The Electronic Telegraph carries daily news and opinion from the UK and around the world.

The most unorthodox of the orthodox who can turn game

By Mark Nicholas

31 August 1998

SHOULD Sri Lanka complete their first Test match win on these shores today they will do so through the extravagant gifts of three quite remarkable cricketers.

We already know of Aravinda de Silva, World Cup winner and hero of the hop county, and we have learned fast about Sanath Jayasuriya, the Graeme Pollock of his day, who destroys spirit among the brotherhood of bowling just as fast as he destroys their figures. But only now, with the thrill of a truly dry pitch for his pleasure, are we finding out about Muttiah Muralitharan, the most unorthodox of the orthodox, the most irresistible sort-of-finger spinner in the game.

When Murali finally found a way through Angus Fraser on Friday afternoon he passed the 193 Test wickets taken by Jim Laker in four fewer matches. After Lance Gibbs, Derek Underwood and Bishen Bedi he has now taken more wickets with finger spin than any man. And this, achieved by a chap who has suffered the humiliation of a ``chucker controversy''.

That he emerged from accusation and analysis with his self-esteem intact is something; that he has gone on to outwit opponents from all corners of the cricketing universe is something else again. Clearly this is a man of courage, of intelligence and of skill.

There was a beautiful passage of play yesterday afternoon when Muralitharan suckered Mark Butcher to his end. For a couple of overs he passed Butcher's outside edge, throwing the ball up high and straight and allowing it to suddenly dip before spinning sharply past the groping defence. Once, in response, Butcher allowed himself a chasse down the pitch and an expressive drive over the head of short extra cover but Murali licked his lips, rubbed his magical palms with glee and, in his own calm retort, floated more viscious spinners past the Butcher bat.

The world seems to close in on a batsman who is so oppressed. Reason departs and is replaced by panic - ``Do I lead with pad or bat? I must not lunge with both together. For how long can I play a miss? I must not be shackled, I must attack this demon.'' So Butcher tried the chasse again but this time, fatally, he left his crease just a split second before Muralitharan released the ball. The bowler dragged the fizzer shorter by a foot, beat the batsman's desperate lurch and had him stumped by a country mile. Dreamy, old-fashioned stuff captured in one man's artistry.

But Muralitharan is different again from what has gone before. He controls the ball from his fingers but uses an enormous flick of the wrist to increase the revolutions which make the ball spin so. He is not a 'drifter' in the way that, say, Fred Titmus was, or Robert Croft is now, someone who swings the ball towards the slips from an off-stump line and then trusts in spin to create the gap between bat and pad. Indeed the dramatic revolutions on the ball rarely come with the seam upright, but instead with the seam turning at random and sometimes bouncing from the pitch quickly, spitting almost, and other times bouncing more evenly.

He bowls from quite wide of the crease, throwing the ball often two feet outside off-stump, which draws the bat away from the 'safe' area underneath the batman's eyes. Because of this it is hard to play from behind the line of Muralitharan's bowling and because of the alarming spin it is a risk to play him off the back foot.

He bowls a top-spinner too which bounces the highest of all his variations. What's more he is beavering away in the nets on the devil of a thing that Saqlain Mushtaq can bowl, the one that darts away off the pitch. What an opponent he will be if he cracks that.

In the meantime England have quite enough on their hands. It is Murali, and Murali alone, they must conquer today to save face.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
Editorial comments can be sent to The Electronic Telegraph at
Contributed by CricInfo Management

Date-stamped : 31 Aug1998 - 11:02