Saturday, 4 August 2007

The Kings of Spin

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.

Additional information
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."


Samir Chopra said...

I made a World XI consisting only of modern players and I picked Warne as my spinner. There is very little to pick between them but I think leggies trump offies every time as they are not so reliant upon the pitch aiding them. As a bonus, Warne is a good thinker, a decent #8, and a very good slip catcher. He is a bit of dickwad and in this department Murali is several light-years ahead of him, so if personality issues arise in selection, you might want to go with Murali :)

Richard Lake said...

Shane Warne made spin bowling sexy again. After the 70s and 80s and the predominance of pace attacks, Warne has revolutionised the game and there are now more leg spinners around than ever before. He's also the best captain Australia never had and in the Ashes series 2005 he was the reason it was the classic series it was rather than a comprehensive England victory.

Of the others, Laker is too associated with one game to be elevated into these echelons and the fact that I don't know a lot about O'Reilly, whereas I do about other players of the same era means that he may have been a great bowler but his impact on the game was not huge.

Murali, I'm afraid I can't consider because of his action. He may have been cleared several times over, but that was only after the rules had been changed so that he was alright. By allowing his action, he is allowed to bowl balls that cannot be legally bowled. It also needs to be remembered he is and always has been the SL main bowler and hasn;t had the same competition that Warne has had for his wickets with Glen McGrath, Jason Gillespie and the other Aussie quicks.

Tim said...

Richard - surely it is a disadvantage to Murali to, along with Vaas, be Sri Lanka's only Test class bowler (at least until Malinga)? He has had to carry the attack, and cope with all the expectations that go with that. If Warne was having a bad day, he would normally be shielded to some extent; Murali would always have to bowl a considerable amount, even in conditions that were not conducive to his bowling style. In terms of total wickets then of course Murali is at an advantage; but certainly not in terms of average.

Richard Lake said...

I don't agree Tim. Murali probably gets played defensively more often as there are always runs scoring opportunities at the other end. This allows him to settle and even if he's not taking wickets, he's not conceding runs.

If Warne has a bad day, he will get attacked much more quickly than Murali who even on a bad day is still head and shoulders above the rest of his team mates

Tim said...

But then Warne has pressure building from both ends. As you said, batsmen have little need to attack Murali, which must surely mean less of his wickets occur when batsmen are trying to attack to break the stranglehold? With McGrath and Gillespie at the other end, some players would have looked to attack Warne, out of desperation as much as anything else.

Anyway, agree to disagree!

Nick Gammons said...

It is true that Warne revived the art of leg-spin bowling and he made himself into a decent attacking batsman, as well as being a brilliant slip fielder and cricket brain, but this spot is for the spin bowler.

In this regard Muralitharan is superior in every way. His stats are better and he has had the burden of carrying the bowling attack for most of his career. Unlike Warne Murali could not rely on top class opening bowlers ripping through the top order or teams being intimidated by playing against the best Test nation.

Murali had to do most of it himself, as well as coping with the vindictive attacks on his action as many sought to discredit him and thus prevent him achieving greatness.

In any conditions, in any innings, Murali will deliver, which is why he is the best spinner (maybe the best bowler, full stop) that has ever played cricket.

Mark said...

Here we go again!

Murali was 'cleared' in that the ICC changed the rules to accomodate his action and therefore branded almost every bowler a 'chucker' - including Glen McGrath and Michael Holding.

Yes, he's been an effective bowler against all opposition and his stats stack up well against Warne's, but he's done that through having a patently illegal delivery.

In the last World Cup Sky often used a 'behind the bowlers' arm camera so you could follow the flight of the ball in slow motion down the wicket. For every bowler but one, you saw the entire arm... for just one, the picture was cut off at the wrist.

Ask any professional cricketer you happen to know what they think of Murali's action. They'll only speak off the record, and the replies I've had have been unprintable.

Ask the same cricketers what they think of Warne and they'l bore you to death with positive stories.

Here's a recent addition to the reasons why we should give thanks for Shane Warne - he's turned Chris Tremlett into a decent test bowler.

Nick Gammons said...

On the contrary, the ICC were embarassed to find that when they investigated Muralitharan's action for the fourth time evidence showed that if his action was illegal so were many other international bowlers' actions. This lead them to admit that Murali had probably been unfairly victimised.

I'm sure if I asked Arjuna Ranatuga he might have a different view on Murali than other professionals. But frankly the only views that should be trusted in this are the biomechanical experts who have tested Murali several times, including his doosra, and they have cleared him every time.

I would rather concentrate on Murali's brilliance and enjoy his performances while he's still playing. Test cricket will be all the poorer when he's retired.