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Muralitharan omitted in Wisden’s 2008 Test Eleven

Wisden recently announced its best Test XI for 2008. The final eleven was chosen by a panel of three former players, Ravi Shastri, Ian Bishop, and Ian Smith.

Players from all test playing nations were picked on their performances from the 2008 calendar year.

Below is a direct excerpt from Cricinfo on the Wisden XI:

The criteria for selection are simple: the best eleven to play a Test match, no matter the opposition, guided by performances in 2008, and taking into consideration the amount of Test cricket they played in the year, the quality of their opponents, and that indefinable blend of class and form.

Clearly not much thought has been put into this. That’s like saying “only a player’s performance is taken into consideration, not the quality of the opposition, but when it’s convenient we will use the quality of their opponents to decide on it”.

Round and round we go…

Five Indians, two South Africans, two Australians, one Englishmen, and one West Indian made it to the final line up.

The only spinner selected was not Vettori, or Murali, but Harbhajan Singh.

If you read the logic behind the selection – or at least the few quotes published on Cricinfo – you will note that it is full of contradictions.

As the sole spinner (assuming normal conditions), Harbhajan Singh won a three-way tie on the convener’s casting vote. He was Smith’s choice, for taking 63 wickets in the year and his part in "two very hard series against Australia where he did not back down". Smith also argued, persuasively, that the two Sri Lankan mystery spinners played insufficient Test cricket to be included.

Ajantha Mendis (Bishop’s choice as his "wild-card pick") played only three Tests, albeit with sensational success against India. Muttiah Muralitharan (Shastri’s choice because he was "tried, tested and vastly experienced") played six Tests: but in two of them, in the West Indies, he struggled, relatively, and could not bowl out West Indies when they chased in Port-of-Spain.

According to their own logic Murali was not selected because,

a.) He did not play sufficient matches.

b.) In two out of his six Test he struggled to bowl out West Indies.

The second bit of reasoning is the best!

Murali didn’t warrant inclusion because he could not bowl out the West Indies single handedly. Murali’s own genius appears to be his only downfall. How many other bowlers are expected to carry the burden single handedly on their shoulders?

Harbhajan Singh played 13 Test matches from 01 Jan 2008 to 31 Dec 2008 and picked up 63 wickets. Murali played in six and picked up 43. In Murali’s six he played India three times. Sachin, a batsman named in Wisden’s best eleven, averaged just 19.50 in that series and Murali dismissed him twice.

Harbhajan Singh averaged 31.53 after 13 matches; Murali averaged 24.46 in six matches. If history is anything to go by, Murali picks up – on average – 6 wickets per match, which would still mean he would out do Singh’s performance had he been given the chance to play more games.

Not being allocated enough Test matches is not a reason which should prevent a player from being recognized and given his due credit. Not being able to out bowl an entire team is no yard stick of measure either.

It’s a shame cricket continues to turn a blind eye to this genius. Someday future cricketers and cricket enthusiast alike will look back upon our time, and perhaps scornfully, because we failed to acknowledge and appreciate a rare genius.

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