Sunday may be the day when the Indian team achieves the absolute high of becoming the No. 1 Test team in the world but it will also, in all likelihood, mark the last day fans at an Indian cricket ground will see Muttiah Muralitharan in whites. I don’t see him coming back to India to play Test cricket ever again, but then, knowing Murali as well as I do, you never really know.
I have known him almost from the very beginning of his illustrious career and have been a major fan of his bowling. We have enjoyed a special relationship and are really good friends. When I first saw him I marvelled at the amount of turn he got. Of course, he has come a long way and the greatest credit is the statistic that he has directly impacted about 98% of Sri Lanka’s Test wins.
He was almost single-handedly responsible for the Lankans being respected the world over as a top-flight bowling unit. Every team looks at Murali as the danger man and that doesn’t come easy even if he did make taking wickets ever so easy. Murali and I often spoke about spin bowling, how to bowl to certain opponents, what changes to make when bowling in the subcontinent and outside it and egged each other on to do better.
As with on the field, even off it we have remained close. The family is known to me and he is a great guy to have around. He’s close to most of the Indian team members too and my knowing a bit of Tamil too helps when talking to him and understanding his hearty jokes.
He may have decided it is time for him to move on but I am somehow never convinced when he talks about his retirement. It is something he has been saying for a while now and I can understand that his shoulder, that has wheeled away for so long, is no longer holding up. He will, of course, certainly play on till he gets the 800th wicket.
Murali is just 8 wickets away from that landmark and realistically will get there in Lanka’s next series. He may get to bowl one final time but perhaps his captain’s brave knock has come at least one innings too late. His Indian counterpart, MS Dhoni’s century should turn to be the more critical and match-winning one.