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Last Updated: Saturday, 8 May, 2004, 12:50 GMT 13:50 UK
Murali's figures say it all
By Martin Gough

Muttiah Muralitharan does not need to listen to the war of words that follows him off the field - he has the numbers on his side.

Muralitharan bowls in front of a wicket counter
The Sri Lankan star's unorthodox bowling has been the topic of hot debate since he was called for throwing by Australian umpire Darrell Hair in 1995.

But the indignity of being forced to undergo detailed testing, and having to endure constant whispering, has rarely distracted him on the way to a record-breaking 520 Test wickets.

On the field, too, it has not been easy as a Sri Lanka side, that took time to become competitive in the Test arena, relied too heavily on his skills.

Muralitharan, 32 last month, has had to carry on with shoulder and groin injuries in the past because the attack - opening bowler Chaminda Vaas apart - would be toothless without him.

Controversy first came calling three years after his Test debut but it was not until 1998 that the International Cricket Council performed analysis to determine whether his action was legal.

The controversy came to a head in a one-day match in Adelaide, when captain Arjuna Ranatunga led his team off the field in protest at an umpire's call.

High speed video shot from many different angles showed his elbow - which is bent due to a congenital deformity - does not straighten during his usual delivery and so conforms to the rules.

Born: 17 April 1972, Kandy
Bowls: Right arm off-break
Tests: 89
Debut v Australia, Colombo, 1992/93
521 wickets at 22.76
ODIs: 232
Debut v India, Colombo, 1993/94
360 wickets at 22.08
That did not stop the critics, who were particularly vociferous in Australia, from questioning his success.

Coincidentally, the latest controversy arose when Australia were touring earlier this year, as match referee Chris Broad field a report with the ICC.

Muralitharan's new 'doosra' delivery, which turned in the opposite direction, raised eyebrows and ire when he skittled England before Christmas.

Another trip to the University of Western Australia yielded another set of data showing this time that the elbow straightens, and the delivery has been prohibited.

For some bowlers this would provoke a period of introspection but not for Murali, whose almost always plys the game with a broad smile on his face.

In an age when there are far more Test matches played than in the past, records for longevity will inevitably fall..

But Muralitharan has passed many of the milestones along the way far more rapidly than any of his rivals.

New Zealand legend Sir Richard Hadlee - another star bowler on a mediocre team - took 80 Tests in becoming the first past 400 wickets. Muralitharan took 72.

520 M Muralitharan (SL) 89 Tests
519 CA Walsh (WI) 132
517 SK Warne (Aus) 110
434 N Kapil Dev (Ind) 131
431 RJ Hadlee (NZ) 86
Rival spinner Shane Warne passed 500 Test scalps in Australia's opening Test of the series in Sri Lanka - his 108th.

Muralitharan passed the mark in the very next match - his 87th - and currently averages 22.76 per victim compared to Warne's 25.42 .

West Indies warhorse Courtney Walsh took 132 matches to extend the record career haul to 519 wickets.

Three years later Muralitharan has passed the mark in his 89th Test and at 32 his stated aim of 650 looks realistic.

Wisden used a complicated statistical formula to rank the Sri Lankan maestro as the best Test bowler ever, saying the ranking, "emphasises the lone-wolf role he has played in Sri Lankan cricket for so long."

Muralitharan will have been used to the howls of protest and derision that followed.

But when the critics have long gone, the record books will remain, and Murali will figure at the top of the list.

Murali equals record
06 May 04  |  Cricket
Murali's career in pictures
16 Mar 04  |  Photo Galleries

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