The greatest tribute I can pay him is that I have met no finer man. He’s great as a cricketer and even better as a human being
Kumar Sangakkara, Captain, Sri Lanka
When great athletes are done and dusted, team shirts slid into mothballed suitcases, boots plastic-bagged in a musty garage, the final entries inked into record books, judgement commences.
Epitaphs are pondered, legacies mulled over, contributions estimated. But just gauging quality of skill is not sufficient anymore. Eventually, in that great filing cabinet of history, we slot them into categories, deciding for future generations what these men represented. Were they heroes of cool courage and fine character, victims of injustice and bias, villains whose dark deeds tarnished their greatness?
With Muttiah Muralitharan, his career admittedly done, we are unsure of what will be said, which file he belongs in. This man is history’s dilemma.
Do we remember him for his phenomenal strike-rate – he took an average of six wickets per Test or his 67 five-fors, 30 five-fors clear of the next highest, Warne or 22 ten-fors, which is more than twice the next best or his 1315 wickets in both formats of the game?
Or do we remember him for changing the art of spin bowling and cricket itself ? Whether it was for the mastery of the doorsa or leading scientists to find that nearly every bowler in the world bent and straightened his arm, including never suspected paragons of bowling virtue like McGrath and Jason Gillespie. Hostile critics of Murali, like Michael Holding and Ian Botham, turned on a dime and accepted without a murmur the new definition of a legal delivery, which allowed all bowlers to flex their arms up to 15 degrees. So, what started as a controversy about an individual’s bowling action has ended by calling into question the traditional wisdom about every bowler in cricket’s history.
Or do we remember him as a man that united a country ? In a minority suppressed country, where cricketers are chosen not by their skill but rather their race and religion, he stepped up chasing a dream that many before him have been sinfully denied. He not only stood out as a talented cricketer but more as an icon that minority and majority classes can co-exist and achieve greatness together (world cup 1996)
We can all choose sides and pick how we would remember his career. For me, he is testimony to a moral strength and self-belief. As Foster says that “lesser men would have completely broken down”, and perhaps that is beyond dispute.
Tests played: 133 Wickets captured: 800 Wickets/Test: 6.02 Runs conceded: 18180 Overs bowled: 7340.0 Bowling average: 22.73 Strike rate: 55.0 Runs/over: 2.48 10 wkts in match: 22 (4 in consecutive tests, that too twice, and against all 9 countries). 5 wkts in Inns: 67 Maidens bowled: 1792 Maidens %: 24.4 Best bowling: 40.0-19-51-9 (the first 9 wickets !!!). There is another 9-wkt haul. Fielder combination: 77 (Murali/Jayawardene - highest for non wicket-keeper). Wickets against every test country: avg. 50+