THE retirement of Muttiah Muralitharan from Test cricket marks the departure of one of the giants of the game, a player who made a difference. He is a man with a generous spirit and a love for cricket. And he is not a chucker.
From personal experience I KNOW Murali has never been a chucker as so many people believe. Shane Warne felt Murali's action was legal, though he was worried that children would copy him and adopt throwing actions. This fear was well founded, and many children, mostly Asians, had to have hideous styles remodelled. That is an unwelcome legacy of this great bowler.
The difference between Murali and the rest of the world has been an arm deformity. The Sri Lankan cannot straighten his arms beyond about 30 degrees. Added to that he has supple wrists and a ton of off-spin talent. Warne said in an interview with the Melbourne newspaper Herald Sun
: "Murali's action has been passed by scientific tests. I always thought it was probably legitimate." It was understandable that Murali was no-balled at the highest level as eyes are easily deceived, but he knew himself he did not throw.
Exasperated, Murali once strapped his right arm into a rigid casing like a plaster cast in July 2004 and bowled to me in the nets at Shenley Park in Hertfordshire to prove his point. So, with his arm immobilised, how could Murali possibly throw his off-spinners and the doosra? The answer is: He couldn't.
The spinners fizzed and the doosra nipped away. He achieved turn through a vigorous shoulder turn, fast arm and significant wrist action. I watched him from two feet away at the bowler's stumps and faced him at the other end. As always, he could not bowl a quicker ball unless he ran up faster. An ability to fire in something quicker from 'nowhere' is one symptom of a chucker, but Murali could not. That is because he was not a chucker, however much he looked like one.
There is a valid argumant that Murali and any bowler with a kinked action should never have been allowed to bowl whether analysed legal or not. Dubious actions -- the permitted flexion becomes visible at 15 degrees, the ICC limit -- are bad for cricket, but that is another debate.
Warne had a great deal of affection for his Sri Lankan opponent. "Murali simply loved bowling - he loved a challenge and was fantastic for the game," he said. "Sometimes he would pick my brain about different things and, although we always tried to outdo each other, we always got on well."
Muralitharan has one Test left to increase his tally of 792 wickets. Warne retired with 708 wickets. And unlike Murali he didn't have to bowl against Australia...
An afternoon with Muralitharan: