In a sport that naturally favours the one brandishing the willow, Muttiah Muralitharan is not only the lethal destroyer of batting reputations, but he is also now the biggest collector of batsmen’s scalps. On Monday, he became Test cricket’s highest wicket-taker when his sinuous delivery crashed into Paul Collingwood’s middle and off stumps. The English batsman walking back to his dressing room in Kandy became Murali’s 709th Test victim — one up on fellow spinner Shane Warne who now thinks the 35-year-old Sri Lankan could jolly well aim and get his 1,000th wicket.
The right arm off-break bowler who made his Test debut way back in 1992 has come a long way indeed. While the comparisons with Warne have always been there, it wouldn’t be impolite to state that statistically, Murali comes out on top. Not only has the Sri Lankan had an astounding 61 five-wicket hauls to date — way more than the Aussie’s 37 — but he has also managed to get his 708th wicket in 116 Test matches, as compared to Warne taking 145 Tests to ‘get there’. But figures only tell part of the tale. It is the Murali-inspired Sri Lankan side that has run through the finest teams of cricket.
But like in every heroic tale, there is at least one subplot — in the case of Murali, that is about his bent-arm action, caused by a natural defect that doesn’t allow the arm to be ‘straightened’ fully. While the likes of Bishen Singh Bedi have called him a “javelin thrower” and ex-Australian Prime Minister John Howard a “chucker”, the one having the last chuckle is Muralitharan, taker of the highest number of wickets in cricket. In fact, he’s not done with his chuckling yet. Which is bad news for all non-Sri Lanka batsmen everywhere.