Eight hundred wickets..! In Test cricket..!! Oh. This one is for real!
And the man who took eight wickets in a Test match is not going to play the next. He's going to retire from Test cricket. Is he joking or are we getting the wrong news?
Doing the lap round the ground on his team mate’s shoulders after 10 wicket victory
These are the words and thoughts of many who usually turn their heads towards a TV set when a cricket match is shown. Even housewives think Murali should remain for few more years and trouble cricket professionals many a time by asking them why Murali is retiring. Muttiah Muralitharan's decision to quit Test cricket was indeed a perfect and timely one. Yet, his performance in Galle against India last week has raised the eyebrows of people who think that he still could do better than many in the line-up. This is a debatable situation without any perfect or point blank answers.
Having taken 799 Test wickets already, it was heartening to see him struggling for three hours to get that one last wicket in Galle. He bowled 23.4 overs (142 balls) on the trot, on the final day, without a wicket. That is more than a double of his strike rate (54.1) in 133 Test matches and many, including professional cricket writers, started to doubt.
Ultimately, Murali came out as a winner but it clearly showed, even in the last of his Test matches, that one has to grind however hard to succeed in the Test arena.
Sri Lanka toured India last November with the best possible Sri Lankan bowling attack that ever took wing to India. Yet Sri Lanka lost the series 2-0 and Murali could manage only nine wickets for 591 runs. Everybody blamed the authorities for not having the UDRS (Umpire Decision Review System), which was a true cause but Murali had some other thoughts as well. Fortunately last November, a 37-year-old Murali realized his body was not the same as it was a few years back. Then he began contemplating his cricketing future in the national team as a match winning bowler. If another bowler can do the same, or maybe even better, why block his way into the team?
From January 2009, the champion bowler was fatigued and his bite, as a result, was declining. In his last eight Test matches, since January 2009, Murali has taken only 26 wickets for 1195 runs, averaging 45.96 per wicket. It was not the Muralitharan that the whole world knew.
Murali was not willing to hang on in the national side with faded fame and moderate performances. Instead, he showed his willingness to retire from the game before the World Cup, a thing that some others would shudder to think of.
"Now I am 38-years-old and I can't bowl as much as those days. After 15 or 16 overs, I get tired. Two to three years ago, it was not like this. My body has its problems. You have niggles here and there and groins are not the same as they used to be," Muralitharan said in Kanpur, last November.
His decision, hitting headlines all over the world, after seven months, is no surprise at all. Now the next biggest question is whether Sri Lanka will be able to find yet another in Murali’s mould. The answer is point blank....No! Certainly Not!!
A BBC journalist interviewed a former England skipper, Alec Stewart, a few hours after news of Muralitharan's Test retirement. Stewart, the man who led England in 1993 in Colombo and 1998 at the London Oval, two venues where Murali came out as a match winner, said the key issue was the amount of spin imparted by Muralitharan.
"I could see which way the ball was spinning in the air, but you never knew how much it was going to turn; it could be a few inches or it could be a few feet."
"Beyond that, there was always change of pace, degree of flight, and angle of delivery to consider as well. All the problems you normally face from a regular spinner are just exaggerated because of the amount of spin he can impart on the ball," Stewart said.
Apart from extracting an unbelievable amount of spin on any given surface, his application, dedication, innovation and fighting qualities are most difficult to find in any one man.
That is why there is only one Muralitharan and he is the legend that he is.