Island Cricket

Friday, October 26, 2007

Don't get bent out of shape when Murali does a Warney

WHEN Muttiah Muralitharan began playing Test cricket, Sri Lanka were only just shrugging off their status as the game's minnows. Now they are worthy opponents, World Cup winners, and soon they'll have the world's leading Test wicket-taker. Maybe forever.

Yet in many people's minds, Murali will always have an asterisk next to his name at the top of the wickets column in the Test record books.

As the great Sri Lankan off spinner next week embarks on the series in which he will likely overhaul Shane Warne as Test cricket's leading wicket-taker, many will again call into question his bowling action. Just like they questioned the worthiness of the drug-banned Shane Warne when he reached 600 wickets, and then 700. Not.

Some genius in the crowd will call "no ball", just as umpire Darrell Hair did in 1996, when Murali bowls.

But if Muralitharan's efforts are not valid, neither are Warne's. That Australians are so desperate to dismiss another because their man is being usurped is embarrassing.

Warne isn't being usurped. Brian Lara has scored more Test runs than anyone else (until Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting catch him, anyway). It doesn't make him a better batsman than Don Bradman. It just means he had more opportunities to score more runs. And he took them.

Now to the real minnows. Murali has taken 76 wickets against Bangladesh. They're still wickets. I mean, Warne took a heap against England - 195 of them. And 11 against Bangladesh. Just the same, those who believe Warne to be the greatest bowler ever shouldn't feel that status is being taken away by Muralitharan becoming more prolific. If Warne hadn't spent a year out of the game on a drugs ban, his record of 708 wickets, which Muralitharan will pass, would be much higher.

Yes, yes, the ICC bent the rules to allow Muralitharan to continue playing. It now allows the bowling arm to be straightened by 15 degrees before an action is considered illegal. Muralitharan has been measured to straighten his arm by 14 degrees.

If that's a let-off, so is this: the Australian Cricket Board suspended Warne for only half the time it could have when he admitted to taking a masking agent after failing a drugs test. For the record, Murali has 700 wickets at 21.33. Warne retired with 708 wickets at 25.41.

Warne's gift was noticed at a relatively young age, and he has been the beneficiary of as much coaching and cricketing education as he could ever possibly need. Terry Jenner was always at the ready to help him.

Muralitharan is from Kandy, the son of a confectioner. He made his Test debut in 1992 against an Australian side containing, no less, Allan Border, Dean Jones, Mark Taylor and Mark Waugh, the last of whom he dismissed for a duck in the second innings. That was his cricketing education.

Only last week, Sri Lanka's new coach, Trevor Bayliss, told the Herald: "I have a new-found respect for the blokes over here, with the facilities they have to work with. Australians really don't know how good they've got it. But our guys get on the job with no complaints and, as we've all seen over the years, have done a tremendous job despite the massive challenges they face."

Warne and Murali have taken more wickets than they might ever have imagined. And while Tendulkar and Ponting might be closing in on Lara's record, it's hard to see anyone overtaking the great bowlers. When Lara last batted in Australia he was feted at every ground, with a standing ovation as he walked on and off. You would expect Tendulkar, and perhaps Sri Lanka's veteran batsman Sanath Jayasuriya, to be afforded the same generosity this summer.

When Murali takes his 709th wicket, can we admire the bloke for having the tenacity and longevity to exceed the great Warne, instead of demeaning him because of his elbow? Just this once?

The Sydney Morning Herald

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