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Battle of spinners hots up

cricket Updated: Jul 22, 2008 02:30 IST
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Spin bowlers will be the centre of attention during the Test series between India and Sri Lanka starting in Colombo on Wednesday as three stars with a combined tally of more than 1,600 wickets do battle.

Sri Lankan off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan leads the trio with a record 735 Test scalps, followed by the Indian duo of leg-spinner Anil Kumble (608) and off-spinner Harbhajan Singh (275).

Rarely has a Test series seen such a combination of spinners with so many wickets under their belts and, although they have different styles each is a proven match-winner.

And adding to the talent is Sri Lanka’s latest sensation Ajantha Mendis, who is expected to make his Test debut after commendable performances in one-day internationals.

However, Harbhajan recently said Muralitharan would be a bigger threat in the series than Mendis, despite the youngster’s impressive show in the shorter version of the game.

Muralitharan has been his side’s key spinner since his Test debut in 1992 and has contributed immensely in making Sri Lanka a formidable bowing outfit away from home.

He is a big turner of the ball and has outwitted the world’s best batsmen with the “doosra”, a delivery that turns away from the right-handers instead of coming into them like a conventional off-break.

Muralitharan’s action has been questioned in the past, but the controversy did not affect his performance. He has bagged five or more wickets in a Test innings 63 times and 10 or more in a match on 20 occasions, both records.

Kumble, the Indian Test captain, is a bowler with a difference. He is not a big turner of the ball like Muralitharan or retired Australian leg-spinner Shane Warne, but has consistently won matches for his team.

Kumble is faster through the air and always difficult to get away because of his accuracy. He is only the second bowler in Test history to take 10 wickets in an innings after England’s Jim Laker.

He took over as India captain last year, losing a four-Test series in Australia after a close contest but winning at home against Pakistan and drawing against South Africa.

Kumble has found an able ally in Harbhajan, who rose to fame in 2001 when he took 32 wickets in three home Tests to script his team’s 2-1 victory over Steve Waugh’s formidable Australians.

Like Muralitharan, Harbhajan’s career has had its controversies. His action has also been called into question on a couple of occasions, especially when he bowls the “doosra”.

He also recently served a ban for five one-day internationals after slapping India team-mate Shanthakumaran Sreesanth during the IPL in April.