Notes from the pavilion for October 27th

Spinning Murali

The Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, is in the middle of an election campaign at the moment and I have just stumbled across a bloody good piece from Mike Ticher at The Guardian. Howard is a raging cricket fan and, like any dirty politician, attempts to misuse it to his advantage. Man of the people, and all that, when he quite clearly isn’t.

Howard’s application of clunky cricket analogies to politics is as elegant as his bowling action. In the last election he claimed at one point his Liberal Party was “three for about 268 [in the campaign] but the right-hand opener is still there.” This time it needs several hundred to avoid the follow-on, and is wishing it had dropped the right-hand opener before the series started.

Superb. But it gets better. Who’s coming to town? That’s right! Muttiah Muralitharan.

Murali has two Tests before the election in which to snare the nine wickets he needs to overhaul Shane Warne as the leading Test wicket-taker. Howard has form. The last time Sri Lanka visited, in 2004, he was instrumental in Murali’s refusal to tour, when he branded the spinner a chucker with the words: “They proved it in Perth too, with that thing.” That thing, to be more technical, was the biomechanics test that showed Murali straightened his arm to an extent that was then illegal when bowling the doosra.

Howard might have to bend the truth by only about, say, 14 degrees, to whip up a wave of anti-Murali sentiment. It is an edgy time. The visitors have already had anxious meetings about likely crowd reactions, and plain-clothes police are to be deployed inconspicuously (presumably dressed in body paint and watermelon helmets) to weed out the kind of troublemakers who have targeted Murali in the past.

If Howard could only harness that sentiment, then hold up Warne as the iconic national figure who represents everything good about Australia . . . no, you’re right, he’s a goner.

A cracking read.

Gower and his quirks

I’m watching a video which I’ll mention in another post, and in it I keep hearing David Gower mispronounce players’ names. Well, it’s not as though they’re technically incorrect inunciations – they’re just different. Gower has his own, very Hampshire style, and is more and more a legend of the comm box. For instance, he doesn’t say WAZim AKram. He pronounces it waZEEM aKRUM. And as for Murali, well it comes out as Muttiah Murali-durham.

Anyway. As you were.

700 down, 300 to go

It required a spectacular effort, a mere 12 wickets in the match, but yesterday Muttiah Muralitharan became only the second bowler to reach 700 Test wickets. Yet, at his home ground in Kandy, to the man himself this appeared to be insufficient:

“It is a big achievement, but I anyway knew I was going to get 700 wickets. The challenge now is whether I can get 1000 test wickets before I retire.”

First, of course, lies Warne’s record tally of 708 – I’d like to know the odds on that taking more than one match to overcome.

Too highly rated?

I see Kevin Pietersen has been knocked off the top spot in the ODIs by Ricky Ponting. Very difficult to argue with that – Ponting is surely the stand out batsman in both forms of the game. Looking at the other batting rankings, it is difficult to find fault, although on current form, Shiv Chanderpaul ought to be in the test top three at least. Also, I struggle to understand how Mahela Jayawardene doesn’t break into either top ten, while Hussey retains a top five place in both. He’s very good, granted, but is he top five?

Jason Gillespie

The bowlers are altogether more perplexing. For one, how can Shoaib Akhtar still be at number 10 in tests? He’s played four tests since the start of 2006 and taken only a handful of wickets. Maybe in the current game, not playing is the way to climb the rankings. Likewise, Jason Gillespie (22) is still deemed a better Test bowler than Lasith Malinga (28)!

Agreed, it must be difficult to devise a workable system. Also, stats don’t tell the full story. But things start to look decidedly suspect when you inspect the Best Ever Ratings, which is a list of players at their peak. Ponting at four is just about fair enough, given his recent dominance. However, Peter May above Viv Richards shows a flaw, while Matthew Hayden in the top ten is just crazy. KP (21) is one place higher than Sachin and two places higher than Wally Hammond. Enough said.

For the bowlers, I half expected to see the list packed high with bowlers of yesteryear, given how modern bowlers are meant to have struggled, but it does put Murali, McGrath, Pollock, Waqar and Warne in the top 15. Of course, Warne should be in the top three, if not top of the pile. Wasim Akram limps in at number 57 behind the likes of Ntini, Shoaib and Harmison, which doesn’t seem right.

That said, like most critics, I can’t think of a better way. There must be some bright spark at Cricinfo with a formula….?

Over and out

The final live was every bit as loony as it must have appeared on telly, but it was still a cracking day out. Indeed, given we were staring at rain covers for the first couple of hours, any action was good action. Gilchrist’s innings was worth the entry fee alone. I also loved the partnership between Jayasuriya and Sangakkara. But no team, however plucky, could have maintained 8 an over against those bowlers in that light.

The ICC has yet again proved itself to be an ass, but it may have dodged a bullet on Saturday. It was lucky that Ponting won the toss and batted first. Had Sri Lanka posted, say, 230 runs for the Aussies to chase in the half-light, it would have been a tall order, even for them. If it had been the Lankans dragging their heels between deliveries to waste time and Malinga bowling 85 mph in the gloomy drizzle, it could have kicked off some ugly scenes in the crowd. Would Australia have accepted being dealt such a poor hand as graciously as Sri Lanka?

OK, so I’m stirring. The right team won and it would have been a travesty if Ponting’s men had been robbed by weather conditions. As my cabbie said the night before, “if you’re the best team, you’re the best team, and you deserve to win”. I’ll admit too that the Aussie supporters were excellent in our stand. Save, of course, for the shouts of ‘no-ball’ whenever Murali bowled – can you not just let it go?!

There is the temptation to dismiss the Aussie players as charmless automatons who grind out results, but that is a disservice. They have flair, instinct, guile and panache by the bucket load. The players’ celebrations at Gilchrist’s hundred and the ultimate victory (both times) were genuinely endearing. There is no arrogance, just well-earned confidence. It matters more to these Australians and so they deserve the glory. Thank goodness they can’t play forever.

Ian Valetine is a freelance journalist blogging who has blogged the World Cup for The Corridor

Yeah, but he’s no Warne

Muttiah Muralitharan recently claimed he’ll take 1000 Test wickets. A bold statement but if anyone can, it’s he. But why do I always hear myself muttering “yeah, but he’s no Warne”?

Is it because Warne has been around a little longer? Because he revolutionised (and revamped) the art of legspin? Is it because I always dreamed of being a leggie myself? Or is it because or Murali’s elastic arm and the cloud of suspicion which still hangs over his head?

Murali is no less a showman, no less hungry for wickets. His throaty, raucous appeal is a frightening ordeal for any batsman or umpire and he really can turn a ball on glass. He is a phenomena of control – bendy arm and wobbly wrist, or not – which even Warne must envy. But, still…he’s no Warne.

Perhaps this highlights Warne’s appeal more than Murali’s failings. Yesterday, before picking up his 700th Test wicket, Warne spoke to Mike Atherton about his career. One thing stuck out like one of his rare wrong’uns: “I always like to push the boundaries…the boundaries of dissent, or whatever. I’m an entertainer”. And so he is. Murali is no less appealing a bowler, but is too endearing a character. Warne is the genius with a darker, villainous, mischievous streak; the smoker; the drinker; the sledger; the divorcee; the sex-romper and tabloid-headline provider. When he steps out onto the field, perhaps we half expect all these traits to burden him; maybe we will him to fall down like the villain in a pantomime.

But he never did. Murali will probably take 1000 wickets. But he’s no Warne.

Murali’s dismissal – unfair? (poll)

The dismissal of Muttiah Muralitharan has understandably caused a tornado of fury from you and there’s a healthy debate rumbling on over in that post. I thought it would also be interesting to do a poll…so go and cast your vote.

Video of Murali’s run-out v New Zealand

Here’s a video of Muttiah Muralitharan being run out in contentious circumstances. More info from Scott. Click here if you can’t see the video below. And click here to cast your vote.

{democracy:28}

It is all very curious

New Zealand wrapped up the First Test against New Zealand, winning by five wickets. The final day was not without controversy, after Muttiah Muralitharan was run out in strange circumstances.

Kumar Sangakkara had brought up his century with a neat flick down to third man. Murali finished the run, and without waiting for the ball to become dead, he motioned up the pitch to congratulate his team-mate. He had only advanced a few paces when the ball was returned from the deep and wicket-keeper Brendon McCullum promptly removed the bails, running him out.

It was a harsh act and Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene protested it was against the spirit of the game, but New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming pointed out that had the ball gone for overthrows, Sri Lanka would have gladly accepted them.

I can understand Sri Lankan fans being disappointed but it is the responsibility of the batsman to protect his wicket. Watching the Ashes, I have noticed that batsmen on both sides now refuse to pick up the ball in situations where they might do so in a club game, precisely to avoid the possibility of a controversial situation arising. To me, the bottom line is that Murali didn’t value his wicket highly enough, and he paid the price.

Your views?