How do you begin to appreciate someone who has taken 792 Test wickets and could well end with 800? One way is to look at where Sri Lankan cricket was before Muttiah Muralitharan came on in 1992 and see where it is now. No team can afford to take Sri Lanka lightly anymore and Murali has been the single instrumental factor in transforming the team into a force to reckon with.
Whenever you talk about Sri Lanka, Murali's name comes up, but his strength has been the ability to look beyond individual performance and contribute to the building of the team.
Of course he's had more than his fair share of controversy, but Murali is a unique bowler. The kind of action he has, it's not something you can recommend to a young offie. Countless cricketers have tried to copy him, without success.
It's interesting that Sachin Tendulkar compared Murali's role with mine. Our careers have run parallel for many years and when you see that Murali has played exactly the same number of Tests as me and taken 173 wickets more you understand the magnitude of his achievement.
When we began, the mark to look forward to for any spinner was the 309 wickets taken by Lance Gibbs. Murali has not just gone past Gibbs and Warne and everyone else, he has set a standard that will be difficult to match. In that sense his retirement is the end of an era.
Murali and I have followed each others' careers closely, and though a lot is said about my friendship with Warney, Murali and I had much more chance to interact because we played each other so much. The fact that I spoke a bit of Tamil never hurt either. What I'm also happy about is that Murali has been able to go out on his own terms, at his favourite ground. People will say he could have played till the end of this series, but Murali knows his body best.
Every time I reached a milestone, he would call to congratulate me, and I always had the option of congratulating him in advance, because he was often 30 short of a mark, and that meant one series for him!
When Murali spoke about retirement I would tease him, saying that even if he wanted to go, the president of Sri Lanka would not let him. That was always a bit of a joke, but there's a ring of truth to it. The time might be right for Murali, but Sri Lanka will want him to continue. When a man of his stature calls it quits, he leaves big shoes to fill on the field, and an emotional vacuum off it.