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Cricket World Rewind: #OnThisDay - Muttiah Muralitharan is born - spin wizard par excellence

Sri Lanka's Muttiah Muralitharan in action bowling

April 17, 1972 - Muralitharan's unusual action and magician-like hands made him a nightmare for batters. While batsmen knew that he would dish out off-spin more often than not, the action prompted them to play the other way.


As he developed the Doosra, the offie came under the scanner for throwing. It was Darrel Hair who called him for throwing at the MCG in 1995-96. Having made his debut in 1992, Murali was young in his career and had only picked up 80 wickets then.


He continued to combat the claim of throwing and even bowled on television in a special cast, going through his entire repertoire to try and convince the doubters. Till date, the Sri Lankan legend continues to divide opinion. Some feel that he is the greatest off-spinner to play the game and gave an edge to the offies. Others feel that the rules of the game were bended to accommodate him.


Be that as it may, the Sri Lankan reached 800 wickets with his last ball in Tests to complete a fairytale ending to a storied career in international cricket. The record of most Test wickets will remain with him for a long, long time. Currently, James Anderson with 584 Test wickets is the closest to his tally among active players.


In the home conditions of Sri Lanka where the pitches are conducive for spin bowling, Murali was almost unplayable. Muralitharan picked up 493 wickets from 73 Tests at home at an unbelievable average of 19.56 with best figures of 9-51.


He took five wickets in an innings on 45 occasions in Sri Lanka, while he took 10 or more wickets in a game 15 times, both of which are phenomenal achievements.


From 60 Tests outside Sri Lanka, Muralitharan picked 307 wickets at 27.79 - not bad by any stretch. In fact, he averaged less than 30 with the ball in every country except India and Australia, and finished a remarkable Test career with more than 100 wickets against India, England and South Africa. In Australia, Murali didn't enjoy much success as he averaged 75.41 in five games Down Under.


 Muralitharan not only picked up heaps of wickets, but also did the bulk of the bowling for his team. The off-spinner was the undoubted leader of the Sri Lanka attack, and he played that role for almost two decades. He was forced to bowl a large number of overs, and ended up bowling more balls—44,039—than anyone else in the history of Test cricket.


Each of Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer and Adam Gilchrist boast of pretty impressive records against most bowlers in world cricket. But all three of the Australian batting greats struggle against the wizardry of Muralitharan.


"Murali gave me more sleepless nights than anyone," says Australian head coach Justin Langer. "He had this really unusual action – which is very well-documented but it was like a magician; it came out of his hand, and my mind knew he was bowling off-spinners but because of the way he released the ball it looked like he was bowling leg-spinners. It was an absolute nightmare to be honest; he was so accurate, you couldn’t score off him, he’d spin it a mile and he was also an unbelievable competitor.”


Murali has 67 five-wicket hauls from 133 Tests, or one every two Tests - more than anyone else. The next best is Shane Warne with 37 Test fifers, a shocking gap of 30 five-wicket hauls! He's also taken 10 wickets in a Test match on 22 occasions. Murali's best figures in a single Test 16/220, came against England in August 1998.


While it may often fly under the radar, Murali is also the top wicket-taker in ODIs. He got past Wasim Akram's tally of 502 ODI wickets in February 2009 and ended his career after the 2011 World Cup final, with a record 534 ODI wickets at 23.08.


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