SPORTS TRIBUNE
 


The sky’s his limit
Spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan is in no mood to call it a day. Having reached the milestone of700 Test dismissals, he’s keen to go for the 1,000-wicket summit, writes Gopal Sharma
When Muttiah Muralitharan scaled the summit of 700 Test wickets, which brought him within handshaking distance of Shane Warne’s all-time record of 708, batsmen the world over might have wished that he would hang his boots and allow them a well-deserved respite.
Muralitharan’s appetite for wickets, along with his enthusiasm for the game, has remained undiminished over the years.
Muralitharan’s appetite for wickets, along with his enthusiasm for the game, has remained undiminished over the years.—AFP photo

Feet of clay
Vikramdeep Johal
One figure sticks out like an eyesore in Muttiah Muralitharan’s staggering Test statistics — his average against India. It’s 32.47, nowhere near his superb overall average of 21.33. The Sri Lankan has often found the going tough against Indian batsmen, who are deservedly regarded as the best players of spin bowling.

 

 

Australia’s Richie Benaud was a rare spinner who got the better of Indian batsmen.

Australia’s Richie Benaud was a rare spinner who got the better of Indian batsmen.

Flunking the Test
Ivninderpal Singh
Bangladesh made waves in the cricketing world by shocking India and South Africa in the 2007 World Cup. However, less than three months later, they were whitewashed by Sri Lanka in the Test series, suffering innings defeats in all three matches. While Bangladesh have made rapid strides in one-dayers, they are still the whipping boys in Tests. They have won 36 of their 160 ODIs (prior to the game vs Sri Lanka on July 20), but have recorded only one Test victory in 49 matches — against Zimbabwe in 2005.


Captain Mohammad Ashraful has to shoulder the enormous responsibility of moulding Bangladesh into a competitive Test team.— AFP photo

Captain Mohammad Ashraful has to shoulder the enormous responsibility of moulding Bangladesh into a competitive Test team.

Samba magic
Brian Homewood
Ronaldinho and Kaka preferred to go on holiday rather than play at the Copa America, yet the Brazilian pair’s absence was barely missed in a memorable, goal-packed tournament. Although primarily a baseball country, Venezuela’s superb state-of-the-art stadiums were packed for nearly every match and FIFA president Sepp Blatter praised the superb organisation when he came for the final.





Brazilian striker Robinho, who finished as the Copa America’s top scorer with six goals, didn’t let his team feel the absence of Ronaldinho and Kaka.—Reuters photo

Brazilian striker Robinho, who finished as the Copa America’s top scorer with six goals, didn’t let his team feel the absence of Ronaldinho and Kaka.

IN THE NEWS
Tennis hope
Akash Ghai
He has all the makings of a tennis champion. He is 6’2”, well built, agile and a quick learner. His forte is his fast serve which, he claims, can be as fast as 280 kmph. He is on the threshold of making it to the professional circle after proving himself on the junior circuit.

Navinder Pal Singh wants to avail of any opportunity to gain ATP points for making it to the Wimbledon qualifiers in the next few years.— A Tribune photograph

Navinder Pal Singh wants to avail of any opportunity to gain ATP points for making it to the Wimbledon qualifiers in the next few years.





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The sky’s his limit

Spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan is in no mood to call it a day. Having reached the milestone of700 Test dismissals, he’s keen to go for the 1,000-wicket summit, writes Gopal Sharma

When Muttiah Muralitharan scaled the summit of 700 Test wickets, which brought him within handshaking distance of Shane Warne’s all-time record of 708, batsmen the world over might have wished that he would hang his boots and allow them a well-deserved respite. But their fond hopes were dashed when the Sri Lankan off-spinner declared after reaching the historic landmark that he was enjoying his cricket as much as he did at any stage earlier.

The rejoinder that he would like to go for the “unthinkable” — 1,000 Test wickets — besides hoping to play the 2011 World Cup, must have had a numbing effect on most batsmen.

Ever since he made his Test debut in 1992 at home against Australia, the off-spinner from Kandy has been befuddling batsmen with regularity, notching up one success after the other. The addition of the doosra to his already rich repertoire of deliveries has made him even more lethal. At home, where wickets suit his type of bowling, Muralitharan is virtually unplayable, while his away record is no less impressive.

The emergence of Sri Lanka as a force to reckon with and the stunning victories they registered in international cricket were largely due to the talismanic Muralitharan as their main bowling weapon. Amazingly, unlike others of his ilk, he has never had to face any lean patch at any stage in his long career. Sri Lankans still shudder at the prospect of going into key contests without him.

Though he has scripted countless memorable victories for his team, the recent home Test series against Bangladesh is a testimony to the vital role Muralitharan has been playing in the success of his team for well over a decade. The off-spinner had the last man Syed Rasel caught in the deep in the third match to claim his 700th Test wicket and secure a 3-0 sweep for his team. With 26 scalps in the three-Test series, Muralitharan emerged the man of the series. In the process, he provided his team an opportunity to savour a rare achievement — three Test victories by an innings on the trot.

What makes Muralitharan dangerous is his ability to impart prodigious turn to the ball with a unique combination of finger spin and wrist rotation. Always accurate, he knows where to pitch the ball to put the batsman in a spot of bother. The tigerish zeal, the team’s faith in his match-winning capabilities and his ability to bowl a variety of deliveries with the same action make him a phenomenal bowler.

It was Muralitharan who scripted Sri Lanka’s maiden Test triumph in England at the Oval in 1998 with a haul of 16 wickets. He has been the scourge of batsmen the world over, giving countless victories to his team during the past 15 years.

Former opener Sadagopan Ramesh will readily testify to how devastating Muralitharan can be. In the Colombo Test in 2001, he was at the receiving end of a rare delivery a la Shane Warne’s “Ball of the Century” which bamboozled Mike Gatting in the 1993 Ashes Test at Old Trafford.

The left-handed Ramesh was reduced to a mere spectator as the delivery pitched outside the leg stump, turned in sharply and clipped the off-stump bail.

Muralitharan has also been highly successful in county cricket in England, where has taken wickets by the bucketful.

Unfortunately, his illustrious career has been dogged by the chucking controversy. He was first reported by Australian umpire Darrell Hair in 1995. Two years later, he was again in the news when Australia’s Ross Emerson raised questions over his bowling action and called him for chucking.

The offie was subjected to bio-mechanical scrutiny in Australia. After an extensive study, it was concluded that a congenital disability prevented his spinning arm from straightening fully and his unusually flexibly wrist created the impression that the bowler was throwing. Muralitharan was cleared of any sleight of hand.

The trying period, during which he got the full backing of his skipper Arjuna Ranatunga and the Sri Lankan cricket board, steeled Muralitharan into performing even better and he emerged stronger.

Despite advancing years, the 35-year-old has showed no decline in his wicket-taking ability or enthusiasm. The intensity with which he comes in to bowl and the customary celebratory jig with team-mates after each dismissal is still the same. That he took just 12 Tests to progress from 600 to 700 Test wickets underlines his effectiveness even after so many years.

The feats he has already achieved or will achieve in the near future are unlikely to be replicated. His exploits are already nothing short of legendary. Australian Steve Waugh once called him the “Don Bradman of bowlers”.

A fitness freak that he is, if Muralitharan is able to be injury-free and prolong his career by a couple of years, he will take his records in Tests as well as ODIs far away from the grasp of any other mortal. This will mean a lot more joy for Sri Lankans as well as connoisseurs of his craft.


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Feet of clay
Vikramdeep Johal

One figure sticks out like an eyesore in Muttiah Muralitharan’s staggering Test statistics — his average against India. It’s 32.47, nowhere near his superb overall average of 21.33. The Sri Lankan has often found the going tough against Indian batsmen, who are deservedly regarded as the best players of spin bowling.

Taking 1,000 Test wickets might be his main target, but Murali would love to improve his ordinary record against India — 67 scalps in 15 matches.

Several world-class bowlers have learnt the hard way that trapping Indian batsmen in the spin web is as difficult as selling ice to the Eskimos. Shane Warne, Test cricket’s highest wicket-taker (708), suffered time and again at the hands of Sachin Tendulkar & Co during his glorious career. His average against India was a terrible 47.18, almost double of the overall figure (25.41). In 14 Tests, he had to be content with just 43 wickets.

Very few spinners in cricket history have managed to fox the Indians. Warne’s compatriot Richie Benaud did it most successfully. The leggie, who was also a useful batsman, took 248 wickets in 63 matches. Of these, 52 were against India in eight Tests at a wonderful average of 18.38. Thanks to his deadly spells, Australia won the 1956-57 and 1959-60 away series.

India had outstanding players of spin in their ranks — such as Vijay Manjrekar, Polly Umrigar, Pankaj Roy and Chandu Borde — but they failed to handle Benaud. The Aussie claimed his best-ever figures in the 1956 Kolkata Test, finishing with a haul of 11 wickets for 105 runs (6-52, 5-53).

The West Indies, traditionally renowned for producing many brilliant pace bowlers, had a champion spinner in Lance Gibbs. The lanky off-break bowler took 309 wickets in 79 matches (average: 29.09). Against India, he had 63 scalps in 15 Tests at 23.28. He recorded his best innings figures, 8-38, at Bridgetown in 1962. From 158 for 2, India collapsed like the proverbial house of cards to be all out for 187, thus crashing to an innings defeat.

As India take on Monty Panesar in the ongoing Lord’s Test, one is reminded of another left-armer from England, Derek Underwood. The latter, an unconventional spinner, bowled round the wicket at the speed of a medium pacer. He finished merely three short of 300 wickets in 86 Tests, including 62 in 20 matches versus India.

Underwood played a key role in England’s series triumph in India in 1976-77. He outwitted Sunil Gavaskar and other top Indian batsmen repeatedly to end up with 29 wickets in five Tests.

In subsequent series, however, the Englishman wasn’t able to replicate his great performance. Still, he had the satisfaction of being the bowler who dismissed the legendary Gavaskar the maximum number of times (12) in Tests.

Saqlain Mushtaq, credited with devising the doosra, bagged 25 wickets in only four Tests against arch-rivals India. He helped Pakistan win the Chennai Test in 1999. Five years later, his career suffered irreparable damage when he was thrashed by triple centurion Virender Sehwag in the Multan Test.

The record for most wickets by a spinner against India stands in the name of Muralitharan (67). However, the Sri Lankan knows very well that he has some unfinished business.


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Flunking the Test
Ivninderpal Singh

Bangladesh made waves in the cricketing world by shocking India and South Africa in the 2007 World Cup. However, less than three months later, they were whitewashed by Sri Lanka in the Test series, suffering innings defeats in all three matches.

While Bangladesh have made rapid strides in one-dayers, they are still the whipping boys in Tests. They have won 36 of their 160 ODIs (prior to the game vs Sri Lanka on July 20), but have recorded only one Test victory in 49 matches — against Zimbabwe in 2005.

Bangladesh, who made their Test debut in 2000, have the dubious distinction of losing 31 of their first 34 Tests, including a record streak of 21 games. Overall, they have been defeated in 43 Tests.

Despite their victory against Zimbabwe and the tough fight they gave to Australia before losing a match last year, Bangladesh have failed to cope with the demands of Test cricket. Of the 14 Tests since the series against Zimbabwe, they have lost 13, the only exception being a weather-induced draw against India.

Most of their players are more accustomed to playing in ODIs. They find it hard to spend time at the crease. Their lack of concentration and shot selection are mainly responsible for their under-performance in Tests.

It’s time for Bangladesh to silence the critics who continue to oppose their induction into the Test club. Also, they have to keep the momentum going in the one-dayers.


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Samba magic
Brian Homewood

Ronaldinho and Kaka preferred to go on holiday rather than play at the Copa America, yet the Brazilian pair’s absence was barely missed in a memorable, goal-packed tournament.

Although primarily a baseball country, Venezuela’s superb state-of-the-art stadiums were packed for nearly every match and FIFA president Sepp Blatter praised the superb organisation when he came for the final.

The fans that flooded through the gates were rewarded with attacking football and some great moments, including Nery Castillo’s sublime first goal for Mexico against Brazil and Lionel Messi’s superlative effort for Argentina against the Mexicans — a contender for goal of this, or any other year. Brazilian striker Robinho finished as the tournament’s top scorer with six goals.

The 26 games produced 86 goals, culminating in Brazil’s 3-0 win over Argentina in the final, and, except for a spell at the end of the group stage, there was rarely a dull moment.

It was a refreshing contrast to last year’s World Cup when South America’s interest ended in the quarterfinals.

Brazil gave Dunga his first title less than 11 months after taking on his first coaching job as they muscled their way to success.

Brazil’s counter-attacking game was far removed from their traditions, but it was ruthlessly efficient as they nullified Argentina in the final. — Reuters

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IN THE NEWS
Tennis hope
Akash Ghai

He has all the makings of a tennis champion. He is 6’2”, well built, agile and a quick learner. His forte is his fast serve which, he claims, can be as fast as 280 kmph. He is on the threshold of making it to the professional circle after proving himself on the junior circuit.

Patiala-based Navinder Pal Singh nurtures the hope of playing at Wimbledon. “I have already set the ball rolling by getting myself registered in the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP). Now I have to accumulate ATP points for making it to the Wimbledon qualifiers,” says the 18-year-old.

The three-time Punjab champion developed interest in the game after seeing Wimbledon matches on TV.

“My elder brothers, Surinder Pal Singh and Amarinder Pal Singh, were national-level tennis players. Both have migrated to Australia, where they impart training to budding players at the Tall Gums Sports Centre in Brisbane, Queensland. I took my first lessons from my brothers,” says Navinder, whose International Tennis Federation (ITF) ranking is 412.

“My ranking had gone up to 284, but it fell because I could not participate in some tournaments due to my exams,” he laments.

Starting at the age of eight years, Navinder emerged the winner in several major tournaments at the junior level. In 2005, he won two under-18 Talent Series tournaments held at Chandigarh and Gwalior. In the same year, he also clinched top honours in the All-India Public Schools Tennis Championship in under-18 and under-16 sections. He won the doubles title at the DDA under-14 tournament in 2003.

About his international experience, Navinder says he travelled to Colombo for the ITF Grade 5 tournament in 2004. “Though I did not do very well, the experience was quite valuable,” says Navinder, who has honed his skills at the NIS and Polo Ground in Patiala.

In 2006, he finished runners- up in doubles in the ITF Grade 4 tournament in Egypt. He reached the semifinals of the tournament in Cyprus, while in the Grade 5 tournament in Jordan, he was a semifinalist in singles as well as doubles. Navinder thinks that temperament can make the difference between victory and defeat. “I am learning to remain cool on the court,” he concludes.

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