Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Greatest Test XI: Muttiah Muralitharan

To conclude our Greatest Test XI of the last century we pick our number eleven.

Muttiah Muralitharan’s greatness is simply indisputable. He and Shane Warne have been the focal points for a ‘golden age’ of spin bowling; and together, subjected to near-constant comparison. Together, they constitute the ultimate spin-bowling dream team.

Murali has perennially been accused of ‘chucking’, but on each occasion he has been cleared; it would be churlish to deny him a place in this Greatest Test XI because of doubts over the legitimacy of his action. Amidst all the controversy, though, he has continued to improve; he has revolutionised the art of off-spin by perfecting several variations, including the infamous doosra. The nature of his action enables him to extract turn from almost every surface.

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 (two lower than Warne), 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.

He has been the single biggest factor in Sri Lanka’s emergence as a true Test force; he is of course lethal at home (and took 28 Tests in Australia’s three-Test series in Sri Lanka in 2004) but his finest moments have surely been away from home. Murali took 16 and 11 wickets in memorable victories in England; on a wearing pitch, there is no bowler you would rather have.

Statistically, as Charles Dawes illustrated in an article in Wisden Australia, he is certainly the greatest spinner of all time. Murali is unique; he has captivated audiences with his box of tricks and sheer enthusiasm for the game. As Steve Waugh put it, he is “the Don Bradman of bowling”.

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