That's out: Murali calls time on his career of controversy

Top wicket-taker in Test history will retire after his next match

To be in Australia early in 1999 was to understand precisely what is meant by a witch hunt. For weeks, Muttiah Muralitharan was pursued from pillar to post in any forum available. His method as a bowler and status as a professional cricketer were in question. In private it was worse. Much worse.

Eventually, eight matches into a triangular series in which Murali had already played four times, he was called for throwing, in a match against England in Adelaide. The umpire who made the no-ball call was Ross Emerson, who had spent most of the previous week letting friends and confidantes in the media know what he would probably be up to.

All hell broke loose. Captain Arjuna Ranatunga led his team to the edge of the field and refused to continue until telephone calls were made to Sri Lanka. The match continued but in a dreadful spirit. It took a week to resolve, with players being reported following compromises and under-the-counter deals to try to prevent world cricket being split asunder.

Those events of that week in late January 11 years ago were the most extreme of a career whose end was announced yesterday. Murali said in Sri Lanka that the Test match between his country and India in Galle next week would be his last. He may or may not prolong his international career until the World Cup next year.

He will do what his country requires, as he always has, but there did not sound much enthusiasm to continue. Murali, the heaviest wicket-taker the game has known in both Test cricket, in which he has 792 victims, and one-day internationals, in which he has 515, has simply had enough. The body which he has put through a total of 10,349.2 overs, also a record, is at the end of its tether: the rotating shoulder, the corkscrew wrist and, yes, the bent arm.

It was well known that Murali (he is, incidentally, Muralidaran, not Muralitharan everywhere but England) would walk away from Tests this autumn. But he has decided to bring the retirement date forward because the demands were too great. Although it is hard to believe that, if he finished after the Galle Test on 799 wickets, he would not wish to continue until he became the first man to 800.

No bowler in the history of the great game has so divided opinion. Perfectly rational judges could foam at the mouth on seeing his whirlybird action with the arm he could straighten because that was simply the way it was. Others were much less inclined to analyse that his method amounted to a throw because of the innate defect and because of the sheer theatre that his presence brought to the game, any game.

Murderers are often given a better press than those bowlers in cricket who are considered to be chuckers. Once the rumours begin they never disappear and Murali's action invited it. The fact that he kept dismissing batsmen for fun had something to do with it, of course. On 66 occasions he has taken five wickets in an innings.

Against Australia, his record was indifferent, partly because they were a great side, partly because he would not have been human were he to be unaffected by their treatment of him. He still took 59 wickets in 13 matches against them, which all of his contemporaries would have died for.

David Lloyd, the respected commentator, was one of those who harboured doubts about Murali when he was coach of England. Famously, at the Oval one day in 1998 when Murali bowled Sri Lanka to a great victory, Lloyd called his action into question.

"He was a fantastic talent," Lloyd said yesterday. "He was unbelievably unorthodox, it was mind bogglingly ridiculous that he was so accurate and he was full of cheek too. There are many imitators who are nothing like the real thing."

Doubts crept in almost from the start, it is fair to say, but there were whispers and no action. In Australia, on Boxing Day 1995 in Melbourne, the umpire Darrell Hair decided that Murali's action did not meet the requirements of the law. By then Murali was in his 25th Test, he had nearly 100 wickets: it seemed a little late for decisive action.

Even then it might not have been too late. He was tested in laboratories in western Australia, once in England he put a brace on his arm so that he could not bend it further than it was already bent naturally. He tried everything to prove the doubters wrong; they never went away. Despite this, he always played the game with joy. There was not exactly a smile on his face because he was too intense a professional for that and the eyes almost bulged from the head on occasion. But he did everything with zeal and heart.

There is a suspicion that the laws of the game were changed to accommodate him and the degree of flexion allowed in a bowler's arm before it constituted an illegal delivery was raised to 15 degrees. Scientific evidence confirmed that plenty of bowlers, fast and slow, all but reached this cut-off point.

What a sense of occasion he brought with him. All English followers will remember him. Twice, he was instrumental in Sri Lankan victories in Tests against England in England. The second time in 2006 was wonderful enough when he took 8 for 70 in the second innings, but the first is one of those matches and occasions which will endure forever.

In 1998, Sri Lanka had been granted a one-off Test at the Oval. England had come off the back of a series win against South Africa. It is fair to say they fancied their chances and fancied them more when they made 445 in the first innings though Murali took 7 for 155. Sri Lanka batted brilliantly to establish a lead and Murali was irrepressible in the second innings, taking 9 for 65 – and if Alec Stewart had not been run out it would probably have been all 10.

That winter he went to Australia to be vilified. That he played for so long afterwards says much about his indomitable spirit as well as his abundant gifts.

The magic of Murali

Born 17 April 1972 Kandy

Test statistics

Debut v Australia (Colombo, Aug 1992)

Matches 132

Wickets 792

Best figures (innings) 9-51 v Zimbabwe, Kandy, 2002

Best figures (match) 16-220 v England, The Oval, 1998

Five-wicket hauls (innings) 66

10-wicket hauls (match) 22

Top Test wicket-takers

M Muralitharan (SL, 1992-2010) 792 wickets, ave 22.71, 132 matches

S Warne (Aus, 1992-2007) 708 wickets, ave 25.41, 145 matches

A Kumble (India, 1990-2008) 619 wickets, ave 29,65, 132 matches

One-Day International statistics

Debut v Sri Lanka (Colombo, Aug 1993)

Matches 337

Wickets 515

Best figures 7-30 v India, Sharjah, 2000

Five-wicket hauls 10

Murali also leads the standings in ODI wickets, ahead of Pakistan's Wasim Akram (502) and Waqar Younis (416).

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
Arts and Entertainment
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
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

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game