Murali Eyes 1,000 after Breaking Warne's Record

Agency reports

Kandy, Sri Lanka, Dec 4: After fittingly breaking the world record for the most career Test wickets at Asgiriya Stadium in Kandy - the ground where he created the first of a long list of records as a schoolboy - Sri Lanka's Muttiah Muralitharan said he never dreamed of coming this far.

England's Paul Collingwood became his victim number 709 when he was bowled middle stump to take Muralitharan past retired Australia leg spinner Shane Warne's tally of 708. Now the man whose record he has surpassed believes Muralitharan will go on to collect 1,000 wickets.

"I did not expect to come this far when I started and would have been happy with 50 or 100 Test wickets. But I have managed to come this far because I have played for 15 years," said Muralitharan.

The off spinner previously held the record in 2004 when he overhauled West Indian fast bowler Courtney Walsh's mark of 519 wickets, only to be surpassed by Warne. "Maybe this one is more important," Muralitharan said of his latest achievement, comparing it with the one in 2004.

Having gone past the retired Warne's tally, and with only Indian veteran Anil Kumble to have breached the 500-mark of current players, Murali's eventual haul is one which should be safe for decades. Murali predicted that his record is likely to stay for a long time because his closest playing rival - Indian leg spinner Kumble, who is close to retirement - is still far behind him with 573 wickets.

"I always said whoever played longer would have the record," said Murali. "When Warne stopped I thought I could go past him.

"Unless the next candidate - maybe Anil if he plays more than me - can get the record, it will be held for a long time."

Warne sent his spinning rival a good luck message via Sir Ian Botham before the start of the third morning of the first Test, and later said: "He's an excellent competitor and has been great for Sri Lankan cricket. He'll probably go on and get 1000 now, but I'd just like to say, 'well done' on the record."

Muralitharan fell short in his bid to break the record on Warne's home territory when Sri Lanka toured Australia last month. But the off spinner said it was even better that he achieved the record in his home town.

"It's my home town, my parents are here, my wife is here - all the relatives are here and all my school friends," he said. "Everybody is here. It's a bigger moment than if I had taken it in Australia, it's the right time I think. It's not easy to take six wickets in an innings. I managed to let my pressure off now."

Murali's colleagues mobbed him in the middle and fireworks exploded in the stands to celebrate the achievement of the hometown hero yesterday.

It will be a moment replayed time and again in future years but Murali admitted his historical dismissal owed something to fortune. "I tried to spin the ball and the ball went straight," he said. "Because I was bowling with the new ball it skidded on.

"I would have taken any batsman as the record because a wicket is a wicket whether it is top order or lower order. It doesn't matter.

"All my family were here and breaking the world record was special on a ground I played on for my school in St Anthony's versus Trinity College matches. That is perhaps why I couldn't get any wickets in Australia because it had to happen here!"

Muralitharan has only taken 12 wickets at 75 in five Tests in Australia. His averages at home and against England are much better.

On Sri Lankan grounds Muralitharan had taken 432 wickets in 54 matches before this match, delivering 50 balls for a wicket. He took 272 in 51 matches overseas, with a strike rate of 59. Against England, Muralitharan has played in 13 Test matches and taken 93 wickets, conceding two runs per over with a strike rate of 59.

Kandy's Asgiriya Stadium is a lucky charm for Muralitharan. The ground where he created records as a teenager for St Anthony's school 16 years ago was also the site of his entry to the 700-wicket club in July against Bangladesh. The ground has delivered him 108 wickets in 15 matches. Muralitharan's best bowling record 9-51 in an innings also came on this ground against Zimbabwe.

Born to a confectionery businessman on 17 April 1972, Muralitharan became known among local cricket fans in 1990 as a schoolboy bowler who could spin the ball sharply.

He took more than 100 wickets in 1990 and 1991 in school cricket and in the process broke the then record for highest number of wickets in a season - probably his first in a long list of records to follow.

Muralitharan's exceptional ability to turn the ball comes from his unorthodox wristy off spin, and an elbow bent since birth. That bent joint has been central to the debate over his bowling action. The debate exploded in 1995 in Australia, as home umpire Darrell Hair no-balled Muralitharan for "chucking" during a test match in Melbourne.

Australian fans barracked 'Murali' on that tour and throughout his career, not just because of their affection for Warne but due to lingering questions over the legitimacy of the Sri Lankan's bowling action.

• His action was subsequently cleared by an Australian biomechanics expert, but was no-balled again in Australia in 1998 and reported by English match referee Chris Broad in Sri Lanka in 2004. The International Cricket Council ruled that due to his birth abnormality, his action is legal.

During that tour last month, Warne agreed that Muralitharan should undergo further testing to investigate whether he 'chucks' - illegally bending then straightening his arm during his bowling action.

Many critics have been convinced or silenced, but not all. India's former spin great Bishen Singh Bedi and New Zealand's former captain Martin Crowe are among those who still insist Muralitharan has a questionable bowling action, but the off spinner has become the backbone of Sri Lanka's cricket success in the past decade.

Using his trademark "doosra", top spinners and varying angles, Muralitharan has become the most potent bowler in contemporary cricket. Wisden, the authoritative cricket almanac, named Muralitharan the best cricketer for 2006.

The 35-year-old off spinner's achievement on the cricket field has made him a household name in Sri Lanka and a source of hope and inspiration to a nation battered by decades of civil war. His status as the only Tamil in the national team links together the two warring parties on the cricket field.

"He's a great performer for Sri Lanka, always a huge threat when we play against him," said England captain Michael Vaughan. Of his side's plans to counter Murali, Vaughan added: "You have to have a defence. In England it's a bit easier than on these slower wickets. The amazing thing is his consistency. He's a world-class performer.

Why Murali's action has been dogged by suspicion

Suspicions about the off-spinner's bowling action were raised shortly after his debut against Australia in 1993 and continue to dog him to this day. The player has learned to accept it.

Muralitharan's exceptional ability to spin the ball comes from his unorthodox super-flexible wrist and an elbow bent since birth. That bent joint has been central to the debate over a bowling action that makes him such a potent weapon on any surface.

Darrel Hair was the first umpire to call him for throwing during Sri Lanka's tour of Australia in 1995/96, but he was cleared by the International Cricket Council after biomechanical analysts concluded that his action created the "optical illusion of throwing".

He was called again two years later, on another tour of Australia, only to be cleared by the ICC for a second time after further tests. But that wasn't the end.

After fine-tuning his 'doosra' - a ball that spins in the opposite direction to his regulation off-break - Murali was pulled up again in a home series against (you've guessed it) Australia.

Following yet more high-tech tests, the ICC were forced to look into the issue of throwing in international cricket. It was concluded that many bowlers bend their arms, and that Murali might have been made an unfair victim.

Throughout the controversy, Murali has continued to do what he does best: spin a cricket ball and take wickets. Lots of them.

Murali's top ten wickets

• 1. The one that every bowler remembers fondly. Australian tail-ender Craig McDermott was trapped lbw in Colombo in 1992 to give Sri Lanka's new second spinner his first Test victim. The 20-year-old took 1-32 in the first innings of a draw.

• 2. In the second innings, Murali doubled his tally by bewitching a proper batsman, opener Tom Moody. "The ball almost pitched off the strip and spun back five feet to bowl me while I was padding up," said Moody. "

81: On the day he was no-balled seven times by Darrell Hair for "throwing" at the MCG, Murali bowled Mark Waugh for 61. But he could do nothing thereafter to prevent his persecution. Don Bradman later said that Hair's actions had set "the development of world cricket back by ten years".

• 203: In the 1998 match that sent Murali on his way to greatness, he took 7-155 and 9-65 to conjure up a ten-wicket victory over England in a solitary Oval Test. A beautiful wrong 'un bowled Darren Gough around his legs for wicket No 16.

• 271: Mark Boucher, who has fallen victim to Murali more times (12) than any other batsman, was bowled for a duck as the spinner took 13-171 to send South Africa to defeat at Galle.

• 414: Back in England, Mark Butcher was on 94 at Edgbaston when Murali pitched a quick turner way outside leg stump that leapt across the batsman and flicked the off bail.

• 461: A pulsating contest with England in Galle ended in a draw but not before Murali had taken a first-innings haul of 7-46, including an off-break that Michael Vaughan tried to pad away and ended up losing between his legs.

• 500: Joined Courtney Walsh and Shane Warne in reaching the magical 500 mark. Starting the game on 496, he clean-bowled Michael Kasprowicz for his fourth scalp as the great Australians were skittled for 120 in Galle.

• 520: Murali broke the world record (then held by Walsh) for the first time. Zimbabwe's Mluleki Nkala was the victim, caught by a close fielder - the great off-spinner has taken 87 Zimbabwean wickets at an average cost of 16.86.

• 709: Rain on day two in Kandy left Murali stranded on Warne's mark of 708 and it wasn't until his tenth over yesterday when the record fell. An unintentional doosra had Paul Collingwood defending down the wrong line and turning to see the bails lying on the turf.

Things You Didn`t Know About Muttiah Muralitharan

Impress your friends with your knowledge of the world record-breaking Sri Lankan spin magician with your super soaraway Cricket365 cut-out-and-destroy guide...

Murali was first inspired to take up spin bowling by watching old videos of legendary tweaker Peter Such.

Murali's joints are so bendy that he can touch his elbow with his hand - underwater!

Murali often entertains his team-mates with displays of shadow puppetry. His bendy wrists allow him to produce some incredible shadows, including an elephant, a giant squid and his signature shape, Sir Cliff Richard singing at Wimbledon.

Muttiah's favourite food is alphabetti spaghetti.

As a child, Murali was teased for his double-jointed arms and given the nickname Sasruthakaluwitharinabandarkasinghe - or 'wrong wrist'.

Muttiah will only drink through a bendy straw and becomes agitated if he cannot get one for his drink.

After his retirement, it is Murali's dream to open a pub and he has already begun talks to run The Old Red Lion in Braintree, Essex.

Murali has never eaten an apple. Any time he is handed one, he instinctively bowls it as a doosra.

On Sri Lanka's last visit to England, Murali met with then-PM Tony Blair and the cabinet. "It's always nice to meet some fellow masters of spin!" joked the Sri Lankan. Blair and the others fell about laughing, although John Reid did jail Murali for 90 days under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Murali is a keen dancer. Ironically he cannot dance The Twist.

Murali keeps his famous wrist supple in the off-season with a rigorous regimen of Nintendo Wii.

And other wrist-based solo activities.

At an amazing five feet seven inches tall, if Murali was laid end-to-end, he would reach from here to that table!


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Comment on this article

  • Alfred J. Rebello, Kundapur/Dubai

    Tue, Dec 04 2007

    Well done Muralidharan. I am happy that you broke the world record and I will be more happy if you cross 1000 mark. People like Bishen Singh Bedi may say anything perhaps in jealousy, it is their problem. Bishen Singh Bedi even called Harbahjan a chucker and this itself tells Bishen Singh Bedi can not see anybody performing better than him. But the sad thing is such people have many admirers.

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  • Nelson Lewis, Kingdom of Bahrain

    Tue, Dec 04 2007

    I have never considered Mutttiah Muralitharan to be a bowler, but probably the world's greatest chucker. How can you allow a man who has totally a suspect bowling action, which is there for anyone to see, to bowl? Sorry, if all these irregularities are allowed in cricket, then this game is a farce. Just because he has physical deformities since birth, you just cannot compromise things. As his bowling is suspect, he should not be in the team as a bowler, but as a batsman or fielder. India's bowler of 1960s and 1970s, B.S. Chandrasekhar had a polio-affected bowling arm, but no one accused him of chucking because he had a clean bowling action.

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