Sunday, 15 July 2007

Take a bow, Murali

Few cricketers polarise cricket world like Muttiah Muralitharan does and now voices would break all decibel barriers as the Lankan maverick joined the 700 Test wicket club, founded by a certain Shane Warne.

The case with Murali has been either you love him or you hate him. There simply is no in between. Bishan Singh Bedi felt Murali is a javelin thrower, a bandit in flannels. Martin Crowe believes Murali should be chucked out of the game. Another commentator opined Murali should figure in dart competitions and not in cricket field.

But there is another school of thought as well. Many a friendship would be strained in debates on whether his freak action is result of an elbow bent at birth or a wicked effort to exploit ICC's ambiguity on the subject. But the fact remains that Murali has curved a niche for himself and is here to make an indelible mark in the game's history.

Isn’t it incredible that in a trouble-torn Sri Lanka, divided deep along ethnic and religious lines finds a unifying factor in Murali?

Murali is set to overtake Shane Warne later this year, right at the leggie's backyard, perhaps amid jeers and cat calls. Lesser mortals could have succumbed to the series of setbacks Murali withstood in a rollercoaster career. Hostility has often brought out the best in Murali. So when he eventually eclipses Warne in Australia, the boos and barracking would only confirm Murali's status as perhaps the best off-spinner the game has ever seen.


P.S. I take this occasion to share my experience of meeting Murali. I have been to Colombo to cover that ill-fated Unitech Cup last year. Chicken-hearted South Africa had just pulled out following a blast, which meant SAF Games, and not cricket, was my purpose of staying put in the picturesque Lanka capital.

There is a lovely, lively food court at the basement of the Cinnamon Arcade in Colombo and you would be treated to food of every possible kind while local bands belt out old numbers. Born, bred and spoiled by sweet-biased Bengali diet, I found food too hot. I was clueless as I moved from one counter to another.

I had reached the Lankan food stall when I realised that virtually the entire Lankan squad was out there with their family. The guy in the counter asked me what I would love to have and I explained him my problem, also maintaining an eye on the gentleman on my left, with a baby in his arms.

"You should go for plain rice and pulse, that should not be a problem with you," the advice came from the most unexpected corner. Muralitharan had his son in his arms and he too was glancing through the dishes on display.

I thanked him profusely and ordered the one he suggested. "Did you take your son to your in-law's place in Chennai?" I asked.

"No, he has not. But we will soon visit Chennai ," he replied.

As I returned to my table, I could not help but compare Sri Lankan cricketers with their Indian counterpart. Have no illusion, the Lankans love their game as passionately as Indians do. But there is a clear line of demarcation between passion and madness there.

Murali, Vaas, Sangakkarra were not mobbed in the food court and there was not a single security person to shove you aside to make way for them.

As I gulped down the rice with generous amount of soft drinks, I watched Murali, a perfect family man, taking care of his baby and chatting with his wife, just like an ordinary man, after a day's hard work in the office, was out to dine with his family. Stardom often strips you off humility, but again, Murali has often been an exception.

Image: Getty Images

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