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DateLine Sunday, 16 March 2008

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Murali won Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year title in 1991

CRICKET: There are some people who merely talk and not recognise the deeds of cricketers who need merit. One such cricketer who has suffered in the past is none other than Sri Lanka’s world beater - the champion off-spinner and ‘Doosra’ specialist Muttiah Muralitharan who ‘found his feet’ in the game at an early age at St. Anthony’s College, Katugastota.


FLASHBACK 1991... The big moment - Muttiah Muralitharan of St. Anthony’s College, Katugastota (left) receives the Observer Trophy from Chief Guest Mr. Sirisena Cooray watched by then Observer Editor Mr. H. L. D. Mahindapala.

Muralitharan, after his many attractive feats with the ball during the inter-school cricket seasons for St. Anthony’s College, Katugastota was picked Observer Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year in 1991 by the panel of cricket umpires. He was also picked as the Best Bowler too, that year.

That was not all the Antonians won that year. They had somewhat a field day at the awards ceremony, having Sajith Fernando as the Best Batsman, Nuwan Kalpage - their captain as Best Captain and he was also chosen as runner-up in the Best Allrounder’s category and Best Fielder’s contests.

Then St. Anthony’s Katugastota was also picked as the Best Team in the whole island and quite naturally, the Antonians were also chosen as the Best Team in the Central province. What a collection of awards all well deserved.

That year in bowling, Murali stood head and shoulders above all others. It was evident in the matches that there was class written all over. He may have taken over 100 wickets for two consecutive seasons. Now, he may have held the all-time record haul of 127 wickets for a season.

But, more that the figures, the manner in which he performed his task was really outstanding. This was the obvious reason that the umpires picked him as the Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year - the first cricketer outside Colombo to be picked in the contest organised by the Sunday Observer.

Bowling feats recognised


Murali - the star that shook the world

The fine feats in bowling at inter-school level by Murali was duly recognised by the selectors in the Cricket Board then. After some fine bowling performances against the Australian Academy team and England ‘A’ early in the year 1992, Muralitharan was the only new face in the 16-strong Sri Lanka cricket team that was picked to tour England in July 1992.

The Sri Lanka team that year makes interesting reading:

Opening batsmen: Roshan Mahanama (CCC), Chandika Hathurusinghe (Tamil Union), Brendon Kuruppu (BRC). Middle-Order: Aravinda de Silva - Capt. (NCC), Asanka Gurusinha V. Capt. (NCC), Marvan Atapattu (SSC), Sanath Jayasuriya (CCC).

Fast medium bowlers: Rumesh Ratnayake (NCC), Champaka Ramanayake (Tamil Union), Kapila Wijegunawardena (NCC) and Saliya Ahangama (SSC).

Spinners: Ranjith Madurusinghe (Kurunegala YCC), S. Don Anurasiri (Panadura SC), Muttiah Muralitharan (Tamil Union.)

Wicket-keepers: Hashan Tillekeratne (NCC) and Romesh Kaluwitharana (BRC).

The selection of 18-year-old Muralitharan was seen as the selector’s policy to encourage spinners to form the Sri Lanka bowling attack for the future.

According to many knowledgeable experts of the game, Muralitharan was considered a match winning bowler and he has already proved it several times first at school and then at club matches in the domestic scene and now in big company.

Lone wolf

In 2002, Muralitharan had the honour of being branded alongside Sir Donald Bradman of Australia as the top Test players in history of cricket by the cricket bible - Wisden. Bradman had the outstanding average of 99.94. Muralitharan was ahead of New Zealand’s Richard Hadlee with England’s Sydney Barnes, who bowled a unique brand of spin at pace in the early 1900s, in third place.

Murali, as many ardent followers of the game know, is a glutton for hard work and hard work has its rewards.

Muralitharan is now Test cricket’s leading bowler, having surpassed his age-old rival - Shane Warne’s record. When Murali bowled England batsman Paul Collingwood on the third morning of that Test at Asgiriya to claim his 709th wicket thereby surpass Warne’s world tally of 708 wickets, he was on top of the world.

Murali added another wicket when England tail-ender Hoggard was stumped by wicket-keeper Prasanna Jayawardena off his bowling, his total went up to 710. After Sri Lanka’s fine victory of that First Test, Muralitharan’s tally rose to 713. His tally now is 723 in 116 Tests.

Charity worker

So, it has been a wonderful climb to the top for this persevering bowler who had to overcome many obstacles to reach that top spot. In getting to the world record, Muralitharan’s best ‘bowl’ in an innings was 9 for 51 against Zimbabwe at the Asgiriya ground.

It is somewhat unfair to keep questioning his action when through the Test of time, and a system that has analysed and passed him, for people to question his action whenever he comes up with a rich haul of wickets.

The son of a hill-country confectioner, Muralitharan learnt to play the game at St. Anthony’s, Katugastota. As a 14-year-old, he wanted to become a fast bowler, but his small frame left him fighting for a place in the school team.

Muralitharan is a cricketer who listens to his elders. His coach in his young days advised him to take to spin bowling and he obeyed the coach - and now he is on top of the world.

Muralitharan is on top of the world, but, he has not forgotten the unfortunate ones and indulges in a lot of charity work.

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