By S. R. Pathiravithana
I can imagine the sense of euphoria that Edward Hilary (later Sir
Edward Hilary) was enveloped in when he became the very first human
being to endure, conquer and finally tame Mount Everest. In the
same vein how could you describe a person’s achievement that
has stretched human endurance twice in his lifetime and has done
things twice that no other man had done before or dared and failed?
Intriguingly he is none other than Sri Lanka’s greatest exponent
of right arm off spin – Muttiah Muralitharan who became the
first man to capture five hundred Test victims and then went on
to become the first man ever to capture ONE THOUSAND wickets in
both forms of the game. However my gut feeling is that he may not
stop at that and this is a tribute to this great son of Sri Lankan
soil in my own humble way.
I heard that Murali started his cricket as a medium pacer cum middle
order bat at junior level. I am in no hurry to test the validity
of this statement, but when I first saw him it was at the Royal-Antonian
encounter at Reid Avenue and he was bowling off spin and taking
wickets too. That year he had the entire school’s arena in
a tangle which he had cast himself.
times people call him haughty, but that is the way people worked
on him so that he ended up feeling this way. It was some time ago,
Murali was sent on his first overseas trip to England. He came back
but had bowled only a few overs. Upon their return I asked the manager
as to why Murali was not given to bowl. Then my friend replied “Between
you and me that …… chucks, but don’t write”.
I kept the bargain for both sides. First I did not believe my friend
and at the same time I did not write on it. Next thing I knew was
that he was in the Sri Lanka side.
of five wickets per Test, may be that he did not go to sleep in
the night without a misgiving since that fateful boxing day of 1995,
when he was called for ‘throwing’ by the Australian
Umpire Darrel Hair. However this was not a impromptu decision made
by that umpire on that fateful day. This was a culmination of events
which took shape since the day he made his debut against the very
same opponents in Sri Lanka some two years prior to that.
this point onwards it was a yo-yo tragicomedy between the Lankan
authorities and the rest of the World – especially the Australians.
Finally when Sri Lanka was in Australia a few weeks ago, Murali
proved to the World that his action was within the laws of cricket.
It was hoped that the moaning would have come to an end. But as
far as a section of the Australian spectators were concerned Murali
was still a blatant ‘thrower’. This is something that
wittingly or unwittingly what the Australian hierarchy taught them
never came to him on a platter. However the more they tried to subdue
him, the harder he tried. One can safely say there was no other
cricketer in history who was subjected to so much scrutiny and at
every turn came out unscathed. This too is not just by luck, but,
through precise technical and scientific analysis that always proved
that his adversaries were wrong.
on the 17th of April 1972, Murali learned the ABC of cricket at
St. Anthony’s College, Kandy. He made his Test debut against
Australia at the R. Premadasa Stadium on 28th August 1992 and his
first victim was none other than the present Sri Lankan coach Tom
Moody who tried to leave a ball which pitched outside the off stump.
of him the ICC was forced to broaden their peripheries. They were
forced to have a second look at unconventional bowling actions all
over the world. ICC laws were amended and thus he pioneered in giving
a ‘kiss of life’ to so many other bowlers, who would
have got entangled in the traps laid, may be especially for him.
At the same time he is grateful. Grateful to the man who stood by
him when the storm of controversy nearly swept him off the field
of cricket. He is Muralitharan’s former captain Arjuna Ranatunge.
“If not for him I would not be here right now” Muralitharan
said that when he became the first man to capture his 500th wicket
in Zimbabwe. Then when he had this unique chance of capturing his
1000th international wicket in Bangladesh while playing his 100th
test he repeated the same sentiments.
feels that the job of bowling and capturing wickets is getting harder
by the day. He stated in Bangladesh that even the wickets in Australia
which were fast and bouncy were more conducive to run making rather
than wicket taking for any type of bowler. However, he feels that
working harder at the trade is the only answer to this predicament.
Muralitharan saga will go on for a few years more. But, there is
one bitter truth. There can be only one Muralitharan. That bowling
action can only belong to him because he was born with a deformity
which has proved to be an asset to him rather than a drawback. So
in the coming generation of bowlers no one must try to imitate his
action and seek stardom. If they dare to do so they will find their
careers are short. They must at all costs be original like Muralitharan.