Targets, records, statistics and key performance indicators are, by their very nature, arbitrary, ephemeral and meaningless unless they apply to our summer game. For those who are not passionate about cricket, look away now.
Muttiah Muralitharan, veteran Sri Lankan off-spinner has taken his 800th test wicket and has become the most successful test bowler of all time. Some may find this fact of little interest, but a quick look at the circumstances of his achievement may shed some light on the beauty of cricket.
Murali is an ethnic Tamil, a group that has been, and continues to be, persecuted by the Sinhalese majority in Sri Lanka. The hippo recalls attending a test match in Colombo where Tamils were refused entry as the security guards and soldiers assumed them to be Tamil Tiger terrorists. Fortunately for Sri Lanka, Murali was allowed in and has been more deadly with the leg-break rather than the Kalashnikov.
Suffering from a birth deformity, the legality of his odd, bent-arm bowling action has been repeatedly questioned and Australian Prime Minister John Howard actually accused him of throwing the ball. It should be pointed out that Australian Prime Ministers only comment on cricket when Australia are loosing wickets.
But it is the very nature of this latest test match against India that makes his achievement all the more remarkable. Murali announced that this was to be his final test match and, at the age of 38, was 8 wickets short of the magical 800. The match took place in Galle, on the southern coast of that serendipitous island, a community all but destroyed by the terrible tsunami that occurred on Boxing Day 2004. On his final day and with his total on 799, in his final over and with his final delivery, the batsman was caught in the slips. Tonight I shall be raising a glass and looking for my old Roy Harper albums:
“When an old cricketer leaves the crease, well you never know whether he’s gone
If sometimes you’re catching a fleeting glimpse of a twelfth man at silly mid-on
And it could be Geoff and it could be John, with a new ball sting in his tail
And it could be me and it could be thee, and it could be the sting in the ale…the sting in the ale.”
For the record, Sri Lanka beat India by 10 wickets. Well done Murali.