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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 April, 2004, 12:18 GMT 13:18 UK
Murali: The debate goes on
By Oliver Brett

Muttiah Muralitharan

When England were preparing for a three-Test series in Sri Lanka last December, they were pretty confident.

They had never lost a series to Sri Lanka, and in the spring of 2001 had successfully combated Muttiah Muralitharan on his home track.

This time, however, Murali announced he had developed a new delivery, a notion dismissed as a smokescreen by Nasser Hussain.

The England veteran reasoned that there were no more directions left for the cricket ball to spin, but he had not counted on the 'doosra.'

Murali used it to lethal effect against both right-handers and left-handers, with players at a loss to know whether the ball would spin towards them or away from them.

And the champion off-spinner collected 26 wickets in the three Tests, a series Sri Lanka won 1-0.

But even before the dust had settled in Colombo, the first murmurings of disapproval had begun to filter out.

Some pundits appeared to have forgotten that a congenital defect meant Murali would never bowl with a completely straight arm.

The issue at stake was the degree by which his arm straightened in the final part of the delivery.

The International Cricket Council has now ruled, following expert analysis by biomechanists, that Murali does indeed straighten his arm while bowling his doosra.

He straightens it by about 10 degrees, double the legal limit for slow bowlers, and he now be banned for a year if he tries to bowl that ball again.

The whole issue is an extremely emotive one.

No-one condones rule breakers operating in any sport, let alone at the very top of one of the biggest sports in the world.

And yet Murali, is - by the simplest interpretation of the rules - doing just that.

But he does not set out to "chuck" the ball every time he trots up to the popping crease.

Robert Croft
English off-spinner Robert Croft has criticised Murali the past

By striving to improve, to break more records, to vary his type of attack and win as many matches as he can for Sri Lanka, he has simply regressed as far as the rule book is concerned.

No cricketer can be chastised for having a strong opinion one way or another on the issue.

One critic of Murali is Robert Croft, as orthodox an off-spinner as you could ever find, who voluntarily ended his international involvement after a frustrating career.

Australians are often viewed as the main doubters since it is only their umpires who have no-balled Murali in the past.

When Murali was first reported back in 1995, Ross Emerson called him from square leg.

And he since went on to accuse the amiable man from Kandy of spawning an entire generation of schoolboy chuckers.

But other Australians are supportive of Murali.

The national coach, John Buchanan, feels cricket is all the richer for his innovations, comparing his wondrous bowling with the creative shot-making of Adam Gilchrist.

There are many ways to skin a cat, and certainly more than one way to look at Muttiah Muralitharan.




SEE ALSO
Buchanan backs Muralitharan
20 Apr 04  |  Cricket
Panel studies Murali report
14 Apr 04  |  Cricket
Murali tests questioned
13 Apr 04  |  Cricket
Murali data under scrutiny
02 Apr 04  |  Cricket
Murali action reported
28 Mar 04  |  Cricket
ICC to research chucking
18 Dec 03  |  Cricket
Gilchrist queries Murali's action
26 May 02  |  Cricket


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