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Last Updated: Monday, 3 December 2007, 11:27 GMT
Muralitharan - the record-breaker
By Paul Grunill

Muttiah Muralitharan is one of the most divisive figures in cricket history.

Muttiah Muralitharan
Muralitharan receives the acclaim of his home-town crowd

To his admirers, he is a sports phenomenon. To his detractors, he is a spin bowler whose action should have been outlawed by the game's rule-makers.

Whichever view you take, there is no arguing with statistics.

And by bowling England's Paul Collingwood in Kandy on Monday to claim his 709th victim, he became the leading wicket-taker in Test cricket for the second time.

It is, by any standards, an astonishing feat - and it should not be forgotten that he also has 457 wickets in one-day and Twenty20 internationals to his credit as well.

When England fast bowler Fred Trueman became the first player to take 300 Test wickets, he was asked whether he thought anyone would surpass his achievement.

"If anyone beats it, they'll be bloody tired" was his typically robust response.

606: DEBATE
DeltaAlpha

Trueman's record stood for 11 years until his final total of 307 wickets was bettered by West Indies off-spinner Lance Gibbs.

But with 35-year-old Muralitharan keen to push on towards 800, 900, perhaps even 1,000 victims, it is unlikely his record will be broken for many years to come - if ever.

CONTROVERSY

Muralitharan made a modest international debut in August 1992 when he took four wickets in a drawn Test against Australia in Colombo, but he had already shown them he had the potential to become something special.

"The first time anyone in Australia saw Murali bowl, he delivered one over before lunch to Allan Border in a President's XI warm-up [game] - and we all looked stunned.

MURALITHARAN'S WICKETS
104 v South Africa
99 v England
87 v Zimbabwe
79 v Pakistan
76 v Bangladesh
70 v West Indies
69 v New Zealand
67 v India
59 v Australia

"We asked AB what he was bowling, and AB said he was a leg-spinner. We eventually realised he was bowling a wrist spin version of off-spin," said ex-Sri Lanka coach Tom Moody.

It was on tours to Australia, however, where his career became mired in controversy as he was called for throwing by umpires Darrell Hair and Ross Emerson.

And in 2004, biomechanics expert Professor Bruce Elliott ruled that Muralitharan's doosra, a ball which turns from leg to off, was illegal as he straightened his arm by 10 degrees.

The following year, the International Cricket Council relaxed its rules, making it legal for bowlers to straighten their arms up to 15 degrees.

Former England batsman Geoffrey Boycott described it as "a sad day for cricket" and former India spin bowler Bishen Bedi said the ICC had "created a monster" by legitimising his action.

Muralitharan was born with a permanently bent arm but it is a double-jointed wrist, perhaps combined with the deformity, which is primarily responsible for the amount of turn he is able to obtain on even the most batsman-friendly surfaces.

But that is only part of the spin bowler's art - and Muralitharan is also a master of the subtleties of flight, disguise, change of pace, line and length.

RIVALRY

In years to come, Muralitharan's wicket-taking duel with Australia's great leg-spinner Shane Warne will go down as one of the game's great rivalries.

Muralitharan first broke the record in May 2004 when he had Zimbabwe's Mluleki Nkala caught in Harare - his 520th Test victim.

Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan
Kings of spin: Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan

But a lengthy spell on the sidelines following shoulder surgery enabled Warne, who had been first to 500, to establish a lead which he held for the remainder of his career.

Warne bowed out last winter with 708 wickets at a cost of 25.4 runs each.

To the purists, he remains the superior performer - only 17 of his wickets came against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, whereas Muralitharan's tally has been swollen by 163 successes against Test cricket's two weakest sides. Muralitharan, on the other hand, has a bowling average of 21.67.

Such a debate, however, can never be resolved definitively one way or the other.

"Muralitharan is what I would call a freakish genius, whereas Warne is more a sort of ace cricket thief," was analyst Simon Hughes's verdict.

"He has got extra biomechanical assets that Shane Warne doesn't have. People talk about finger spin, but I definitely think he is a wrist spinner.

"It comes out of the back of the hand - it's like a revolving door, that wrist, a ball bearing mechanism," Hughes added.

Warne and Muralitharan certainly have one thing in common - their success has been due to a combination of innate skill and sheer hard work.

And just as it was when Warne bowed out last winter, the game will be the poorer when Muralitharan walks away from it.



SEE ALSO
Muralitharan breaks Test record
03 Dec 07 |  Sri Lanka
Muralitharan's career in photos
03 Dec 07 |  Cricket
Murali cleared by yet more tests
04 Feb 06 |  Cricket
New law wipes slate clean
10 Nov 04 |  Cricket
Murali makes history
08 May 04 |  Cricket
Murali's figures say it all
08 May 04 |  Cricket
Murali's doosra explained
28 Apr 04 |  Photo Galleries
SL blast Murali 'slurs'
15 Dec 02 |  Cricket


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