who shaped his cricketing career, the feeling of leading Sri Lanka’s spin attack and emotion on getting the 800th Test scalp. Excerpts:
Q. Could you tell about your first reaction of hearing that a movie was to be created on your life?
A. When this happened in 2018, it was asked by director Venkat Prabhu and Sripathy. Then I was a little reluctant and was not sure about it, because I didn't know how to react. I knew too that it was going to be a big task, as they had to interview a lot of people, including my family. Then my manager convinced me to agree on it because they will help our foundation. So that's why we agreed.
My reaction was not like wow, this line or not like that. I was just calm and okay. When I saw the movie for the first time, then I thought it's something special. You could really recollect your memories, because this movie has done all the shooting on 70 actual locations in Sri Lanka and all over the world. Then you go back on when you're young and that’s when you recollect all the memories, which is something special.
Q. Was there any message from you to the makers over how you wanted the events from your life and career to be depicted accurately on screen?
A. I told the director that when you do the screenplay, or writing the script, that has to be true and should not deviate from the truth. Then, I read the script so many times. All incidents were there; plus there where some incidents I didn't even know.
Those came from my friends, place where I lived, my parents, relatives and people from cricket fraternity have had in the two years of research undertaken, plus the director came to Sri Lanka for interviewing a lot of people and then formed the script for the movie.
Q. You have been known as someone who kickstarted the trend of bowling round the stumps, which became an attacking option for spinners. How did you go about it?
A. I was very reluctant when people said to go round the wicket and bowl from there. But pitching the ball and getting the batters out via lbw have more chances of dismissals as per me.
In 1991, I was in school and in 1992, I went to the spin clinic of Bruce Yardley, who picked me and said I will be one of the best bowlers. He taught me a lot when he was coaching us in 1997-98. Under him, I decided that I will be bowling round the wicket after he taught me about this tactic.
Q. Talking of Yardley, how crucial has his role been in shaping you as a spinner?
A. I knew him before the start of my career. He was impressed with the way I turned the ball. He used to come on and off for two years to see the spinners and I worked under him a lot. I also had a huge opportunity for working with him when he was the head coach of the Sri Lankan team and he had a lot of influence on me.
He had played all his cricket in Australia, especially in Perth, where it doesn’t turn much and had to use his variations to get scalps. He was instrumental in teaching me for bowling round the wicket and a lot of variations for using in my bowling.
Q. How did you develop the doosra variation, something which was initially introduced by Saqlain Mushtaq?
A. In 1995, it was the first time we went to Pakistan for a three-match series. We won the matches (Sri Lanka won series 2-1), and I also got a lot of wickets. But Saqlain also got wickets and he was bowling this ball because nobody knew at that time the ball was turning away.
Moin Khan only made it as a Doosra, which means second one in Hindi. After the series finished, I was sitting with him in the dressing room and discussed how to develop this. So he was showing me something differently. But in my action, I couldn't do that and I had to adapt some way for going about it.
I went back to Colombo and then trained every day for three years to get this done. I just started bowling that in 1998 and then I can remember one thing first time I bought a wicket from this was of Carl Hooper in West Indies. He got out on that doosra, so then onwards I trained a lot and made it perfect.
Q. How crucial was the backing you got from Arjuna Ranatunga in your initial days as a Sri Lankan cricketer?
A. Arjuna only picked me in the side first. Before that, I went with the team in 1991, but couldn't play any matches. But in 1992, he convinced the selectors that I will be a good bowler and he needed me in the team, so that's how I came, also he was very influential because you can see how he supported me in 1995 Boxing Day.
He was like a father figure for me at start of my career and went on to support me throughout. I think he thought I was going to be one of the best bowlers and investing in me would also be good. Sometimes he put his career on the edge and supported me, and that kind of personality, not many people will do that in this day and age. His presence was something great, especially in what he has done for me.
Q. In your initial years, you started off as a fast-bowler, before transitioning to be a spinner. How did it come about?
A. When you're a young guy, you always want to bowl fast. So, at the age of eight, I started and then after that at 13, I was bowling fast and playing for the school team. But my coach said, I won't be effective in going to senior team as I was not big frame-wise and did not have the strength, and that I can't be carrying on like this.
So, he made me try spin, saying that it will help me. So, when I bowled the first ball, it turned a lot and was something different, since I bowled with the wrist. Then onwards, I became a spinner and got a lot of success in school and junior cricket, but because of bowling spin rather than as a fast-bowler.
Q. How was it being one of the go-to spin bowling options for Sri Lanka and becoming chiefly responsible for making the team win with the ball?
A. See I enjoyed the responsibility, but also there is a lot of pressure because they depended a lot on me. Same thing Sachin would have gone for last 20 years for India because he carried the bat alone and then only after that certain period, Rahul (Dravid) and other people joined him.
It was the same for me, I carried along for such a long time. Then (Chaminda) Vaas was there with me and played a supporting role with me, and that was easy. You do have to take responsibility when you want to be in the team which needs you so much to win the games. For taking that responsibility, I trained hard and made sure that my discipline was good and ensured that I give the best to the team and then after that it all happened.
Q. Finally, how was the feeling of getting the 800th Test wicket at home?
A. It was of joy and relief, because it was such a long time playing internationals and I made my retirement announcement before the match. So, bowling to take the last wicket and reaching to 800 Test wickets, that's something special. Also, the feeling and realisation of no more bowling in Test cricket was also different.