Muttiah Muralitharan: The finger snap, the big eyes, the bent arm: the one-off nears the end

Curtain could come down on Muralitharan's controversial yet brilliant one-day career today.

What stands out about Muttiah Muralitharan apart from the corkscrew wrist, the finger snap, the arm bent at birth, the bulging eyes, the Everest of wickets, is the sheer joy. Here he is, a plier of his masterful if controversial trade at the highest level for 19 years, which is two, perhaps three careers' worth for most international cricketers, and still he treats every wicket as if it were the first.

He will do the same today in Sri Lanka's World Cup quarter-final tie against England. Some poor sap will try to hit him over the top or plunge forward desperately and next thing you know Murali will have his arms aloft, his mischievously beaming face that of a kid allowed the run of a chocolate factory.

The likelihood is that he will take a wicket somewhere along the line. He has bowled in 36 World Cup matches before and in only five of them has he failed to strike. In his 17 one-day matches against England he has gone wicketless three times and in one of those he was no-balled for throwing.

It could be his last international match. Already retired from Test cricket with a neat 800 wickets, a record he achieved on his home-town ground of Kandy last July, he is withdrawing from one-dayers after this World Cup.

So far he has 530 wickets, 231 more than the only man in the top 20 list who is still playing, Shahid Afridi. These are both in the category of never to be beaten figures.

If England win they are ending the international career of a legend (though Murali will go on in a kind of world Twenty20 tour embracing the Indian Premier and, for the next two summers, the England T20 for Gloucestershire). At 38, he is not the potent force that he was for the middle 12 years of his career. The arm does not rotate as quickly as it did, the wrist is not as supple. But he has been a handful in this World Cup on pitches which could have been hand-stitched to fit in Savile Row, and he has taken 11 wickets while conceding a mere 3.55 runs an over.

England might have to work out, therefore, where the rest of their runs will come from. Should it end today, or the semi-final, or the final a week today, Murali has seven days as an international cricketer left at most. There is always a sadness when a great champion departs but in his case it will be accompanied by some relief.

Even now after 19 years and several scientific clearances, there are doubts about the legality of his action. In this World Cup, there has been some occasional head shaking. Some people still cannot believe the story about the arm defective from birth. It looks decidedly odd and the world in general resents odd looks. Murali long ago learned to live with it, and if he has been an adornment to the game, it is also probably true that if another one like him came along tomorrow, he would be shunted for remedial work at cricket's equivalent of the Priory in no time.

It is, of course, to his enduring credit that he has had such a prolific career in spite of the doubters. That may be because of his unadulterated joy in what he does. There is nothing new to say about him by now, so his captain, Kumar Sangakkara, did not try yesterday. "He's a guy who rises to the occasion and does really well in big games," he said. "The side is very confident about what he can produce for us in the important matches." Well you don't say.

It all started for Murali in August 1992 at the R Premadasa Stadium where today's match is taking place, when he was picked aged 20 for the second Test against Australia. His first international victim was Craig McDermott. Both stadium and bowler are a little more upholstered these days.

One of Murali's closest and most unlikely friends in cricket is Andrew Flintoff, with whom he played for several years at Lancashire. But there is a reason for the liaison as Flintoff explained on a BBC radio programme last week.

"He's a bit of a free spirit," Flintoff explained. "He just lets himself go, he enjoys the moment and just gets on with it – and probably I do too." England could do without the free spirit soaring today.

Murali's record collection

530 ODI wickets, making him the leading-wicket taker of all time in this form of the game.

18.76 Has a sub-20 World Cup bowling average, the most efficient wicket-taker in the tournament's history.

3.55 Economy rate for this tournament, taking 11 wickets.

347 ODIs for Sri Lanka. He is the only member of their 1996 World Cup winning side still playing.

59 Holds unenviable record of most ducks in international cricket.

News
US comedian Bill Mahr
people
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Sport
football
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Life and Style
The Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew, at work creating the 'Dizzy' arcade-adventure games in 1988
techDocumentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Arts and Entertainment
Krall says: 'My hero player-singer is Elton John I used to listen to him as a child, every single record
music
News
Friends for life … some professionals think loneliness is more worrying than obesity
scienceSocial contact is good for our sense of wellbeing - but it's a myth that loneliness kills, say researchers
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
News
i100
Environment
Number so freshwater mussels in Cumbria have plummeted from up to three million in the 20th century to 500,000
environment
Life and Style
Models – and musicians – on the catwalk in Dior Homme for the men’s 2015/16 fashion show in Paris
fashionAt this season's Paris shows, various labels played with the city boys' favourite
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us