Much to admire in Murali, a freak of nature

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The Independent Online

A cheating chucker or one of the greatest bowlers cricket has produced? The controversial career of Muttiah Muralitharan has and will continue to divide opinion like no other player in the game.

Nobody will doubt that his technique is unique but is his ability to spin a cricket ball down to a double-jointed right wrist - and the ability to almost dislocate his right shoulder at the moment of release - or is it simply bending his arm by more than 15 degrees?

Almost every former spinner I meet turns apoplectic whenever his name is mentioned, believing that cricket changed its laws to accommodate one individual. Having sat on the committee that set the rules concerning illegal actions, and after listening to biomechanical experts explain how a bowler's arm responds as it comes over, I have spent plenty of time watching slow-motion footage of Muralitharan.

I believe there is an element of jealousy from the former spinners, caused by an inability to develop their game as Muralitharan has. To me, he is a freak. No other bowler gets his body in to such a position and it is impossible to see what is going on with the naked eye. He has a congenital deformity that prevents him from straightening his right arm when he bowls a conventional off-spinner.

The "doosra", the ball that spins the other way, is, however, far less convincing. Muralitharan has shown in a laboratory that he can bowl the delivery within the prescribed regulations but there has to be doubt that this ball can be bowled without some straightening of the arm. But enough of the technical stuff: I am a Muralitharan fan because of the way he plays cricket and the entertainment he provides to millions of people. Who would you rather watch? Muralitharan, with all his energy and mystery, or Ashley Giles - I love you too, Ashley - plugging away over the wicket?

I will arrive at Lord's this morning excited at the prospect of watching Murali bowl. I could not give a damn if he throws the odd ball. It is not as though he is going to injure anybody. I can understand batsmen taking offence to a fast bowler who pelts it down at 95mph, but Muralitharan only bowls at 50mph. Surely a decent batsman should be capable of playing a delivery at that speed.

Cricket - with its short boundaries, concrete pitches, fast outfields and umpires who give batsmen the benefit of the doubt - has shoved spinners into a corner and, in an attempt to survive, they have pushed the laws to the limit.

Spinners like Muralitharan, Saqlain Mushtaq and Harbhajan Singh, who perfected the art of bowling the doosra, should be congratulated for what they have achieved. They have brought something new and exciting to the game and cricket should encourage innovation. The doosra is a delivery that continues to flummox batsmen and, if it is that easy to bowl, why has no English bowler managed to perfect it yet?

Cricket in the last decade has been a richer and more colourful because of Muralitharan. He has passed every testing procedure the International Cricket Council have placed in front of him and should be left in peace. Today will be the first occasion he has played Test cricket at Lord's and the honours board will look better with his name on it.