To continue the analysis of the short-listed players for the Greatest Test XI of the last century, we look at the four short-listed spinners. At this stage, it is worth pointing out that either one or two can be selected, depending on the balance of the side.
Muttiah Muralitharan has perennially been accused of ‘chucking’ (four times, and counting), but on each occasion he has been cleared. Amidst all his troubles, though, he has continued to improve, adding – and perfecting – a doosra in recent years. It is true that his wickets tally has benefited from a multitude of victims amongst the minnows; but, incredibly, he averages 23.4 if they are excluded, which falls to under 21 during his ‘peak’ years since 2000 as he has learned to become more adaptable and effective outside the sub-continent. What makes this even more impressive is he has had no respite in unfavourable conditions, normally having to bowl nearly 30 overs a day, acting as both stock and strike bowler to claim more than six wickets a game.
Murali has been subjected to innumerable comparisons with Shane Warne, whose world record tally of Test wickets he will soon overtake. Warne is a man whose cricketing contribution transcends statistics; from his ‘ball of the century’, his genius was palpable. This manifests itself not only in his plethora of leg-spinning variations, but also in his mental resilience and cricketing brain; when things are not going his way, Warne is good enough to adjust. The Australian’s ability to deliver when most needed – as during his phenomenal 2005 Ashes – was astonishing; with Warne in the side, his country never knew any need to play with five bowlers. Only India, with their magisterial middle-order batsmen, got the better of him.
Until the emergence of Warne, few doubted Bill O’Reilly’s status as the finest Australian leg-spinner of all time. Although his average of 22.6 is outstanding, his Wisden obituary asserts that “his figures have to be judged by the fact that all but one of his Tests came in the 1930s, when other bowlers were dominated by batsmen to an unprecedented extent. No one ever dominated O'Reilly.” That much is made clear by his extraordinarily frugal economy rate of 1.94. Like Warne, O’Reilly was a true master of his craft, relentlessly consistent and, wrote contemporary R. C. Robertson-Glasgow, able to adjust “pace and trajectory without apparent change in action”. From his 6ft2in frame, O’Reilly also generated unusual pace and bounced for a leg-spinner.
The name of Jim Laker will forever be associated with the 1956 Ashes, during which he claimed an unsurpassed 46 wickets in the series, including the immortal 19 in a Test at Old Trafford. When wickets offered assistance, the off-spinner could be close to unplayable; but, as Laker illustrated in the 1958/59 Ashes, he could be effective in all conditions. He was also a pivotal member of the Surrey side that claimed seven consecutive titles in the 1950s.
Murali and the Bangladesh Factor
The best additional resource is certainly the Cricinfo website.
It is worth noting that, according to the selection criteria, "this notional side will play on an unknown wicket - which means players must have proved themselves in a variety of conditions and, ultimately, those who did best in the trickiest conditions they faced will be in a better position to be selected."