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Muralitharan takes 700th wicket in Sri Lanka win

16 July, 2007

KANDY, Sri Lanka: Muttiah Muralitharan became the second man in history to take 700 test wickets as Sri Lanka defeated Bangladesh by an innings and 193 runs on fourth day of the third and final test on Saturday.

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The off spinner claimed a match haul of 12-82 to help the hosts complete a three-match series whitewash over the visitors and he now stands just eight victims behind Australia's world record test wicket-taker Shane Warne.

Muttiah Muralitharan's 700th test wicket was more than a cricket milestone, it was a rare opportunity for the divided people of the teardrop isle to celebrate as one.

In a society bitterly divided along ethnic and religious lines and bruised by a two-decade-long separatist war, Muralitharan — the only ethnic Tamil in the Sri Lanka national team — stands out as a unifying factor.

Muralitharan reached the 700 mark on Saturday with the last ball of a lopsided series against Bangladesh — on his homeground at Kandy — to join retired Australian legspinner Shane Warne (708) in an exclusive club.

It appears inevitable that Muralitharan will pass Warne's record when Sri Lanka tours Australia in November, and it will be intriguing to see how he is received at that moment.

"I am not worried about what people say," he said. "People can say whatever they want, but we are going to win there and our focus will be on that.

"The possibilities of the record falling there is high, but it all depends on how I bowl. But more than personal milestone well be focusing on winning the test series in Australia."

Australia has not been the happiest destination for 'Murali', having been memorably called for chucking there and ever after having difficult relations with Australian fans who continuously taunt him.

But if there is lingering doubt on foreign shores, there is nothing but pride in his achievements in Sri Lanka where his achievements bridge the sectarian divide.

Born to a confectionary businessman on April 17, 1972, Muralitharan slowly became known among local cricket fans in 1990 as a schoolboy offspinner who turns the ball sharply.

He took more than 100 wickets in 1990 and 1991 in school cricket, cradle of the sport in Sri Lanka, and in the process broke the then record for highest number of wickets in a season — probably his first in a long list of records to follow.

His latest landmark came when he had Bangladesh No. 11 Syed Rasel caught by Farveez Maharoof.

His 12-wicket match haul helped Sri Lanka win the test by an innings and 193 runs and a 3-0 series sweep.

Muralitharan's first chance to play test cricket came in 1992 when Australia toured Sri Lanka and he took his first wicket when he trapped tailender Craig McDermott lbw.

His ball that bowled out Tom Moody in the second innings of that match made players and fans alike take notice.

Muralitharan pitched a ball wide outside the off stump and the right-handed Moody left it casually on the front foot only to be surprised to see the ball turning a long way and hit the stumps.

Moody later became a successful coach of Sri Lanka, guiding the side to the World Cup final this year in the West Indies.

Muralitharan's exceptional ability to turn the ball comes from his unorthodox wristy offspin, and an elbow bent at birth. That bent joint prompted many critics to accuse him of chucking.

In 1995 in Australia, umpire Darrell Hair no-balled Muralitharan for "chucking" during a test match in Melbourne.

His action was subsequently cleared by an Australian biomechanics expert, but was no-balled again in Australia in 1998 and reported by English match referee Chris Broad in Sri Lanka in 2004. The International Cricket Council, after a major investigation, ruled that due to his birth abnormality, his action is legal.

Many critics have been convinced or silenced, but not all.

India's former spinner Bishen Singh Bedi and New Zealand's former captain Martin Crowe are among those who still insist Muralitharan has a questionable bowling action, but the offspinner has shaken off such accusations to become the backbone of Sri Lanka's cricketing success in the past decade.

Using the "doosra," topspinners and varying angles, Muralitharan has become arguably the most potent bowler in contemporary cricket.

Wisden, the respected cricket almanac, named Muralitharan the best cricketer for 2006.

The 35-year-old offspinner's achievement on the cricket field has made him a household name and a source of hope and inspiration to a nation that has seen mostly adversaries over years.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a rebel group, began fighting the government in 1983 demanding a separate state for ethnic minority Tamils, arguing they were deprived of equality in education, jobs and governance by successive governments controlled by ethnic majority Sinhalese.

The conflict has killed 70,000 people, maimed many and displaced hundreds of thousands.

But Sri Lanka's cricket authorities proved wrong many Tamils, who were skeptical that justice would be done to young Muralitharan's talents.

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