Spinning All The Way to Glory

No matter what he does for the rest of his life, Gautam Gambhir will have to live with something that he’d rather not have.

India’s left-handed opening batsman became an important statistic in cricket history when his wicket made Muttiah Muralitharan the most successful bowler in the game. Gambhir’s wicket saw the Sri Lankan off-spinner overtake Pakistan’s Wasim Akram for his 503rd One-Day International scalp. The man with the weird bent-arm bowling action is also the highest wicket-taker in the longer version of the game, with 769 Test wickets from 125 matches. Muralitharan is also the first man since India’s World Cup-winning skipper Kapil Dev to hold both Test and ODI bowling records, simultaneously.

Muralitharan is not just about records and statistics, he’s about heart too. When he puts on the baggy blue cap and dons the island nation’s colours, Murali wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s a complete team man. He said the other day that the ODI record would have been all the better had Sri Lanka won the match. Since they did not, the celebrations were a bit muted. Muralitharan is the only Tamil of Indian origin to play for his country and his behaviour, both on and off the field, makes him a brilliant role model for the next generation. He bowls marathon spells and still manages to put every extra effort into his fielding and his batting. It’s Muralitharan’s incisive bowling that provided the cutting edge whenSri Lanka came from nowhere to win the 1996 World Cup.

Maybe it is his rise from humble beginnings, as the son of a hill-country confectioner, that helped Muralitharan keep a level head when his bowling actions came under scrutiny. He was called for ‘chucking’ but eventually cleared by the International Cricket Council after biomechanical analysis at the University of Western Australia, which concluded that his action created an ‘optical illusion of throwing’. But the whisperings never stopped. He was called again, cleared again. All these controversies did not stop him from picking up wickets, nearly six per Test, with his super-flexible wrist that helps him get vicious turn on any surface. He loves his art and he loves to bowl. His chief weapons are the sharp-turning off-break and two versions of the top spinner, one of which goes straight on and the other, which spins in the opposite direction.

Muralitharan is to bowling what India’s Sachin Tendulkar is to batting. At 36, the spinner’s career seems almost over but he was vowed to play on till the 2011 World Cup in the subcontinent. And his records seem as if they will stand the test of time as his nearest bowling rivals, currently playing, are way behind. Gambhir is now, probably, wishing he had left that widish 10th over Muralitharan delivery quite alone.

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