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India – Sri Lanka Test Series – Muralitharan Awaits Number 800
When you try to profile a habitual record-breaker like Muralitharan, you run the risk of drowning yourself in statistics. I’m going to try not to drown by just trying to read the story behind the numbers and hopefully not need CPR to revive me.
It would not be inaccurate to say that Sri Lankan cricket came of age because of Murali’s match-winning ability. 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 had Murali’s services for almost two-thirds of their Test period.
How powerful Murali’s influence was can best be understood by comparing the fortunes of Sri Lanka before his arrival and during his tenure. In total, Sri Lanka have played 192 matches, excluding the one in Galle, and have a record of 60 wins and 69 losses, with a win/loss ratio of 0.86.
The relevant 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 in the 38 matches before Murali came on the scene, Sri Lanka had won 2 matches and lost 20.
But wait, Murali didn’t start in all those 154 matches, just 133 of them. Of these 133 matches, Sri Lanka have won 53 and lost 42, with a W/L ratio of 1.26. Resorting to the KG primer again, we find that in 21 matches without Murali, Sri Lanka have won 5 and lost 7, for a negative W/L ratio of 0.7.
A cynic might nit-pick that many of those wins came against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. A perfect answer would be to point to 2 series won in Pakistan, one series won in England and New Zealand and four drawn series, all 1-1, in England, Pakistan, New Zealand and West Indies. .
To get 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 the first series abroad? In 1968 in New Zealand. In other words, again referring to my kindergarten arithmetic, the first win abroad came 36 years after India started playing Test cricket. And till date India have failed 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 the Test period. Comparisons are odious. But you get an even better perspective when you make a similar comparison with the records of Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, teams that got their baptism into Test cricket without having to earn 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 the figures of 97 wickets in 22 matches with 6 five-fors and 2 ten-wicket hauls. A return of almost 5 goals per game is considered bad?
That brings my statistical sea voyage to an end. I will only go back to bowling figures again if absolutely necessary. Murali’s story is one of strength of character. In 1995, three years into his fledgling career, he was called for throwing and has since been vindicated when it was discovered that virtually every pitcher bends his arm to some degree.
Why were only the actions of Asian players, be it Muralitharan, Harbhajan or Shoaib Malik questioned? Hark back to the seventies when Ghavri was drafted but Pascoe was released. The ICC eventually amended the rules to allow 15% degrees as the allowable bending limit, retroactively making the action of the likes of Michael Holding and Ray Lindwall legal. But we digressed.
Murali survived and thrived in an atmosphere that would have stifled the careers of lesser men. That means he found an ally in his captain Arjuna Ranatunga in his darkest hour. Murali more than repaid that debt of gratitude a year later when he played his part in Sri Lanka’s ODI World Cup triumph. Eleven years later, he would play an even more dominant role in leading his national team to their second ODI World Cup final, a match that Sri Lanka eventually lost to Australia.
Murali brings a joie de vivre to the field that lifts the spirits of his teammates. His diving catch to dismiss Ganguly in the 2007 ODI World Cup was testament to his joyous approach to the game. And his response to the question of why he celebrated the catch as dramatically as he did revealed: “I did it to attract my coach who says I’m too old to play in the circle…” or words to that effect . . His enthusiasm is contagious, as Dhoni – his Chennai Super Kings captain – will attest.
So here we are as we wait with baited breath for a definitive answer to the question, “will Murali reach 800 wickets?”, a figure he is currently eight short of. But is Murali eager to get there? No evidence to suggest it is. But we know a lot of people who definitely don’t want him to get there – the Indian team.
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