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India – Sri Lanka Test Series – Muralitharan Awaits Number 800
When you try to profile an ordinary record breaker like Muralitharan, you run the risk of drowning, without resorting to statistics. I try not to drown, by just trying to read the story hidden within the numbers, and hope I don’t need cardiopulmonary resuscitation to revive me.
It would not be wrong to state that Sri Lankan cricket has come of age on the back of Murali’s match-winning prowess. Sri Lanka started playing test cricket in the 1981-82 season, barely 29 years ago. Murali started his career in 1992, almost 18 years ago. Sri Lanka have had the services of Murali for almost two-thirds of their test period.
How strong Murali’s impact has been can best be understood when comparing the fortunes of Sri Lanka before his arrival and during his tenure. In all, Sri Lanka have played 192 matches, excluding the upcoming one in Galle, and have 60 wins and 69 losses to show for a win/loss ratio of 0.86.
The respective figures for Sri Lanka, during the Murali era are 154 matches, 58 wins, 49 losses, and a W/L ratio of 1.16. Kindergarten level numerical skills are enough to reveal that Sri Lanka had won 2 matches and lost 20 in 38 matches before Murali arrived.
But wait, Murali didn’t play in all those 154 games, just 133 of them. Of those 133 matches, Sri Lanka won 53 and lost 42, for a W/L ratio of 1.26. Turning again to the KG primer, we see that Sri Lanka have won 5 and lost 7 in 21 matches without Murali, for a negative W/L ratio of 0.7.
A cynic might point out that many of those wins came against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Furthermore, the perfect reunion would be to highlight the 2 series won in Pakistan, the one series won in each of England and New Zealand, and four series draws, each 1-1, in England, Pakistan, New Zealand New and West Indies. .
For some perspective, let’s compare this with India’s record abroad. When did India start playing test cricket? Before independence, in 1932. When did India win their first overseas series? In 1968, in New Zealand. In other words, referring again to my kindergarten arithmetic primer, the first win overseas came 36 years after India started playing test cricket. And till today, India is yet to win a series in Australia or South Africa.
In the case of Sri Lanka, it happened in 1995, also in New Zealand, less than 14 years after they started their test tenure. Comparisons are hateful. But you get an even better perspective when you make a similar comparison with the records of Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, teams who were baptized to experience cricket without having to win it, let alone beg for it.
Coming back to Murali, his record against India has been poor compared to his overall test record. But most bowlers would be happy to accept figures of 97 wickets in 22 games with 6 five overs, and 2 games of ten wickets. A return of almost 5 wickets a match is considered bad?
With that, my statistical cruise is almost over. I will return again to bowling figures, only if absolutely necessary. Murali’s story is one of strength of character. Called for swatting in 1995, three years into a new career, it has since been vindicated when it has been confirmed that almost all bowlers bend their arm to some degree.
Why is it only the actions of Asian players that have been questioned, be it Muralitharan or Harbhajan or Shoaib Malik? Hark back to the seventies, when Ghavri was called but Pascoe was let down. Eventually, the ICC amended the rules to allow 15% degrees as the allowable bending limit, thereby making lighting acts like Michael Holding and Ray Lindwall legal in retrospect. But we digress.
Murali survived and thrived in an atmosphere that would have stifled the careers of lesser men. Having said that, in his darkest hour, he found an ally in his captain, Arjuna Ranatunga. Murali repaid that debt a year later when he played his part in Sri Lanka’s ODI world cup victory. Eleven years later, he would play an even more prominent role in taking his national team to their second ODI World Cup final, a match Sri Lanka eventually lost to Australia.
Murali brings a joie de vivre to the field of play that lifts the spirits of his teammates. His diving catch to dismiss Ganguly in the 2007 ODI World Cup spoke volumes about his joyful approach to the game. And his answer about why he celebrated the catch as dramatically as he did, his answer was revealing, “I did it to attract my coach who says I’m too old to field inside ‘r cylch…” or words to that effect. His enthusiasm is contagious, as Dhoni – his Chennai Super Kings captain – will testify.
So, here we are as we wait with bated breath for a definitive answer to the question, “will Murali reach 800 wickets?”, a figure he is short of at the moment, by eight. But is Murali keen to get there? No evidence to show that it is. But we know a bunch they’re certainly not keen to see get there – the Indian team.
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