about anything under the Sun!
Heroes don’t come along everyday, and when they do, they occupy a special place in our hearts. Their actions, their accomplishments, their spirited and persistent efforts to overcome the odds that were undoubtedly stacked against them, and the manner in which they carry themselves and their success after they have arrived – the rest of us draw inspiration from all of that, and that’s why it is easy to put them up on that pedestal. One such hero for me is the Smiling Assassin, the ever so cheerful Muttiah Muralitharan, who recently climbed a peak that no man ever has, and no man ever will. 800 wickets in test cricket, more than double the number of any other currently playing cricketer, averaging more than 6 wickets a game with each wicket costing a miserly 22.7 runs! Get this – if Murali were the only bowler to bowl for his team, what that means is the opponent would be bowled out for 227 runs on average! It is easy to understand why he won so many games single-handedly for Sri Lanka. And oh btw, he is also the world’s leading wicket-taker in the One-Day version of the game.
Murali recently announced his retirment from test cricket and it is sad to think about the fact that we will no longer see him in action in whites – the hunger in his eyes, his drive for perfection, his consistency and just his plain passion for the game – all of those will be dearly missed as will his disarming smile and the class with which he carried himself on and off the field. In Murali’s case, the numbers tell the story – but there is clearly much more to the man than just those statistics.
Born in Kandy in Sri Lanka and of Indian descent (his grandfather hailed from from Trichy in Tamil Nadu), Murali was a player from a minority community trying to make it in the big leagues. And any of us that has played cricket in the local circuits in the sub-continent, knows only too well how much of a challenge that can be. Forget being in the minority, just making it on the basis of your efforts was hard enough because it was never about just the talent or being in the right place at the right time; it was much more about who you knew and how well. Hell, back in those days in Chennai, if you weren’t from Santhome or Don Bosco or St Bedes, you hardly got a look-in; the selection trials were nothing more than a joke, a farce. So imagine not just having no advantage in terms of influential pull, but also coming from the minority Tamil community. A community that was increasingly detested in a region rife with conflict, with the Tamils at the center of it all. And now, to look back at how far along he has come, how much he has endeared himself to all of Sri Lanka and the rest of the cricketing world, and you realize he’s special.
A controversy that dogged him for a good part of his career was his bowling action – not just a needless distraction, it was also utterly disgusting and in very bad taste, on the part of the people that made it an issue. Of course, where else would something like that originate except Down Under? Umpire Darrell Hair, not a new face to controversy first no-balled him because Murali was “chucking”, in his eyes. Other notable cricketers joined in the chorus to quickly deride and dismiss Murali off, the crowds in Australia booed and jeered him whenever he took the field. In fact, on one of their tours, the Sri Lankan contingent once had eggs thrown at them as they were returning to their hotel after dinner. Of course, Murali in his typical style, dismissed the incident off saying “You expect those kinds of actions in Australia!” The Aussies have rarely shown the ability to acknowledge class when it was outside their shores. And this was understandable – Murali was destroying them with his bowling and this was the only retaliation they could possibly offer? Of course, Murali being Murali, took it all in stride. He undertook a series of bio-mechanical tests (which were conducted right in Australia); he had to actually bowl with a steel brace molded into his right arm as part of the test. And mind you, this was AFTER he had established himself as one of the game’s premier bowlers, not when he was starting out. Count on the Aussies to come up with something like this. Thankfully, the experts saw reason at the end of the day and blessed his action on the basis of those tests – that was good enough for the ICC to let him continue playing. Of course, the Aussies continue to complain but no one’s listening any more. (The great Don Bradman is an exception to that rule, of course – he actually ridiculed the entire episode, calling it one of the worst examples of Umpiring he had seen)
For me, it is also his actions outside the game that make him special. The man is a champion of social causes and puts his money and influence to telling effect in improving the lot of the impoverished people in Sri Lanka. Most notable amongst the causes he drives are his support of reconstruction efforts in Sri Lanka post the Tsumani of 2004 that devastated large parts of the island nation. Among other things, his Foundation of Goodness has helped rebuild more than a 1000 houses in the Seenigama region in southern Sri Lanka. He also serves as an ambassador for the UN World Food Program, helping to fight hunger amongst school children. While we will no longer see him in action on the cricket field, something tells me we haven’t heard the last of him off the field; he is getting involved in a bunch of different causes across the island nation, and his exploits off the field might soon overshadow everything that he accomplished on it. The world needs more like you Murali, but sadly, we know there won’t be another like you. Adios, my hero – the world of cricket will certainly miss having you around.