Island Cricket

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Pietersen: Murali is the real spin king, not Warne

Pietersen: Murali is the real spin king, not Warne: While the world of cricket is bitterly divided between those who will toast Muttiah Muralitharan's impending world record and those who will once more dismiss him as a fraud, Kevin Pietersen knows which side he is on.

The England batsman is a pretty good judge of a bowler and he put his friendship with Shane Warne on hold yesterday to state that the Sri Lankan is a more threatening opponent than the Australian master spinner.

Murali needs five more wickets to pass the great Australian's Test haul of 708 and the coronation will happen sooner rather than later. In fact, if the script writers are on the ball, the 35-year-old spinner will hit the top of the all-time bowling charts during the series opener against England which starts tomorrow at the Asgiriya Stadium. It is his favourite ground and it is in his home town. It all adds up.

What awaits the man with the helicopter wrist when the big moment comes? Sure, there will be cacophonous acclaim from the stands, celebrations in the streets of Kandy and jubilation throughout this cricket-crazy island. But around the globe, his epic achievement will be greeted by champagne and vitriol.

For many, Warne is the rightful No 1. For all the controversies which have plagued his career, the brash blond is widely regarded as the pure bowler, while Murali is condemned as the freak who has bent the rules.

Yet, in Pietersen's eyes there is no debate. He brushed aside any lingering doubts about the legality of the local hero's action to salute him as a champion and a legend.

Asked to compare him to Warne, he added: 'I think the difference between the two is that Muralitharan spins the ball both ways and is a bit harder to pick. I find Shane a lot easier to pick.

'I find Muralitharan a much harder challenge because he now spins the ball both ways with a pretty similar action. If you look at his delivery stride his feet don't change position, whereas with other bowlers their feet change. It's just his wrist and it's hard to pick that up.

'They are both assassins. They have both got more than 700 Test wickets, they are both champions, they are both geniuses.'

The records will show that Pietersen is right. It is Muralitharan who has the superior average, economy rate, strike rate and bestbowling figures. The son of a Kandy confectioner has been assisted by far easier pickings than Warne against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, but he has destroyed almost all the best batting line-ups in the world for the past 15 years.

Yet, there has always been a stain on his good name. Whispers about the bent-arm action surfaced soon after his debut and matters came to a head in Australia in 1995 when umpire Darrell Hair called him for throwing. The same thing happened in the subsequent oneday series and on Sri Lanka's tour Down Under in 1998-99.

Muralitharan fought to clear his name and was subjected to an array of biomechanical studies in Australia, England and Hong Kong.

Each time, it led to the ICC declaring his action was legal. But the emergence of the deadly 'doosra' reignited the debate in 2004 when he was reported by match referee Chris Broad.

This time, there was a comprehensive study of bowlers' actions around the world which revealed Muralitharan was by no means the only international player operating with a bent arm. So the laws were tweaked and the spinner was cleared again.

While the critics will never be truly silenced, Sri Lanka's talisman has gained scientific proof that he is no cheat. It may not look convincing to the naked eye but his bowling is acceptable within the revised guidelines so every wicket he takes is legitimate.

Whether the game at large likes it or not, he is going to set a Test record that may never be broken.
It would be fitting for Muralitharan to reach the landmark in the hill-country where he grew up. It is also feasible, as he has taken 108 Test wickets at the Asgiriya Stadium, to prove that he thrives among his own people.

Muralitharan said yesterday: 'It would be a very special moment because I played all my cricket here in my younger days, it is my home town and it has to be my favourite ground. So it would be nice to take the five wickets here.'

Although he cites the three-Test series against Australia at home in 2004 as his best sustained period of bowling, Muralitharan took more wickets last year (90) than in any year before, suggesting the old dog is still learning new tricks. As Pietersen suggested, the mastery of the well-disguised doosra has been the secret to his longevity.

As long as the wickets keep tumbling and the injuries are kept in check, he may just see if he can push towards the magical four-figure wicket mark.

Asked what would be a realistic target, Muralitharan said: 'Maybe 800 or 900, maybe not.

'If I am going to get to 1,000 I would have to play for another four or five years. I am 35 now so that would mean playing until I am 40.

Realistically, that is not possible but you never know. If the next three years went as well as last year it could happen.'

That scenario may not please the sceptics and purists, and it certainly will not be music to the ears of the world's batsmen.


Anonymous said...

KP is full of crap if you ask me.

Roger said...

Well said kevin. Muttiah is by far the better bowling. Averages and the fact that he is the only bowler in history to have 10 wicket hauls against every nation stands as testimony.

MK said...

annoys me how the journalist keeps pushing his/her opinion. Its clear to all what he thinks of Murali and clear to all the that KP knows what hes talking about.

Chris BARMY ARMY! said...

Murali is getting old but he's getting better with age. Even with time against him im confident he'll take 1000. GO Murali!


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