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Murali’s tryst with destiny and the number ‘8’

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Last updated on 17 Apr 2023 | 09:07 AM
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Murali’s tryst with destiny and the number ‘8’

There are two types of people in the world when it comes to Murali - the ones who believed that he was a true magician while the others doubted him

Muttiah Muralitharan started the Boxing Day Test in MCG in 1995 with 80 Test wickets. In the Test match, umpire Darrell Hair no-balled Murali many times for his bowling action. Tony Greig in the commentary box said, "This could be the last time he bowls in a Test match."

Three weeks later, in an ODI against Australia, he was no-balled by umpire Ross Emerson. He no-balled Murali even for bowling leg-breaks. This time, Greig said, "It is impossible to throw a leg-spinner."

Three years later, in 1999, during an ODI against England, yet again in Australia, Emerson no-balled him from the square-leg position. At this point, Murali had over 200 Test wickets.

Skipper Arjuna Ranatunga talked to the umpire. There was enough finger-pointing between the umpires and Ranatunga and the latter took the players off the field. They later returned and play was resumed after a 12-minute break and Murali was allowed to bowl.

By 2004, Murali was cleared for his action as the ICC agreed on a 15-degree extension limit.

There are two types of people in the world when it comes to Murali. The first category believed that he was a true magician. The second category doubted him.

Ian Chappell, at the time of the controversy, said: "I am not convinced that you should be throwing a guy out of the game because he can do things that other people cannot."

What matters is the fact that he went from 80 Test wickets to 800 Test wickets, the most by any bowler. He carried the Sri Lankan bowling attack for 18 years.

In Tests, Murali accounted for 41.55% of the total wickets taken by Sri Lanka in matches involving him. In ODIs, where he could bowl a maximum of 10 overs, he pocketed 23.5% of the wickets. Think about the amount of bowling required to be such a massive contributor to the country. 

And can you imagine Murali delivering over 63,000 balls in international cricket alone with that complex action? That run-up, the inimitable action and those scary eyes?

"He tipy-toed in like a Ballerina. Then big eyes and come over the top and it felt like facing 14 balls at once", described Matthew Hayden.

Before his final Test, the first of the series between India and Sri Lanka in 2010, Murali announced he will retire. Eight wickets away from 800 wickets, he may have got there, or he may have not. It was a strange call since he was giving himself only the first Test and not the entire series.

Years ago, in the Kandy Test against Zimbabwe in 2002, Murali was stranded on a nine-wicket haul in an innings overnight. The next morning, Kumar Sangakkara made an inadvertent and successful appeal for caught behind against the bowling of Chaminda Vaas, keeping Murali stuck at 9/51. 

Sanga was the captain of the team this time in Murali's final Test. Surely, he would assure there is no mishap like the one eight years ago. It was one of those rare moments when the game was more about the individual than the outcome of the match. The touring Indian side were on the mat anyways.  

After a 15-over wait between the ninth and the tenth wicket in India’s second innings, Murali got there taking the last wicket of Pragyan Ojha, caught by Mahela Jayawardene. Murali finished with exactly 800 wickets (out of which five are for the ICC XI). It was the 106th occasion of the ‘c Jayawardene b Murali’ entry in Test cricket, the most bowler/fielder combination in Test cricket to produce a wicket. It was a fairytale ending of the highest order. 

The number 8 has incidentally appeared many times in this story. Born on this day in 1972, even the sum of Murali's birth date - '17' - leads to the number 8. No wonder '08' was also Murali's jersey number for 18 years before he switched to 800 for an obvious reason.

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