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Murali vs Australia


The recent retirement of the SL legendary spinner Muttiah Muralidharan has led to a new spark on the debate of his controversial action. Interestingly, the two umpires who have called him for throwing are both Australian and one – Darrell Hair apparently called him seven times in three overs at the MCG, Boxing Day, Big Test crowd and all that. The fact that they were Australian has got nothing to do with them upholding the MCC laws of cricket at the time of call, but it has got a lot to do with the aftermath relationship strain between the two teams. Mahela Jayawardene, in his recent article on cricinfo is quoted saying that he hasn’t played a single test at the MCG or the SCG or the WACA. Whoa! Clearly a cricketer of his calibre must have played in all conditions was my initial thought. These three grounds are arguably the best, historic grounds at Australia. This led to some archive searching and even more interesting facts were revealed: Stats show that Srilanka has played Australia in Australia only 10 times from 1988 to 2007. That’s a 20 year time span with just 10 matches. And no test matches were played between 1995 to 2004. 1995 Boxing day test match was when Murali was no-balled seven times by Darrell Hair.



The Murali controversy is only part of the story that tells about the fractious relationship between the two teams. The other incident that put a seal on all future tour programs involving Srilanka in Australia is the bombing that happened around the start of the 1996 World Cup.  Here’s what Steve Waugh had to say about all this in his autobiography: ”With each subsequent call the reason became apparent and the embarrassment to Murali grew ever more acute. It was difficult to watch someone being slaughtered in front of the world audience: surely it didn’t have to get to this point, where potentially a career was being forever altered? Murali became a pawn in a battle of wills between Ranatunga, who would never back down even if he knew he was wrong and an obdurate Fred Flintsone lookalike, Darrell Hair. To his credit, Hair stuck to his guns, calling it as he saw it unlike other umpiers who privately agreed with Hair’s stance byt publicly dodged the tough calls. I was a fence-sitter, at times thinking “This guy is dodgy” and at other moments thinking “This guy is a freak” “. Further trouble was brewing, with Australia due to play its opening match of the 1996 World Cup in Colombo.  A number of players including McGrath, Healy, Warne and McDermott received death and bomb threats. Graham Halbish, the ACB CEO assured us that we would be afforded the same security arrangements as a visiting head of state. “Jeez what is the game coming to?” I thought. Halbish obviously had to keep an eye on cricket’s bigger picture and after listening to our concerns he countered “If you decide to pull out of that first game, it will take at least 10 years to rectify the situation”.


Two days after this re-assurance, a bomb was detonated near the hotel where the Australians were meant to stay and that sealed the fate of the match. Australians forfeited the match.

Srilankan cricket team, in my opinion is a decent test team. They have a decent batting line up (Mahela, Sangakkara, Dilshan) and reasonably good bowling unit too (arguably better than India). It is sad that such a team hasn’t toured Australia in the last 3 years and challenged them at their home. Instead of having such interesting test match clashes, we have Srilanka and India competing against each other home and away for the last 2 years non-stop. I mean, we are neighboring countries within the same sub-continent and what’s the big difference between our pitches anyway? Both are batting paradises that will prodigiously turn in the last 2 days of a test match and two teams that are equally skilled in playing on such lifeless pitches make for an utterly boring contest. The beauty of Test cricket is the influence of these variable conditions on the course of the match and India vs. Srilanka  in India or Srilanka kills that beauty. Look at the recent test match Day 1 scorecard.

Murali, in my opinion is a clever bowler with a physical advantage by birth. He took 800 wickets, highest of all time but he has never won a test in India, South Africa or Australia. Australia and Murali are shrouded by controversy, but never winning in India or South Africa is a gaping hole in his career. Even though he has never won a test match in these countries, his wicket-taking record is pretty good. He has fared better at South Africa in terms of runs/wicket ratio (26 as opposed to 45 in India).  All spinner records are poor against India, because the Indian team is just too good at thrashing quality spinners out of the park. Warne fared better than Murali in South Africa, but when you compare the two against England/New Zealand/Pakistan, Murali fared better than Warne at least by 2-3 points. The chucking call against him was legally correct according to the established laws of cricket at that time (there was no specification on the arm straightening angle at that time). He became an obvious case at fault, showing the law’s deficiencies and thereby forcing scientific research on this arm straightening phenomenon – eventually leading to a law amendment of 15 degree limit on arm straightening. The research concluded that if the straightening is more than 15 degrees, it will be visible to the naked eye. The law was subjective and in Murali’s case, the action was very obviously suspect because of its unusual nature. There are several laws that continue to be ambiguous and they can never be perfect, because laws are also subject to human frailty.


History will always associate Murali with chucking because of the controversy and its after-effects, but that does not take away what he has achieved as a player. There is overwhelming scientific evidence to show the facts amidst all the noise, but they are almost always ignored by the nay-sayers. At the end of the day, he is a solid player and a tremendous asset to the SL team. That much is certain.

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