Murali Rides into the sunset with 800

On Thursday, 23rd of July, 2010, Muttiah Muralitharan (or is that Muralidaran?) threw down his last delivery in Test cricket.  It took his 800th wicket.   And thus ended the most successful, most controversial and from some perspectives, the most celebrated bowling career in Test cricket.

On paper, Murali’s achievements bring tears to any statistician’s eyes.  Find any individual bowling record list and Murali will be at or near the top.  The most wickets taken (could 800 every be topped?) in Tests.  I’m glad he got to 800 wickets – 799 would have given Murali a Bradmanesque mystique that is not warranted.  The most five wicket hauls (67 – more than double 2nd place), the most ten wicket hauls (22 – more than double 2nd place, Shane Warne (always Warnie)).  Most illegal deliveries.  Most wickets taken with illegal deliveries.  The list goes on.   And don’t start on his one day record.  That will take even longer.

But to Sri Lankan cricket, Murali was much, much more than just statistics.  Murali was its heart and soul for many years.  They could not win without Murali.  In the whole of Sri Lankan Test history, they have had just one other bowler (Vaas).  The ICC recognised this and changed the rules for Murali.  There is no other way to say this:  Murali was and is a chucker and the rules were changed to keep him in the game.  For me, this must taint all of his achievements.

I won’t take away from Murali’s heart or abilty.  He was a fierce competitor and a fine character.  I guess debate will always rage over whether he chucked or not and about his permanently bent elbow.  But the fact remains that it more than 100 years for an off spinner to bowl a Doosra (the “googly” of the off break bowler) and the only way it can be done is by bending the elbow.

Murali’s final numbers:

800 test wickets at 22.72

1267 test runs at 11.67

Murali in delivery stride

Murali demonstrates 15 degrees for the updated Cricket Law Book

Unexpected Honours

Australia has conquered Pakistan at Lord’s and the only real surprises came from the Australian final bowling analysis.  Australian batsmen, Watson and North may have failed with the bat but they both took their best hauls in Tests. Watson (5-40) and North (6-55) now unexpectedly find themselves on the honour board at Lord’s.

Apparently there is a new board at Lord’s.  Traditionally there have been home team and visitors honour boards for centuries and five wicket hauls.  Now there is one for neutral teams.  It seems a lengthy measure for an occurrence that would appear to be rare, even given Pakistan’s current homeless status.

In the most recent neutral Test at Lord’s, Australia played South Africa in 1912 and the Australians, Kelleway and Bardsley both made centuries.  I wonder if their names will be retro-fitted to the new board.

In more recent news, Sri Lanka and India have just started the 1st Test, being played at Galle.  Sri Lanka are batting and it looks like this will be a high scoring affair.  For those of you who are not aware, this is Muralitharan’s final Test series.  He is closing in on 800 Test wickets (792) and his team mates are currently laying a good platform for him (2/240) and the other Sri Lankan bowlers.

The Long, Slippery Slope

Hooray!  Finally, some Test cricket.  Hello, to all my readers (including those spamming scoundrels from the Christmas Islands).  It has been a long time.

I am truly glad that the cricketing powers of Australia and Pakistan saw fit to start the Test series after the one and only, true, World Cup concluded.  And the Championships.  It’s the only excuse I can thinking of for continuing with mind-numbing one day fixtures.

It is good to see Pakistan giving Australia a good touch up.  And not surprising either, given the swinging ball and some quality bowlers.  England may be a good home venue for Pakistan.  Still, it is early days yet.  Australia has scrambled to 250 and Pakistan has yet to bat.  Trivia: This is the first neutral Test to be held in England since 1912 (when a tri-series was held between England, Australia and South Africa.  Yes – a tri-series – there is indeed, nothing new in the world).

More trivia: Before this match, Ponting’s average at Lords’ was less than 19.  He had scored just 109 runs in three Tests.  Clearly, he is not on the honour board at Lords’ and this Test gave him a bonus chance – probably a final chance – to get there.  If you ask me, Ponting is on the decline.  He is almost 36 years old.  He has retired from T20 cricket.  He didn’t exactly shoot the lights out in the recent five match series against England.  So we shall see.

Is Australia on the slippery slope?  The captain is struggling, key players are old and/or injured and the team is struggling.  England raced to a series winning 3-0 lead in the recent one day series.  Nothing to get too excited about – I’m sure most Englishmen would have taken that three and given it to a certain football team.  Perhaps the current summer is going to be more of a Test for Australia than some envisaged.

I wonder if the game of cricket itself is on the slippery slope.  I find the John Howard affair deeply troubling.  Whether or not you think Howard is suited to the job is neither here nor there.  Some might say he loves cricket and is an astute politician and would do a good job.  Others might say that it is a slap in the face for cricket administrators who have served the game all of their lives, know the intricacies of cricket, and have earned a chance at the top job.

What troubles me is that India, and hangers-on are going to rule the game inequitably for one reason:  Because they can.  They have already shown that they are not afraid to wield their power (remember the threat to go home from the last Indian tour of Australia?).  In the early eighties, India showed a favourable disposition to One Day Cricket.  It was hard to get them to engage in Tests.  That was before they were a super power in cricket.  Now they are the Super Power.

And now we have One Day cricket and T20.  And all that money.  I believe that Test cricket is under threat more now than at any other time.  And Test cricket to me is what it is all about.  No other form of the game plumbs the limits of skill and character.  Not even close.

I hope Australia and New Zealand sticks with Howard, simply on principle.  It is the turn of Australia and New Zealand to chose an nominee.  Blocking the applicant is just not cricket.  On 10 July Australia announced that it will continue to back Howard..  Australia and New Zealand have until 13 August to make a final decision and submit it to the ICC.  Until then, I’ll try to enjoy Pakistan’s home series in England.