Muralitharan the Bionic Man

A different insight into a man the world over knows all too well…

The year was 1990 but my memory about the man is as vivid as it was today. My school Thurstan College from the heart of Colombo, was playing an inter-school game away in the hill country against St. Anthony’s College in Katugastota. This fixture seemed far more significant for ‘Murali’ given he was in hot pursuit of the 100 wicket target for the season. For us merely, it was an adventure to one of the most scenic locations of the country besides making an effort to return back home less scathed from our far superior counter-parts. Greeting us on our arrival with so much glee at the school gate late into the evening was Murali himself and Nuwan Kalpage, younger brother of former Sri Lankan off spinner, Ruwan. It was rather unusual back then to see such a gesture but then again we were soon to find out the little ethics and morals that set apart this gentle giant of a man, who would go on to encapsulate the cricketing world for so long. Murali paid attention to every single need of us that evening barring tucking us into bed and for a moment it seemed surreal he could turn tormentor the next morning. Opening the batting for my team, I had time to get my eye in before our opponents turned to an all spin attack that has been their season’s success story. It was more like forcing the opening bowlers to get that shine off that new ball to make way for the Murali show to begin. Eye in or not, at first sight even then you would marvel at his run up to action to delivery stride, not to miss his phantom menace like expressions, and unless you were well equipped in technique, that’s the best you could get at him. Tucking him away for a single, I had the pleasure of seeing one of my mates getting bowled right round his legs to a viciously turning leg spinner after padding up to Murali’s off-spin for one too many balls. We were thrashed by an innings nonetheless but the end of game hospitality Murali bestowed on us, surely helped heal some wounds and had us smitten for memory. With the ball, he was in a zone even then and could have been termed a far too intelligent bowler for school cricket altogether in hindsight !!

Two years after this episode, Murali was to be fast-tracked into national reckoning pitted against a fast growing Aussie outfit for a start in what would be a chequered career still undone and going strong. A distinguishing characteristic of genius is productivity. What Murali has done through his entire career is to produce and produce he has with more than a 1000 International wickets to-date. Take away his equation, and what we have achieved as a cricketing nation will be hard to comprehend. To single out Sanath Jayasuriya as the next most successful finger spinner behind Murali is not only an apt confirmation of the compelling lack of talent for replacement, but how much burden he has carried with himself for over 15 years but delivered almost at will. Quiet startling since every Batman had a genuine sidekick in Robin but Murali was forced to live as Spiderman alone. Even before his career took-off it threatened to derail. Leaders are born and not often made. Arjuna Ranatunga was certainly the former and he stood and fought tooth and nail for Murali the individual. He perhaps sensed the pending greatness himself then and cricket would’ve been poorer to outcast a slow bowler who would go onto hound every single batsman on all cricketing frontiers. To say that he has endured endless chucking allegations since 1993 till to-date is a classic triumph of hidden strength of the human spirit. If the power of thought alone can harm, a certain Bishen Singh Bedi would’ve pierced Murali with a Javelin by now. Whilst these proverbal faceless men in the cricketing world continue to stay busy calling Murali by countless names, the genial giant has answered every call with another familiar rich haul of wickets. Blame game cannot obscure reality. You can irk the man but you can’t bog him down with a ball in hand. Lessons not yet learnt indeed !!!

Fame can be a corruptive influence. The heights Murali has achieved would’ve been easy to fall off the cliff for many. The steadying influence of his workmanlike family along with senior cricketers in the team who looked out for him and a defying iron will to fight all odds – these virtues have made him what he is today. Years have gone by but the manner in which batsmen still turn bemused at his varieties proves how much hard work he puts in day out to maintain his own craft. Unless you are a Bedi fan, it’s nearly impossible to dislike him really. Artifact from a vanished civilization, now that could be what he is to cricket. Along with his good friend Shane Warne, these two have re-invented the love of spin with their own maverick styles and we may never live long enough to witness such a high quality of competition. Comparison is a cognitive term just like perception is reality for those who perceive it. Genius happens once in a generation they say. To have two of the greatest spin bowlers ever to hold a ball go head to head would’ve never happened in the dinosaur age. Every single cricket fan should admire this rivalry without an apology. Period…

If you get to know Murali the man outside the field, it’s certainly bound to intrigue you more. Societies and its individuals are judged best by how it treats it’s under-privileged and the needy. The amount of sheer time and sweat he’s poured over to his personal charity work is legendary. ( Check this website out for sanity It’s said destiny allowed him scot free on that fateful day the monstrous Tsunami struck the Island. As if it was a divine message to alter his worldly thoughts, Murali continued to serve intensely and the sight of seeing many of his team-mates and the support staff join in his quest to reach out for the effected societies all alike was far more satisfying than a 0 wicket haul of his. Accolades you can pour aplenty non-stop but the career isn’t over yet. A wickets tally of 1174 in both forms of the game will only swell by the time he calls it quits. Put an end figure yourself but anyone catching that will have to travel from planet Zulu and better not have a bent-arm. Leonardo Da Vinci had 5 main strategies amongst many towards his success. Visualize, think metaphorically, think in opposites, grab your chance and then produce !! Now you can attach these same values to Murali on and off the field in his rise to what many call an evangelistic hope to a polarized nation. Sri Lanka once was a nation where many religions embraced each other’s grace and when an action pricked the society’s conscience, it quickly forsake it. But post 1983, it’s been a pall of gloom, divided ethnically and the animosity within the society has simply corroded the atmosphere. Whilst history will never be kind to this fact, nonetheless, you may well remember we stood up as a nation along with the rest of the world in applauding a Tamil son all the way from humble beginnings from the hill country right to the very top of the cricketing realm.

Cricket began more than a hundred years back, courtesy the English. Slow spin bowlers were primarily used then to give some time off to the quick bowlers to get their breath back. The game has evolved so much so that the 2 top most dominant bowlers have been 2 wrist spinners. Syd Barnes held the world bowling record the longest for 23 years. Don Bradman’s batting feats remain un-paralleled nearly 60 years after his last game. Murali is barely a week old into the world bowling record but there’s every reason to believe he will leave a legacy as admiring and supernatural as Bradman did. We drive our imagination to hallucination trying to think how the Don would’ve feasted on the bowlers then but are quick to let the human mind cloud with doubt when it comes to Murali’s exploits. Pinch yourself, for your are a living witness to the Don of bowling. A tale too many to relate to your great, great grandchildren with so much awe. Don’t forget though that it would be about a man who not only terrorized the batsmen on the pitch but ran to the help of the tormented in life outside of it. Take a bow now, if you haven’t still!

Leave a Comment