Spin King Reigns Supreme

Phil Simms writes: MUTTIAH MURALITHARAN is a cricketing phenomenon and has never been far away from the headlines. To some he is a spin master that can take wickets on any surface at any time of an innings. To others the Sri-Lanka sensation should have been banned years ago, due to his  'suspect' bowling action. But what can't speak can't lie and there is no arguing with his record. Murali, as he is affectionately known, celebrated becoming the leading wicket-taker in Test cricket for the second time, bowling Paul Collingwood to claim his 709th victim, while guiding his country to victory over England in the first Test in Kandy this week. His stunning wicket haul is an astonishing achievement and it should be noted that he also has 457 wickets in one-day and Twenty20 internationals to his name as well and there are no signs of Murali calling it a day. Should the 35-year-old want to carry on in cricket for the foreseeable future it would be difficult to bet against him reaching 800 or 900 Test victims before he finally retires. It is unlikely that his record will ever be bettered for many years to come  — perhaps ever. Murali made his international debut in August 1992 when he took four wickets in a drawn Test against Australia in Colombo, and has proved time and again that he has the talent to always provide something special for his team. It was on tours to Australia, however, where his career first came under the spotlight as he was called for throwing by umpires Darrell Hair and Ross Emerson. In 2004, biomechanics expert Professor Bruce Elliott ruled that Murali's  'doosra,' a ball which turns from leg to off, was illegal as he straightened his arm by 10 degrees. The following year, the International Cricket Council relaxed its rules, making it legal for bowlers to straighten their arms up to 15 degrees. The decision was derided by critics who claimed his bowling action was illegal, former England batsman Geoffrey Boycott even described it as  "a sad day for cricket." Murali was born with a permanently bent arm giving him a double-jointed wrist. And it is this that allows him to turn the ball on any surface, regardless of whether he has the new ball, or a worn ball  — that is supposed to give the greatest aid to spin bowlers. But one must not underestimate his ability he is also a master of flight, changes of pace and line and length, which is crucial for any bowler to be successful. In years to come, Murali's wicket-taking duel with Australia's great leg-spinner Shane Warne will go down as one of the game's great rivalries. He first broke the record in May 2004 taking the wicket of Zimbabwe's Mluleki Nkala for his 520th Test victim. But a lengthy spell on the sidelines following shoulder surgery enabled Warne, who had been first to 500, to establish a lead which he held for the remainder of his career. Warne bowed out last winter with 708 wickets at a cost of 25.4 runs each. Murali, on the other hand, has a bowling average of 21.67. One thing is for sure both Warne and Murali have been responsible for waves of younger people around the world picking up a cricket ball and choosing to bowl spin, which ironically, has been on the decline in the game as a whole. There is no doubt, just as when Warne bowed out last winter, when Murali decides to call it a day the cricketing world will be losing another all-time great.