I never became a Murali fan

He got to scale another peak, joining the quintessential left-arm fast bowler Wasim Akram as the world’s most successful wicket-taker in one-day international cricket history with 502 wickets when he claimed Indian ace Yuvraj Singh’s scalp in the third game at the Premadasa Stadium in Colombo on Tuesday.
Yet, I must confess that it’s been tough to be a fan of his bowling just as it was quite easy to admire the Pakistani genius Wasim Akram’s guile, Australian legends Glenn McGrath’s nagging precision and Shane Warne’s magical craft and the uncanny understanding of angles that India master Anil Kumble brought to the bowling crease.
There is absolutely no prize for guessing why Muralitharan, a wonderful human being, does not figure high on the list of those whose bowling I have admired. From the time I first saw him operate in a boring Test match at the P Saravanamuttu Stadium in Colombo in August 1993, I knew I was never going to be a fan of his bowling.
Muralitharan’s is not the first case in which it was said that he could not straighten the arm at all since he was born with a bent elbow. One of the explanations put forward for the peculiarities of South African pace bowler Cuan McCarthy’s intriguing action in 1951-52 was that it was impossible for him to straighten his arm because of an old injury!
Back in the 50s, the West Indies’ Sonny Ramadhin and Australian Ian Johnson were both suspected to let go a bent-arm variation of the off-break. “It was no more than a variation (in off-spinner Johnson’s case it was the slower, well-flighted ball that drifted towards slip), and it did the game no harm. But strictly speaking there is no room in the game for such a manoeuvre,” wrote Colin Cowdrey in his 1961 book Cricket Today.
Be that as it may, it was easy to understand Sri Lankan skipper Arjuna Ranatunga’s backing of the beleaguered off-spinner when controversy confronted him in Australia in the shape of umpires Ross Emerson and Darrell Hair who no-balled him for bowling with suspect action. But I could never become a fan of the man who now has taken more international wickets than anyone else.
With technology to fall back on, the sceptre of throwing could have been tackled more effectively. Yet, ICC goofed up one more time. Back in 1995-96, it had made the solution harder for itself by allowing the matter to drag on without taking positive action against the malignant disease. And a decade later, it had another chance to define bowling and throwing in unambiguous terms.
Muralitharan undertook a trip to the Biomechanics Laboratory of the School of Human Movement and Exercise Science at the University of Western Australia for a test. It tested the six best doosras that he delivered on April 1 and, after a five-day remedial session, a similar quantum of six doosras on April 7.
On the basis of that study by the University of Western Australia’s Prof Bruce Elliott and Jacque Alderson, Sri Lanka Cricket conceded that Muralitharan’s doosra did not comply with the game’s existing regulations. A first step had been taken by getting Muralitharan to stop ‘bowling’ the doosra.
Quite sadly, the ICC Cricket Committee came up with a solution that favoured bowlers with hyperextended joints. Instead of tightening the regulations, it suggested that the mean elbow extension range would be relaxed from 5 degrees to as much as 15 degrees.
Indeed, I shall remember Muralitharan more for making cricket fans aware of hyperextension of joints rather than for his apparent wizardry. Once again, as he ascends the top of the ODI bowling charts, I am reminded how world cricket was forced to alter playing conditions to grant his kind of bowling legitimacy.