Up Close & Personal with Murali

 

Affectionately called as ‘Murali’ he is by far the greatest Sportsperson Sri Lanka ever produced in the modern era. Truly a Legend, an icon and an Ambassador. Not only to his alma mater St. Anthony’s College, Katugastota but also to his country, Sri Lanka and for the game of Cricket. A World beater across all formats of the game, holder of many World Records and he has won many hearts around the world with his trade mark smile and for his fighting skills.

Magical Farewell

Muralitharan was rated the greatest Test Cricket bowler ever by Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack in 2002. He retired from Test cricket in 2010, with 800 test wickets and took his 800th and final wicket on 22nd July 2010 from his final Test match at Galle Cricket Stadium against India. Murali and the entire nation, perhaps the Cricketing world spent some anxious moments till Murali crosses this magical landmark which was never crossed in Test Cricket before. Murali declared the 1st test against India on their 2010 three match Test series in Sri Lankan soil would be his last match well in advance, with 08 wickets short of 800. India led by M.S. Dhoni was a formidable side, had depth in batting with Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, V.V.S. Laxman, Gautam Gambir and Virendra Shehwag and alrounder Yuvraj Singh though their bowling attack was not the best with Harbhajan Singh and Ishant Sharma as only recognized bowlers. Against India Murali by then had 97 wickets though his average was mediocre at 36 whereas his career average was at magnificent 22 balls per wicket. It was a gamble he took but his confidence would have backed him and so does the Galle strip and track record at Galle for Sri Lankans. Things didn’t start positively for Murali fans as rains delayed play on first day while Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara won the toss and elected to bat first. Sri Lanka made 262/2 wickets with Tharanga Paranavithana making solid 110 not out and Sangakkara making 103 on a rain curtailed day. Rains continued on the 2nd day while threatening to spoil the Murali Farewell party at Galle as no play was possible. On 3rd day, Sri Lanka accelerated and declared their inning at 528 for 8 wickets by the end of 2nd session with Muralli also having a chance to bat and remain not out at 5. After Lasith Malinga had Gambhir early, Murali came in to action towards the end of final session by grabbing price wicket of little master Sachin Tendulkar plumb LBW. On 4th day, Sri Lanka kept the pressure and bundled out India for 276 runs with Murali grabbing his 67th and last 5 wickets hall, 5 for 63 runs. Now Murali need 03 more wickets with just over day and a half left. Without any hesitation Sangakkara enforced a follow on. For Murali, this was more than sufficient and anticipation was so high, people flocked to Galle anticipating Murali to get the much needed 03 wickets within the two sessions as wicket on 4th day would start assisting spinners though at Galle it’s a precedent where spinners get assistance from Day 01 and by now Indians were on the mat. However, dashing hopes once again, Murali had to wait till the final over to get his 1st of three wickets needed as Yuvraj was caught Mahela balled Murali to end an absorbing days play with India 181 for 5 with only V.V.S standing between Murali and a Draw. Come the 5th day, the Word turned its attention to Galle and it’s a foregone conclusion the Magician will spin to glory and will bow out in a hurrah. Sri Lanka Cricket with all elaborated decorations, the VVIP’S, Murali’s family and friends, former team mates all in great anticipation whilst media, photographers and journalists following each ball, each edge and each appeal closely. Malinga clean balled Dhoni on final day morning and Murali got his 799th early as Harbhajan after being constantly troubled was adjudged LBW. But the magical 800 kept Murali and the rest of the world to wait, wait till the 2nd session as wickets didn’t come easily and nor Indians didn’t lose them easily. Indian tail wagged and kept fighting with V.V.S in one end. Abhimanyu Mithun (25) and VV.S Laxman put oon 49 for the 8th wicket and it was separated by Malinga. Two more wickets to go and Murali or the Cricket World needed one out of that. Another partnership, this time for the 09th wicket between V.V.S and Ishant Sharma putting on 68 runs before V.V.S was run out by Mathews for a fighting 69. Alas, now we have one wicket and last pair Ishant and Pragyan Ojha desperately batting, hoping for a rain or for a miracle draw while Sangakkara was desperate to break the partnership early as India now building a lead after erasing the deficit which makes the chase more difficult on the final day, final session. For him, on one side Murali’s 800th is important but then to record a win also important. Sanga and to Sri Lankan team mates credits, they gave all support and opportunities for Murali to go for 800. Even though Malinga by now have grabbed 5 fer and also bowling in tandem and also Rangana Herath was tightening things from one end, everyone wanted including the Media, Murali to grab that last wicket. Finally it came, after a stubborn 24 run partnership in 15 overs, Pragyan Ojha was caught at slip, for a record 77th occasion in history of Cricket for a bowler and fielder combination, caught Mahela Jayawardena and balled Muttiah Muralitharan for 13 runs to give the Legend his 800th victim. Murali and his team mates who later gave a grand farewell on the shoulders, were ecstatic and so did the rest of the World watching the final tense moments. Sri Lanka also went on to win the match by scoring the 96 runs without losing a wicket in 14 overs during the final session, a fitting farewell to Legend.

Murali held the record for most Test wickets first when he surpassed Courtney Walsh’s 519 wickets in 2004, and then later that year as he suffered a shoulder injury Australian ace leg spinner Shane Warne over took him and then once again Murali became the highest wicket-taker in Test cricket as he managed to break Shane Warne’s 708 Test wickets record on 3rd December 2007. There was a period between 2005 to 2007 where the record exchanged hands between both these spinners. Warne’s retirement from Test Cricket in January 2007 meant sky was the limit for Murali as he had few more years of Cricket left in him.

In 2010, Murali announced that he would retire from One Day cricket after the conclusion of 2011 Cricket World Cup which Sri Lanka also co-hosted along with India. Another dream farewell was on the cards as Sri Lanka went all the way up to finals. But this time it was not to be as Sri Lanka stumbled at the finals, and Murali’s final match was an anticlimax as Legend could not take a wicket nor Sri Lanka could win it in front of packed audience at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai against India. Nevertheless Murali bowed out like a Champion with Cricketing World giving him a standing ovation, with 534 wickets under his belt. Murali also had a brief run of 12 matches in International T 20 Cricket and he retired from that in Australia at Perth in 2010 with 13 wickets. Murali now holds the world record for the most wickets in both Test and One-day cricket. In 2017, he became the only Sri Lankan to be inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame. Murali also had few stints at franchise T 20 Cricket in overseas, including Big Bash in Australia and IPL. Also served as a Bowling coach and consultant for some of these franchise teams.

Incidentally Murali was hired as a Spin Bowling Consultant by the Australian Cricket Board. Almost 20 years ago, Murali was publicly humiliated at the MCG and widely despised by the Australian cricketing public. It was in Australia he faced his worst challenges both on and off the field. His Cricketing career almost came to an abrupt end before it even blossomed. Who would have thought it likely that Australian Cricket would ever pay Murali the ultimate compliment, almost an apology of sorts, by inviting him to be their spin guru? He was much feared and respected on the field and he was accused by his critics, challenged by those who didn’t like his success, heckled by those who feared him and tested and cleared by the governing body. Irrespective of all that, he came out as a Champion.

Murali after capturing more than 100 wickets in two consecutive schools cricket seasons (1990 and 1991 seasons) he became the Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 1991. He also won the Best Bowler award. At the same award ceremony Murali’s fellow team mates from St. Anthony’s swept the board at the awards ceremony; Sajith Fernando as the Best Batsman, Nuwan Kalpage  their captain as Best Captain and he was also chosen as runner-up in the Best Allrounder’s category and Best Fielder’s contests. Then St. Anthony’s College, Katugastota was also picked as the Best Team in the whole island and quite naturally, the Antonians were also chosen as the Best Team in the Central province in 1991.

After some fine bowling performances against the Australian Academy team and England ‘A’ early in the year 1992 when representing Sri Lanka ‘A’ team, Muralitharan made his Test debut against touring Australians. In 2002, Muralitharan had the honour of being branded alongside Sir Donald Bradman of Australia as the top Test players in history of cricket by the cricket bible – Wisden. He retired from all formats of International Cricket in 2011 after the ICC Cricket World Cup Finals and by then he has set many World Records some of which are probably never to be broken.

 

Darrel Hair calls Muralitharan at 1995 MCG Boxing Day test

In 1995, at Melbourne Cricket Ground in the traditional Boxing Day test where Sri Lanka was hosted by Australia, Murali who was making a name for his bamboozing off-spinners was no-balled seven times by Australian umpire Darrel Hair. This was totally unexpected though Sri Lankan team was under close scrutiny by Australian Media on their tour. This action by controversial umpire Darrel Hair who later got embroiled in few more controversies on and off the field, strained the relationship between two teams. Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga threatened to take his players off the field. Though match continued, this created a tension between the two boards, ICC and in Media. Then in 1996, again in Australia, during a tri nation One Day match between Sri Lanka and England at Adelaide, Australian umpire Ross Emerson no balled Murali. Again, Arjuna had to intervene and he almost pulled the team out of the grounds. After almost a decade Ross Emerson admitted that his decision to call the bowler was not entirely his own. Emerson told the ‘The Daily Telegraph’ in Australia that he no-balled Muralitharan due to orders from an unnamed Cricket Australia official.

Arjuna Ranathunga confronting Ross Emerson

Muralitharan’s bowling action was subsequently cleared by the ICC after biomechanical analysis at the University of Western Australia and at the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology in 1996. The tests led to the conclusion that his action created the ‘optical illusion of throwing’. Then in 2004, Murali had to undergo tests again after he was reported by match referee Chris Broad in 2004 test match in Sri Lanka. This time it was his ‘Doosra’ which was felt suspicious.

Murali had to undergo more than one test

There wouldn’t have been any other Cricketer or perhaps a sporting personality who has undergone such challenges of being scrutinized closely by media, tested (his bowling action) and at times vilified by few high profile Cricketers and Commentators. He was even booed by some sections of cricket fans at venues in Australia.  He came out all of it like a Champion, of course he was cleared by ICC after strenuous study and testing on his bowling action yet few disgruntled past Cricketers or certain media personal took the liberty to make few scathing remarks here and there. Whenever Murali toured Australia or England, media goes on a frenzy about his bowling action. Yet he remained calmly and would just respond with a smile and rise next day bewildering all his critics by going in to capture more wickets and leading Sri Lanka to victory. He represented Sri Lanka out there single handedly, the multicultural, multi religious dimension of a Nation struggling to rise after wiping out a three decade long terrorism and with modesty facing all adversity with trade mark Sri Lankan smile and greet to win the hearts and look to the future with optimism. This is a story, an inspiration for generations to come.

An unassuming personality on and off the field, leading a happy family life while engaging in noble charity works with Foundation of Goodness and spending time professionally with his IPL Franchise we managed to meet Murali as he found free time for us to talk about his memories in 2015.

Muttaiha Muralitharan, a name that brings plenty of wonderful and sweet memories to Sri Lankans. Here he started his story from St. Anthony’s College, Katugastota.

Your memories from school days

I was boarded at the St. Anthony’s College Hostel and most of my best memories are from there. I was at the Hostel from an early age till I left College. It was a wonderful experience and had my best time. We had to follow certain rules but still we enjoyed the hostel life, it was all good and memorable. Fr. Stephen was the Principal back then and we had a lot of respect to him and the wardens who were in charge of Hostel. I had many friends in the hostel. Basically all Hosteliers become friends. Then I had many school friends (including class mates) too and we are still in touch. I have three brothers and one went to St. Anthony’s and he was boarded with me at the Hostel while the other two went to Trinity.

Entry into Cricket

I started playing cricket while I was in the Hostel as we do that during free time. Then at the age of 9 (under 9 and under 11 age Groups) I attended Cricket practices as we (Hosteliers) are being encouraged. Mr. Sunil Fernando was my first coach and from there onwards I continued to play cricket. However I played bit of Rugger too. I played for College 2nd XV and then the Principal Fr. Stephen didn’t like me playing Rugger as he was worried that I might get injured and that will hamper my Cricket. So I was asked to give up Rugger and concentrate on Cricket.

Playing for 1st XI at St. Anthony’s College Katugastota

I played for 3 years (1989-1991 under Ruwan Kalpage, Suresh De Alwis and Nuwan Kalpage) and I was really excited when I was selected to the 1st XI squad in 1989 but do not remember my first match now. My memorable match was winning the Trinity – Antonian (Hill Capital Battle of the Blues) big match in 1990 where we won it early on the 2nd day.

Muralitharan took 12 for 95 runs against Trinity College at the ‘Battle of the Blues’ in Kandy which includes 6 for 36 and 6 for 59. St. Anthony’s College won the Schools Cricket Championship in 1991 under Nuwan Kalpage as Antonians won 06 matches out of 17 matches they played while remaining unbeaten. Murali sets a new Schools record during this season by being the first School boy to capture 100 wickets in consecutive seasons and also creating a new record by ending the season with 127 wickets. Also their opening batsmen Sajith Fernando scored 1000 runs for the season.

Picking up spin bowling ‘Off Spin’ at School level and becoming a mystery spinner setting couple of School Records

Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year 1991

Everyone has certain abilities, you inherit some skills and you need to find out in what areas you are good at and then develop on those areas. My bowling skills were developed over a period of time and the coaches helped me and gave advice (he started as a Medium pace Bowler and his mentor Mr. Sunil Fernando asked him to change his bowling style and he became an Off Spin bowler). I never thought of achieving records or even dreamt of playing for the 1st XI. I just grabbed the opportunities whenever it was opened and wanted to do well.

Growing up in a family of four brothers

I’m sure our parents would have felt that managing four boys in one house will not be an easy task, so they sent us to two schools in Kandy (St. Anthony’s College and Trinity College) and kept us in the hostel. We would only meet up (at home) during holidays as we spent most of our lives at Hostels. Though I was playing for St. Anthony’s, my two brothers who were in Trinity used to support their College during the big match time.

The first Test debut for Sri Lanka

It was in 1992 (28th of August) against Australia in Colombo at the R. Premadasa Stadium that I debuted. I was surprised and nervous a lot when called up to play for the Sri Lanka team. Test Cricket is the highest format one can play in Cricket. I was very nervous when bowling the first few balls and then I settled down as I progressed (Murali captured his first Test wicket – Craig McDermott LBW for 09 runs and ended the first innings with figures of 17 overs, 2 maidens, 01 wicket for 32 runs and took 02 wickets for 109 runs in the 2nd innings, the wickets of Tom Moody and Mark Waugh in consecutive balls (Mark Waugh was out for a first ball duck).

The approach to bowling

Every time before I bowl, I plan each ball by studying the batsman. At times it works and at times it doesn’t. The batsman takes control of you. But you need to keep on trying different things and pursue.

Your reaction when you were called for throwing for the first time during the 1995 Australian Tour by umpire Darrel Hair

On that tour (Boxing Day Test at MCG, 1995) when I was called for throwing, Arjuna Ranatunga as the Captain and Aravinda de Silva as the Vice Captain were with me and encouraged me and also the team mates. Also the Cricket Board helped me a lot to get through the process and the public was behind me right throughout. So I was confident and was not worried. This helped me to face the situation.

We were not professionals during the early 90’s (when I started playing) but that 1995 tour and then winning the 1996 World Cup changed a lot of things, especially the future of Cricket in Sri Lanka. We became much stronger and a professional team too. We all did well, as individuals and as teams. Since then we came to two World Cup Finals (2007 & 2011), semifinals (2003) and also won the T20 World Cup (2014). So I believe as a country Sri Lanka is doing well and we are just second behind to Australia in terms of our performances at World Cup.

Memorable wickets at International level

Well, all wickets are important and then again I have taken more than 1000 international wickets. So it is not easy to recall the best ones. I think the wicket of Martin Crowe which I took in 1992 (at S.S.C Colombo) will top my list. My personal best performance was 16 for 220 runs against England in 1998. It was a one off Test match at The Oval (England) and we wanted to do well and win it somehow.

Murali’s first five wicket haul was 5 for 104 in South Africa’s first innings in Moratuwa, 1993. His wickets include Kepler Wessels, Hansie Cronje and Jonty Rhodes. The best performance in Tests was 7 for 155 and 9 for 65 v England, at the Oval in 1998. This was in Sri Lanka’s first Test victory in England and comes solely due to an inspirational performance by Muralitharan. His 16 for 220 is the fifth-best analysis in Tests at the time; his 9 for 65 in England’s second innings is seventh best on the all-time list. Only Alec Stewart’s run-out prevented Murali from picking up all 10 wickets in that innings

You have played almost two decades of International Cricket from the times of Arjuna Ranathunga to Kumar Sangakkara (in total 07 Test Captains). How would you rate them and how did you adapt?

I played under Arjuna & Aravinda. Personally I can say the Best Captain was Arjuna purely for his leadership qualities and his style of captaincy. We also did well under him but all others have different styles. You have to adapt to their styles and play your game. In fact, I have played under various overseas franchisees and 7 years of County Cricket. There too I adapted to their styles and cultures and played my natural game.

You are an icon for Sri Lanka, you were promoting peace and harmony when the country was in trouble. What made you to do that?

Murali filled our cover, 2nd issue of Quadrangle in 2015

My school taught me about life. I learned this at the Hostel. To live in harmony with each other, especially when friends come from different communities, religious and ethnic backgrounds. Our hostel was accommodating Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists, Tamils all equally. We respected each other and we had a wonderful time. So I continue to practice this.

Also we grew up in this country. We all are passionate about our country. We have our likes and dislikes. You were brought up here. Rather than complaining every time, we should do our part for the country. Irrespective of whether you are a Sri Lankan player or a spectator you need to support and stand by your Country. That’s our duty. We will face good times as well as bad times. So we need to be united and stand for the country, always.

You engage with lots of charity work specially with the Foundation of Goodness.

Yes. We started these charity works through Foundation of Goodness, initiated by Kushil Gunasekera about 14 to 15 years ago and so many people have joined us now. Actually we’ve done a lot to communities. We have sustainable community models designed to assist rural communities and to empower the disadvantaged communities. It’s very difficult to say how much we’ve done. Kushil is in the forefront of these works and I support him. We provide assistance to about 25,000 families in South and another ten to fifteen thousands in North each year. We have many sectors that are being covered which include sports too. We’ve done rural community development works from Seenigama in South to Maankulam in North. I really enjoy these works and achieve deep satisfaction.

Are you planning to engage in Cricket Administration too, especially with Sri Lanka Cricket

I’m not interested in engaging in Cricket Administration or commentating but I’m engaged as Spin Coach for Sunrisers Hyderabad. I spent most of my time with my family and also on charity works.

Any message you’d like to share with the present generation?

You need to do whatever you do with your best effort and with your best conscious

Here are Murali’s favourites

Favourite food: Chinese

Favourite Drink: Mango Juice

Favourite Cricket venue: Newlands, South Africa

Favourite place to spend time: Kandy

Favourite past time: following sports, especially rugby

Role model: None, I want to be my self

What you dislike: People not being punctual, wasting time and failing to work on time.

 

FACT FILE

Full name:       Muttiah Muralitharan

Born:               April 17, 1972, Kandy

Major teams Sri Lanka (1992-2011), ICC World XI, Asia XI, Chennai Super Kings, Royal Challengers Bangalore, Kochi Tuskers Kerala, Gloucestershire, Kent, Lancashire, Melbourne Renegades, Tamil Union Cricket and Athletic Club, Wellington, Jamaica Tallawahs

Batting style Right-hand bat

Bowling style Right-arm offbreak

Education St Anthony’s College, Kandy

Format (International) Matches Wickets Average 5 Wickets 10 Wickets
Tests 133 800 22.72 67 22
ODI 350 534 23.08 10
T 20 12 13 22.84

Achievements

Schools Cricket: St. Anthony’s College 1st XI Cricket (1989-1991)

First bowler to capture 100 wickets or more in consecutive Schools Cricket seasons (1990 and 1991)

1990/1991 Season: 127 wickets for the season in 16 matches (a schools record, previous record 119 wickets taken by Gamini Perera of Dharmapala College 1982)

Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 1991

Best Bowler of the Year in 1991

Best Match figures

15 for 105 against St. Benedict’s College

12 for 95 against Trinity College (Big Match)

12 for 97 against St. Joseph’s College

11 for 86 against St. Anne’s College Kurunegala

10 for 103 against Zahira College

Sri Lanka:

Most International Test wickets: 800

Most International ODI wickets: 534

Most International wickets: 1347

Most international 5 wickets in an inning: 77

Most international 10 wickets in a Test match: 22

Most ‘Man of the Series’ awards: 11

Quickest bowler to reach 400 Test wickets, 500 Test wickets, 600 Test wickets, 700 Test wickets and 800 Test wickets.

1996 World Cup winner

Murali also spent a record 214 Tests and 1,711 days in the number one spot of the ICC Cricket rankings.

 

(This article was first published in 02nd edition of Quadrangle Magazine in 2015 and since then it has been updated)

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