Suddenly there were none!
The Galle test this week brought down the curtain on the career of the last of the three spinning maestros of this generation.
Much has already been written about Muttiah Muralitharan's exit from the cricketing stage, and many more reams of paper will be consumed describing his exploits in his swan song test at Galle. Murali ended his Test career on a high against his Indian opponents, claiming the requisite eight wickets to perch himself atop the summit of 800 wickets—master of all he surveys—in the process ensuring victory for his Sri Lankan teammates.
They were the three Musketeers of spin bowling; their sovereign—the Art Of Spin Bowling. Come flat tracks, come bouncy ones, come true ones, come lousy ones, come under-prepared ones, come turners,come rain, come shine, they were forever on call to serve their master, to do him proud. All-weather heroes, I term them!
Shane ‘Porthos’ Warne
Shane Warne was the master bamboozler, the confident leg-spinner—sure of his art, sure of his craft. His ultra-confidence rubbed off on his teammates He would have been a captain par excellence of the Australian team, but for his off-field peccadilloes. His man management skills are legendary; his stints as captain of Hampshire and the Rajasthan Royals bear ample testimony to his astute leadership.
He was the leg-spinner’s leg-spinner. Leg-spinners ply their ware on confidence; they are hit out of the attack more often than most. They are known to buy their wickets more expensively. An off-spinner is restrictive, but a leg spinner is forced to attack all the time. Leg spin is about temperament and Shane Warne had it in buckets full!
To quote the great man himself, “Where my ability to spin a cricket ball came from, I honestly don't know. I can only think that I was born with it. I have a skill as cricketer and fortunately cricket found me..”
Shane Warne, you are Porthos!
Anil ‘Athos’ Kumble
Anil Kumble, or AK, was more of the lone sojourner; he was on a journey, a quest to become one of the best of his era. He’s been called a trundler who wouldn’t spin. Batsmen have been asked to treat him like a medium pace bowler; his stock ball was the straight one. But he was always accurate; he was bang on target and he had a high arm action that provided him the extra bounce to trouble the best. He was the non-spinning genius!
The first part of his career was a struggle to buy wickets cheaply outside the subcontinent, but he then developed a leg-spinner. The subtle variations in pace and length, along with his increasing willingness to flight the ball and slow his pace off the wicket added to the challenge he posed to the batting stalwarts. The googly, as an accessory, further increased his potency. He was a formidable opponent and was well-liked and respected by his peers.
He was determined beyond belief and his courage was never in doubt. He once played with a fractured jaw against the West Indies. Captaincy came late to him—almost as an after-thought by the Indian selectors—when he was the elder statesman of the team. But he held his boys together and they leaned on him like the proverbial rock through that animus-soaked series against the kangaroos in 2007-2008. His stature has never been in doubt.
He has to his credit only the second 10-wicket haul in an innings in history, after Jim Laker. His 600-odd wickets may pale in comparison to the 700-plus and 800 of his contemporaries in the 600-plus club, but if you ever wished a cricketer to bowl for your life, AK was your man. AK, I dub thee Athos!
Muttiah ‘Aramis’ Muralitharan
Muttiah Muralitharan, however, was the prodigious off-spinner; he could make the ball turn many revolutions thanks to a freak of nature. His polio-afflicted appendage became his golden arm. Off-spinners are, by nature, defensive bowlers; but Murali made off-spin an attacking art. He could, like Warney, turn the ball on any surface. You could call him the Shane Warne among off-spinners or vice-versa. They were both equally prodigious turners of the red cherry.
The addition of the ‘doosra’, the wrong ‘un, or the Chinaman was the jewel in his crown. The rate at which he bought wickets was phenomenal: an average of six wickets per match. He was the mainstay of the Sri Lankan bowling attack and his absence will leave a gaping void to be filled by a triumvirate of spinners who discover that his bowling boots are too large to step into.
Murali has been dogged by controversy throughout his career and his action has been questioned by the likes of Darrell Hair and India’s Bishan Singh Bedi. His critics claim that he is a chucker and a cheat. But this ever-smiling, toothy-grinned assassin kept on going, no small thanks to the support he enjoyed initially from his then captain Arjuna Ranatunga, and later, the Sri Lankan cricket board. With Murali, Sri Lanka—as a cricketing nation—made the transition from good to great.
Murali, I have to name you Aramis, though the sobriquet may not quite fit! But then retro-fitting was never my forte!
Adios, Muttiah ‘Aramis’ Muralitharan! Sayonara, farewell, goodbye!
Have a great day!